A first-grade project uses Design Thinking to bring together ideas of community and environmental sustainability, two values at the heart of Nueva.

FirstGradeEHow can we be more environmentally sustainable at Nueva? This question gets asked a lot at this school, where the green imperative has been a long-term focus campus-wide.

When first-grade students began learning about environmental issues in class, they wanted to be part of the solution, too. The students recognized that, in addition to acting individually, they could use a group Design Thinking process to discover how Nueva could become a greener community.

As part of the annual first-grade Community Project, the class ventured into numerous offices and classrooms around Nueva to observe and ask questions of staff and teachers in their initial discovery and research phase. They spoke with everyone from Lower School Head Emily Kolatch to the I-Lab team and those in the Advancement Office. From there, they decided who to study more in depth.

"Every year through our Community Project we seek to discover how each community member is connected to us. This year, we decided to focus on our shared connection and impact on Nueva's sustainability," said teacher Emily Mitchell. "This is deeply relevant given what the first graders are studying in science about waste and other environmental factors, as well as the school's new Sustainability Task Force."

The students were then paired up with a community member, providing that person with a questionnaire about their use of space. They analyzed the answers to better understand the user's sustainability needs around space usage. For example, if the subject said she or he worked in a large space, the student could brainstorm ways to conserve electricity in a large space.

The students worked with their science teacher, listened to guest speakers such as a LEED architect, and visited environmentally friendly spaces like the Lucile and David Packard Foundation. They learned about factors that directly impact sustainability, including size, lighting, temperature, materials, and how a space is used. The next step was to build a prototype of an idea, requesting feedback from their partner, and then further shaping the idea based on the feedback.

"With Design Thinking, the focus is not a solution, but rather identifying the true need and turning that into a 'how might we' statement," Emily said. "It isn't about seeing the idea through, but going through the process. By engaging in this process, both the students and their partners can modify or rethink the ways in which their space can be more green."

Students offered a multitude of practical solutions, some of which included the installation of solar panels to power air conditioning and heating units, replacing space heaters with blankets and installing more windows in colder office spaces to harness the power of the sun.

In addition to contributing to a greater mission of sustainability, the Community Project also allowed students to create lasting relationships with the faculty and staff they interviewed. Through the project, first graders gained a broader perspective on their school; they came out knowing more about sustainability, but also with stronger connections to their campus, classmates, and community.

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