In New York City a transdisciplinary collaboration is developing a network to educate middle school students and promote citizen science, while transforming and restoring the local urban landscape. Communities which initially formed to fill needs, meet desires, or through necessity, may formalize into urbanized, industrial centers with social systems and structures by which we feel ourselves constrained, and whose control we then desire to escape (Carey, 1996). During the early 20th-century, productivity associated with rapid industrialization was considered to be in the public and national interest. Community leaders and educators structured the emerging public school system along a standardized model to achieve similar efficiencies to those seen in industry. This industrialization lead to an ineffective one-size-fits-all educational system as well as tremendous environmental damage inflicted on our urban centers: obstacles which we are now seeking to escape or rectify. Additionally, as we progress into the Information Age, it has become apparent too few students in the United States are pursuing STEM-C education and careers. U.S. Census data indicates only a modest increase since 2000; yet, the number of STEM-C jobs has increased tremendously over that same time period. Reports also indicate significant underrepresentation of women and minorities in these fields and educational pathways.
Education has unique power to ameliorate this dilemma, while scaffolding student learning toward areas deemed to offer the greatest potential benefits in the community. Drawing leaders from community groups and cultural institutions together with educators, and ecologists into a synergistic collaboration, the Community + Curriculum Enterprise for Restoration Science (CCERS) project offers a transdisciplinary model for meeting these challenges. The CCERS is a new model for creating a place-based educational curriculum to “wrap around” each student. Professional development is being offered to teach urban middle school teachers how to implement a project-based science curriculum. Scientists, teachers, and community leaders all communicate to share their expertise in developing learning activities and providing necessary resources. Lesson plans incorporating Bybee’s 5 E model are posted on a digital platform. A compatible mobile application will enable students and citizen scientists to upload their own observations to a growing collective database and create graphs to report their findings. Cultural exhibits will complement and extend learning of science, restoration efforts, and related history. Afterschool programs offer related activities for low resource settings. Evaluation results show teachers report enhanced skills and content knowledge. Students’ knowledge, skills, efficacy, and interest in STEM-C careers have increased.
As members of communities, it is our shared obligation to combine our capabilities in order to facilitate productive changes in our cultural institutions, outdoor environments, and neighborhoods. What better, more lasting way to do so than by improving the way we educate urban youth? The CCERS model brings professionals from diverse fields and academics from different disciplines into communication creating technologies, and developing a new curriculum for the largest public school system, in the largest urban neighborhood in the United States.