Thursday, February 13, 2014

Earth Systems Journey

Earth Systems Journey* (ESJ) is a curriculum framework for art-led, experiential, place-based environmental education about environmental flows, (such as water, air, energy or material) through the school building and grounds. ESJ is an approach that teaches ecological and environmental content, principles, analysis and decision skills in way that shows how human-engineered systems are integrated with natural systems. At its core, the design of an Earth Systems Journey is to make a special journey starting from a place of personal experience, following a flow of interest to its source and destination, as far as you can, so that when you return to where you started, your view of that place and its flows is transformed by knowing the larger story that runs through it and the places, and people and natural elements that live in relation to it. What makes the journey “special” is its composition as a transformative journey paying attention to props, interactive and expressive activities, participatory storytelling, and time to reflect and integrate the experience into a personal story. By using the natural learning form of story, complex systems can be made both engaging, and comprehensible. (*Earth Systems Journey was formerly called “Systems Journey.”)

What does it look like?

If you've seen the Downstream/Upstream Project, that is an example. In fact, it is the project that incubated the Earth Systems Journey model. Is it art or education? Well, it is both, but since I'm doing more work in this area I realized that it would be helpful to articulate these two areas of my practice: Environmental Art, which I practice in Full Spring Studio, and Art-led Environmental Education, which I'll practice under "Earth Systems Journey," - a part of Full Spring Studio. Both types of work draw from the same areas of interest, but ESJ is using art in a different, more instrumental way toward more specific goals about education.


It has been said we need “a new story” of the earth and our place in it to move toward sustainability. Concepts of interdependence and interconnection are fundamental to sustainability, but hard to comprehend in a culture still designed around individual independence. An Earth Systems Journey, such as the Downstream/ Upstream project, responds to this need. ESJ is designed to instill a sense of “experiential integration” between participants, their school, and the larger social, technological and natural systems that bring water, energy and materials to their school to support their daily life. 


Next Steps

I am in the process of developing a website for Earth Systems Journey. Meanwhile, if you go to the Downstream/Upstream project site, you'll find some description of ESJ (which was called "Systems Journey" at the time of that project.) If you are interested in one at your school or organization, I'd be glad to talk to you about it. An Earth Systems Journey can range from several day activities that stay on the school grounds, to a several-week learning theme with field trips (like Downstream/Upstream), to an organizing theme for an entire school year with many field trips like what is in planning stages now for some pilot projects.

I am also a Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Center for Sustainable Building Research, and I am collaborating with other researchers and with schools on grant proposals to further pilot the Earth Systems Journey Framework and evaluate its effectiveness.

If you'd like to get updates on Earth Systems Journey, please let me know at