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Recently: School project an atypical lesson in problem solving

Chapel Hill High School science teacher Rob Greenberg, center, guides students (left to right) Jess Hitt, Natalie Archer, Louisa Sloan and Andrew Hertzberg through their project for the Celebration of Earth and Sky this Sunday at Carrboro Century Center. Photo by Valarie Schwartz.

By Valarie Schwartz

As much as any other knowledge, high school students seek to know who they are and where they want their next steps in life to take them.

Teachers like Rob Greenberg, who teaches Earth and environmental science at Chapel Hill High School, help them explore beyond typical parameters, and with the “Celebration of Earth and Sky” exhibit at Carrboro Century Center from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, community members can also participate in the opening of young minds toward new realms.

Attendees of the event will find the results of a month-long group project Greenberg assigned that covers elements of geography, geology, ecology, climatology, business and architecture — and, of course, creativity.

The assignment was to pick a location anywhere in the world and create an ancient island there — during pre-human times. The location would predicate the topography, climate and ecology of the island, which would all be included in a map and key the students were to draw of the island they would name.

The second part of the assignment was to draw a map of the island today, including infrastructure designed to leave the smallest footprint, paying attention to all elements of human existence, including dealing with their water, energy and waste requirements within a 10-square-mile area with a population of 1,000 to 2,000. They were also to design a community building — be it a school or recreation or town center.

It’s a lot to cover in four weeks, but by sharing the work among four student teams a lot was learned by 110 students of all grades, with some pretty creative results.

“In the real world, they’re going to have to be able to problem-solve,” Greenberg said. “No child left behind is a good idea — nobody should be left behind — but teaching to a test isn’t. There’s a lack of science taught in elementary school because of the preparation for a multiple-choice test. The real world is not about hiding answers from others and taking a standardized test, but [about] memorizing facts and concepts then applying them, making predictions, executing ideas, trying to solve problems.
Greenberg’s helping them look for “green” solutions first.

He chose the assignment (which may become his own master’s thesis next year) and he chose who would work together.

“We didn’t even know each other names,” said Louisa Sloan of her teammates, who are all seniors except for Andrew Hertzberg, a junior.

“We work pretty well together,” Natalie Archer said.

They created the island North Acesulfame off the northern coast of New Zealand (the name was lifted from the ingredients in a bottle of water).

“We did research finding out different things specific to our island,” said Jess Hitt.

“We toured a sustainable-housing development (Pacifica) that includes solar panels for energy and collecting rain water,” Sloan said.

“We modeled a building after Smith Middle School, the most green-friendly building in Chapel Hill,” Hertzberg said, mentioning the light-reflecting roof.

“We’ve all become a lot more conscious in our everyday lives,” Hitt said.

Greenberg initiated the Celebration of Earth and Sky several years ago but this is the first time the venue has been away from the school. He hopes that by being held in Carrboro’s center, more community members will see the students’ work and initiate dialog with them.

“This gives high school students a chance to talk to people about their work and meet experts in the field and maybe sign on with a professional for service learning hours,” Greenberg said. “There are careers that students can go on to that involve sustainability.” This teacher is exposing them to that possibility.

Meet the students and see some clever ideas. The suggested admission price of $2 will go to Students United for a Responsible Global Environment.

Contact Valarie Schwartz at 923-3746 or valariekays@mac.com

  1. Jonathan Decker

    Way to go greenberg!