Sunday, January 29, 2012

Operation Conservation SES

For several months, two teachers in a 5th grade class, a green builder, a retired school administrator and two errant artists have been working with about 40 students to plan and start executing a revitalization of a derelict interior courtyard of a relatively new school building into a garden and incubator for "sustainability". This is a fascinating project on several levels and I'll only be commenting on a few of them in this blog. The students have already set-up their own Website I am looking to see how integral "art" can become in this project. One sad, all-too-common default position for art is as "decoration"... For me, this project is an opportunity to see how far the boundaries of art can get stretched. Making a Debris Hut has offered one such opportunity for all students to encounter their own sense of design, problem-solving, team work...

"The arts can help students become tenacious, team-oriented problem-solvers who are confident and able to think creatively. These qualities can be especially important in improving learning." Arne Duncan - U.S. Secretary of Education

It impacts the last year of the Arts and Ag project in a very central way. In many of our charettes, there was that familiar moment when the ag people wondered what "art" or artists could possibly do for/with them. The artists, too, were immediately most comfortable with exhibits, better signage, festivals of arts... all pretty well-known and tried packages for arts. At best, it was a molecular arrangement, not a sub-atomic ah ha This is also an interesting experiment in the lure of Low-Tech in a Hi-Tech world. Human bodies and psyches have not changed that much over time. We are built for the low-tech. Can Operation Conservation slow things down? Celebrate the Organic, both in the earth and the humans?

Why Art is THE essential partner in this:
“Talking to trees and hiding in trees precedes saving trees.”

David Sobel

Recurring Questions for All Groups:
What elements of Conservation and Sustainability are most important?
How can they be expressed? how many ways?
Why will students and teachers would want to keep coming and coming back to the Courtyard once they've visited the first time?
Is admiring our work enough???
Is our information important and interesting? Can they use it?
What can visitors DO? This is really a "marketing" issue

Cool Sites to Look at and Visit:
Omega Center for Sustainable Living, Rhinebeck, NY
Green Museum Mount Tabor Middle School Rain Garden
Pacem in Terris
Storm King Andy Goldsworthy's The Wall That Went for a Walk" is just 15 miles away!!
Local Nature Centers in Cornwall and Bear Mountain

Fundraising Ideas: Already they are collecting and recycling
bottles ($100 by 2/24) One group has started making seed pots from newspapers to start seedlings in and possibly sell to people. There was some talk of making Conservation Note Cards.

Structures to Make:
Mount black netting on the Brick Walls to hang things, news, poems, art on.

What to do with the Compost area? Surround with old pallets to signify that wood is the hardest material to re-cycle. Maybe we buy or get a new fancy one like this Earth Machine and compare and contrast how each method works?

What to do with the Benches? Can we paint them? Use the dremel to carve quotations from John Muir, Rachel Carson and Ansel Adams?

Paint just black/white tree/spiral outlines on the Courtyard walkway and keep adding leaves and new textures --in chalk--throughout the year?
(A few students noted that the chalk would just wash away. We said: Yes, indeed! We’ll just have to keep doing it again and again, sort of like farming. And maybe even other classes can come and do it. So a Tree Outline at one entrance and a Spiral at the other. Perhaps, there's some Eco-Hopscotch game we can develop for people to play along the Spiral ... with recycled bottle caps as the reward?

We're talking and planning some kind of Branch Hut
in one of the darker corners. Is there a place for a Secret Garden? Can those model Brush Huts the students just made be the start of a Fairy Housing Project??

In early February we put up some airy wind objects from plastic bags and bottles. Do they scare away birds? Well, there were crows and a few doves around the other day...Paul (Nate’s father) is helping make bird feeders and bird houses. What about Bees? Butterflies? Chipmunks? Bears? Deer? and the Bobcats that seem to be making an appearance in the area?

A Sun Dial! How much more low-tech and magical can you get!
Make carved directional signs to indicate the four directions

Make things that evoke the Elements of Air (fabric strips),Water, Earth, Fire

Make things that make people Listen, Smell, Taste, Wait, Hunt, Get Surprised,Delighted

Make Opportunities for visitors to add something of theri own. "I did that"

Have a nature poetry center... to read, write leave poems.
Make up stories about what happens in the Garden when the school closes

Have Operation Conservation Cards to make and collect. Each card is about some different part of the Courtyard: planting, soil, birds, quotes from Muir, Adams, Carson.
Have Operation Conservation Cartoon strips and Activity booklets. Several of the students are into cartooning; the teacher has already worked with the whole class doing cartoon strips. Can this be a strong base for reflecting what the project is about?

Have a place for Nature News On Boards? Teachers bring classes who read the news and pick and discuss their favorite The Art Group creates logo-format for the information
an example Did you Know: Birdsongs Birds sing using the syrinx, the avian vocal organ. Singing is usually confined to males and is at its height during the breeding season, when it is used to attract a mate. Birdsongs are usually more complex and longer than birdcalls. There is evidence that songs are learned, while certain calls are inherited. A male chaffinch hatchling, for example, sings a "subsong" but only learns the true song by hearing and imitating adult males.

Results of 1.20 Survey asking other students and teachers what they'd like to have in the Courtyard:

Other classes can leave questions for Operation Conservation to research and answer
Have other Classes artwork Art group collects and curates theseHave Operation Conservation Experiments other people can do…
Oh yes, finally, there is big interest in having a chocolate fountain in the Courtyard.

Landscape Architect Barbara Restainio has been working on a study of the Waywayanda Creeek in the Warwick area for about a year. She's noted how it flows right through the Sandfordville School property ... and after looking at this blog sent these pictures of a related school project in Oregon.

Hey Colin and Rob, here's a good 5-minute youtube


  1. Dan, This is absolutely a great place to post your notes, reflections, plans. The Poetry corner has two already written to "prime the pump.".
    I would invite any bloggers to add ideas and energy to this unlimited project. In addition to the Art group, there are groups learning the Math and Engineering side of place design; a History and Mapmaking group; a Soil Science & Gardening Group; and a Big Picture Communications Group. A thread throu all this is to appreciate the wonder and/or beauty of nature.
    If you have heard of the 21st Century educational emphasis of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), you have now seen that adding the Arts can make STEAM!

    1. This is a wonderful idea!

  2. THIS IDEA IS SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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