Rensselaer's EcoEd Research Group involves faculty and students in the development and delivery of creative, interdisciplinary environmental education to K-12 students. The goal is to extend the broad impact of humanities and social science research on environmental problems through translation into hands-on exercises through which young students develop capacity to deal effectively with environmental problems, and with complex problems in general - integrating many types of knowledge.

A key premise is that environmental education can enhance overall student performance and investment in education, while cultivating the particular capacities needed to address environmental sustainability. Exercises developed in RPI Eco Ed cultivate capacity to think though both proximate and distant stressors on human and ecosystem health, for example, and about the way science can be used in the making of law to address both local and global problems. RPI EcoEd advances a cascade structure of education in which older students refine their own knowledge through development of innovative ways of sharing it with younger students. In process, older students grow in remarkable ways into roles as stewards of both environmental and educational systems.

Since fall 2011, RPI EcoEd has run over forty workshops, and in spring 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 ran nine-week research programs for young students. In one set of workshops, young students developed photography skills, in process learning to see the environment in new ways. EcoEd also ran a set of green building workshops, leveraging the skills of RPI's architecture and engineering students, integrated with humanities insight into the ways people make decisions and work collectively to decrease energy use. Another set of workshops moved very young students (first and second grade) through exercises to learn about complex problems - such as waste or air pollution - then on to creative writing in which they worked to share what they learned with others. EcoEd is now working to package workshop materials so that they are ready to share with other teachers.

In EcoEd’s Research Program, young students (grades 4-11) are assigned an RPI student mentor, and with them move through a nine-week exploration of a research topic, culminating in a substantial written report and formal oral presentation. In the first year of the program, in spring 2012, students focused on problem areas such as coral reefs, palm oil plantations, golf courses and baseball stadiums – first mapping the problems and stakeholders, then mapping solutions that have been developed or proposed. In 2013 and 2015, students focused on the environmental problems and sustainability plans of countries. In 2014, they focused on counties in New York State. In 2015, each student focused on a city, exploring its environmental history, current environmental footprint and problems, and possible pathways to greater environmental sustainability in the future. Students used news articles, academic publications, and data provided by governments, international organizations, and NGOs in their research – learning to locate, analyze, evaluate and use research resources.

RPI EcoEd is working to develop innovative and durable structures for sustainability education that can reach many types of students, at many stages in their education – in a manner that cultivates scientific, health, environmental and media literacy, entwining STEM, education, civics, critical thinking and service learning. RPI EcoEd extends the broad impact of social science and humanities research on environmental problems, through mechanisms that intensify learning among Rensselaer students, while contributing to K-12 education.

Renssealer’s EcoEd Research Group is run by Professor Kim Fortun, working with PhD students Alli Morgan and Lindsay Poirier.

See recent coverage of EcoEd work by the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing (CASTAC).