Sustainable Design Through Engineering and Technology

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(NSF Funded ITEST Program Award Number: 08-33751)

Forty-five low-income, minority high school youth (some with disabilities) from the South Bronx learn skills needed in the sustainable technologies industry; partners included New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), The Bronx Guild High School, and Sustainable South Bronx.

GreenFab: Sustainable Design Through Engineering and Technology was an academic enrichment program designed to teach STEM concepts through hands-on, project-based learning activities that emphasize career development in the emerging field of sustainable technologies. GreenFab provides its participants with classroom instruction in mechanical and electrical engineering, 3D modeling, computer programming, sustainable design practice, and community advocacy. Throughout the course of the program, students develop new attitudes towards learning, reinforce classroom Math and Science skills, and explore career opportunities in STEM and IT- related fields. During the academic year, students were involved in the program for 5 hours a day, two days a week. In the mornings, students attended lab classes from 9 – 12; from 1 – 4 they attended an open lab time to support the morning classes.

GreenFab is a three-year ITEST project designed to introduce low-income, minority high school youth in New York and New Jersey to engineering and technology skill sets that are used in the sustainable technologies industry. This project builds on the success of the SoBRO TEC ITEST (05-25162) and targets youth in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx. Collaborators include New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and Sustainable South Bronx, which will co-facilitate classes in the NSF-funded Fab Lab. Students participate in afterschool sessions and summer fellowships designed to introduce sustainable practices, industrial design, and prototyping. Activities enable participants to explore solutions to community environmental problems using small scale manufacturing. Modules to be developed and piloted for use in the afterschool sessions include: Green Machines, Sustainable Living, Adaptive and Assistive Design, and Urban Sustainability. All modules incorporate NETS Technology Standards, NSTA Science Standards, and 21st Century Learning Skills. Engineers are invited each Friday from a variety of organizations including the MIT Media Lab as well as recycling, metal fabrication, HVAC, and similar industries to help students learn how the skills obtained in GreenFab can be applied to a variety of green collar jobs and STEM positions. Finally, summer fellowships extend student skills through the application of digital technology, material repurposing, and critical analysis.


Green Technology:

In this class, students explored the fundamentals of electricity, circuit building, programming and rapid prototyping. Students learned how to use electronic manufacturing tools such as soldering irons, multi-meters and breadboards. They discovered the uses of various electrical components including resistors, capacitors, transistors and diodes. This class used the Arduino microcontroller to explore programming and interactivity. Through projects such as: building geared turbines, nightlights, USB chargers experimenting with the Arduino students discovered how to create their own circuits and program and interface with microcontrollers. Towards the end of the semester, students chose a project to work on individually or with a small group.

Sustainable Design:

The Sustainable Design class began with an overview of LEED certified design and an examination of greenhouse gases and energy usage in the US. Students researched alternatives to energy production and completed precedent studies on energy efficient buildings. Additionally, the students used a laser cutter to support a community outreach project and designed recycled planters. All students were required to complete at least one energy efficient building model in Google SketchUp and create designs in Inkscape, a 2D modeling program.

Open Laboratory Time:

Each afternoon from 1 – 4 PM during the Fall and Spring semesters, we held an open lab session for the students to further explore concepts learned in the morning sessions. Students also took this time to perform practice Regents Tests and blog about the GreenFab morning sessions. The ITP Resident Researchers came to the lab several times to facilitate project activities with the students during the afternoon.

Key Findings

Approximately 45 students met the program goal of participating in at least 120 hours of instructional time during the fall and spring semesters. GreenFab staff recruited a pool of 75 students prior to the start of the program. Unfortunately, a small number of these students did not complete the first semester for a variety of reasons.

As a result, GreenFab staff worked with the Bronx Guild’s internship coordinator and Vice Principal to add additional students at the start of the spring semester. Although these students were unable to accrue the number of hours required for the year, they did achieve the semester goal of reaching 60 hours and completing a final project. To address student retention issues, GreenFab instructors maintained regular communication with each student’s school-day crew leader, and, if discipline or attendance issues arose, meetings were held with the students to help improve their behavior and engagement with the program. Graduating students were invited to attend a final celebration in May, which allowed students to showcase their work for parents, Bronx Guild staff, and community members.

This year’s celebration, which featured the work of 30 GreenFab students, saw tremendous improvement in the turnout of families and school staff. Additionally, many of the students had an opportunity to share their work with reporters and a documentary filmmaker. 15 students have been selected to participate in GreenFab’s summer internship program, which will begin on July 6th and run for 6 weeks. Based on the feedback from the program’s first year, GreenFab staff consolidated the most successful projects from the initial four workshop offerings into two classes, GreenTech and Sustainable Living. Students were required to take both workshops during the course of the year. This allowed for greater opportunities for students to engage in both screen-based and physical computing activities. Student response to the GreenTech workshop was overwhelmingly positive, and students completed a series of projects that covered concepts in electrical engineering, computer programming and robotics. Final projects showed tremendous improvement from year one, and students demonstrated a proficiency in the STEM concepts taught throughout the workshop.

The Sustainable Design workshop, which focused on screen-based technologies, covered topics in environmental justice, energy efficiency, and the New York State Living Science Curriculum. In the first semester, the curriculum featured an extensive research component that was not as successful with the participants. In order to address this issue, GreenFab staff increased the number of hands-on activities for the second semester and each student produced their own designs as part of the final project. Overall, the past year showed tremendous growth in the areas of student participation and the quality of instruction. In the upcoming year, GreenFab staff plans to continue working with the Bronx Guild to improve student retention and will increase the number of hands-on activities in the Sustainable Design curriculum.


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