Looking Back Over 11 years of Earth Systems Journey at the NAAEE Conference

The first Earth Systems Journey took place in spring 2011, when 39 pre-schoolers and kindergartners set off to explore what happened to the water in their classroom sink, in a project called Downstream/Upstream. The model was co-created with that first project that incubated it. I has been implemented almost a dozen times since then, and each time, new ideas and opportunities arise, even as the essence of the model stays the same.

At the North American Association for Environmental Education Research Symposium, I am presenting the work to date, and ideas currently underway to better understand the impact of the model through reflecting on the stories and artifacts created in each project. While a pre-post questionnaire gets at some of the conscious learning a participant might have, what paradigms and stories are being formed that participants might not be able to articulate, or might not be found with the questionnaire, but could be shown in the drawings, photographs, and other creations of each project?

As part of reflecting on this decade of projects I’ll be re-issuing the thesis document where the basis of the model was first documented with a new introduction to the reissued version. I’ll also be publishing a color exhibit booklet documenting the Downstream/Upstream exhibit that concluded the first project.

If you are interested in hearing about the release of these and other publications, sign up on my Earth Systems Journey email list (quarterly emails at most) and receive a promo code for a discount. If you are interested in talking about collaboration (hosting a journey, resources, research, and more) or just exchanging ideas, I welcome hearing from you.


Power Systems Journey – in Press

Since Spring 2019, I’ve co-taught the course, “Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable” with Paul Imbertson, at the University of Minnesota. The course is based on the Earth Systems Journey model. As with all Earth Systems Journeys, the application is adapted for people (mostly undergrads), place (the grid as it intersects a light switch in the Bell Museum), and program (project-based grand challenge curriculum). The students in the course explore the electric grid and its role in the energy transition underway in the context of climate change and create two sets of public communication story maps for Minnesota Power Histories, and for Minnesota Power Futures. These can be viewed on the website, www.powersystemsjourney.net.

We were pleased to be invited to submit a journal article about the course for inclusion into a themed issue of American Journal of Economics and Sociology, and then that themed journal was published as a book through the Post Carbon Institute. It has been amazing how much the energy sector is evolving just since we started teaching the course in 2019. We hope the principles of the course serve our students well as they navigate even more changes in their lifetimes. That’s why we start with the history of electrification. The lens of systems thinking, and narratives about technology embedded in culture and values, are useful across periods of technological changes.

You can find the book with the chapter about our course on the Post Carbon Institute’s website here. The book has many other interesting chapters as well, exploring the energy transition as it intersects many fields.





Brigham, J. K., & Imbertson, P. (2020). Energy-Transition Education in a Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 79(3), 981–1022. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajes.12347

Brigham, J. K., & Imbertson, P. (2021). Energy transition education in a power systems journey: Making the invisible, visible. Energy transition and economic sufficiency: Food, transportation and education in a post-carbon society (pp. 227–250). Post Carbon Institute.

(This news post is back-dated to match book release date.)


Acting it Out – A poetic glimpse inside a Power Systems Journey

Back Story of the Poem

Power Systems Journey, like all Earth Systems Journeys uses a hero’s journey composition and ceremonial art activities to guide a systems-based educational experience. In a University of Minnesota grand challenge course in Spring 2019, students learned about the climate consequences of old power generation methods that make reforming the electric grid a necessary part of the energy transition. As the students prepare to move from studying the grid’s past to imagining its future, they heighten their awareness of the forces at work through playing the World Climate Simulation game, in which they take on the role of countries, trying to negotiate to limit warming to 1.5 C.

The game is integrated with performative/theatrical elements of the class. These are described in the poem below that document the events.  Instructors Paul Imbertson (playing Gaia) and Jonee Kulman Brigham (playing various gods of time), invite colleagues, Beth Mercer-Taylor and Aaron Hanson, both from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, as game hosts. They appear as “Visitor 1” and “Visitor 2.” The mythic presence of Greta Thunberg, also makes an appearance via video.

Post updated on October 20th to include this video poem link:
Watch/Listen to Video Poem Reading

Acting It Out
[planetary stage directions]

Scene: University Classroom
Characters: Instructors, Visitors, the Student Players, Greek Gods

 Act 1: The Science and Messenger

Que the graphs. The climbing carbon, tracing our growth to the planet’s suffocation
Agents of Hermes – Gods of Science, speak.
Agents of Hermes – Messengers, foretell our future fortune.
The bell tolls: Twelve years… Twelve years… Twelve years…
The Players brace.

Instructor One ques the video.
But the technology fails. Blocking the view, blocking the voice.
She counter strikes, inviting each team of Players to open their laptops.
And there appears Angelia, daughter of Hermes, daimona of messages, tidings and proclamations
Twelve screens open to her embodiment: the Swedish girl, Greta
Her face is multiplied, twelve mouths speak her whispered messages
Echoing, out of unison from staggered startings
“…if it was really happening, we …”
“…really happening, we wouldn’t be talking …”
“…wouldn’t be talking about anything else…”
“…about anything else…”

Her mouths are still speaking from between her braids,
When the bell rings
And the players exit the stage

Act 2: The Game
Characters: Instructors, Visitors, the Student Players

The Players have studied their parts: China, European Union, India, United States, Other Developed Countries, Other Developing Countries, Climate Activists, Fossil Fuel Lobbyists, and Journalists.

Visitors 1 and 2 set forth the rules
It is a battle of cooperation.
Giving Money, Taking Money, Making Promises.
Navigating across histories
Navigating across futures
Navigating toward 1.5 degrees Celsius
Counting up and counting down
 Let the games begin!

From scripted stories,
From national narratives,
The Players improvise
They volley an offering, nudging each other, playing their parts
15 minute bell: First round: 2.3 degrees Celsius. Progress but no win.
Again they volley, somewhat insulted by each others’ efforts
They nudge each other harder, invoke history, articulate culpability
15 minute bell: Second round: 2.1
The visitors remind them what is at stake.
Again they put forth proposals, and counter proposals, some make deals.
They shame each other. They blame each other. They point fingers.
But they still try.
15 minute bell: Third round: 1.8
Time is up. Adrenaline is up.
They have played the game, true to their parts, and the theater is all too real.

 Act 3: The Question and the Answer
Characters: Instructors, Visitors, the Student Players, Greek Gods

The Visitors congratulate the Players on a game well-played.
The Players have embodied the scripts, studied the scene, and acted it out.
But behind faint smiles, we all know: The Game has been lost.
The Visitors announce that the Players were not alone.
Two other characters were haunting the Game, unseen.

[Enter Instructor 1]
“I need you to make some tick tock sounds, like tic tic tic tic…” Keep going…
She ques the Bloomberg Carbon Clock, a counting graphic floating above a cloud streaked sky
The Players tic while the carbon numbers climb.
414.52, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,
414.61, 2, 3, 4, 5, …
She let’s them watch a while as they keep time.

Then speaks:

I am time.
Set your alarm.
I am Chronos, Greek god of linear time.
A clock ticking,
Counting down, as
Carbon counts up.

Next image: Bald men in suits adjusting the hands of a quarter clock face
She continues:

My daughter is Ananke,
Greek God of Inevitability.
She is the Doomsday Clock of the
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
An annual time setting
Counting down to the apocalypse­­
As climate and nuclear threats stack up.
You can slow her hours, or turn back time,
But her hands always aim ahead to the end of days

She conjures a third image. The naked gears of a clock, protected on a pedestal.

But there is another God of Time.
I am also Kairos, God of the opportune moment.
The right time, the opening of time in which we can act.
The now.
The clock of the long now is set to keep time for 10,000 years.
But it needs humans to make it chime.
Will we still be here?

What stories will you tell of time in this moment?

Chronos/Kairos exits.
The Visitors introduce the second hidden character.
Instructor Two, a man, enters, and speaks.

I am Gaia, I am nature.
Now that you have finished your negotiations,
I have one final proposal for you.
This proposal is non-negotiable:
Come back to me and I will save you,
Ignore me and you are doomed.

 The lights dim.
The Players sit in silence.

End Scene.

© Jonee Kulman Brigham, Full Spring Studio, 2019. This poem is part of a collection of poetry, called EarthRise, available at Telling Feather Press. Portions of this poem were included in an essay called Names for Time.

Summer-Fall 2019 News

Power Systems Journey – Pop-Up Exhibits & ASES Conference

The Power Systems Journey class at the University of Minnesota  is based on the Earth Systems Journey model. Students follow the power grid upstream and downstream from a light switch at the Bell Museum and create GIS Story Maps of MN Power Histories and MN Power Futures. These were just some of the creative energy education activities presented at the American Solar Energy Society conference this summer. The class was held Spring 2019 and is being held Fall 2019 as well. For both courses, students have a chance to present an original exhibit at a “Power Pop-Up” exhibit for the public at the Bell Museum. The Fall 2019 Power Pop-Up is being held Saturday, November 23rd from 10am – 2pm at the Bell Museum in the Imagine the Future Gallery.

4th year of Mississippi River Water Journey Camps

The Mississippi River Water Journey Camps were held for the 4th year at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Campers age 6-11 explored their drinking water and storm water, learning how human-engineered infrastructure connects them to the natural landscapes of the Mississippi River and how they can help protect their water systems.  This is the longest running implementation of the Earth Systems Journey Model and is currently being planned for summer 2020, which will be its fifth year.

Big Stone Lake Stories presented at the ESRI Education Summit in San Diego

Big Stone Lake Stories, an Earth Systems Journey in the form of a teaching artist residency, summer 2018, was presented at the ESRI Education Summit in San Diego in July 2019. ESRI is the developer of the GIS software used in this and other Earth Systems Journeys for participants to share their water journey stories. ESRI provides free versions of their software for K-12 schools and K-12 serving organizations.

Spring 2019 News

Spring 2019: Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable
The first Earth Systems Journey based on following the flow of electricity has been launched as a Grand Challenge Course at the University of Minnesota spring semester. 50 students are participating in a journey to follow electric power from a light switch at the Bell Museum, upstream from a variety of power plants and distributed energy generation locations, along transmission lines, to a substation, distribution lines, into the Bell Museum, to the light switch and light. What’s downstream from that? The light itself, that falls on a skull or taxidermy duck, and bounces into the student’s eye, to the retina, interpreted by the brain… – and becomes part of their experience of the museum.  The course is co-taught by me and Paul Imbertson, electric engineering professor, with TA, Chris Saladin, and supported by ‘Place Guides’ from the Bell Museum, University of Minnesota Main Energy Plant, Sala Architects and their solar home clients, Xcel Energy, and more. Documentation is in progress and a web link will be added here, when ready. Meanwhile, here is the course listing:
 The course will be offered again, Fall 2019.


Campers planting native grasses and flowers in Sarita Wetland in Mississippi River Water Journey Camps

Coming Summer 2019: Fourth Year of Mississippi River Water Journey Camps
These camps follow the path of rain and drinking water from Institute on the Environment to and from the river, as part of the U of MN Youth Rec and Wellness summer camp program. The camps are in their fourth year, and are almost full. More at: https://waterjourneycamps.blogspot.com/


A GIS crowdsource story map from Big Stone Lake Stories in Ortonville, MN

Summer 2019 Presentation at ESRI Education Summit
Big Stone Lake Stories and its use of GIS Story Maps will be presented at the ESRI Education Summit in San Diego, July 2019.

News from Summer 2018

In Big Stone Lake Stories, I hold a small screw, while a camper taps a hole in the large, canvas “Land Markings” interactive map. This is the first day, and we are marking “We are here,” with red embroidery thread. – Photo: John White

Collaborations continue for Earth Systems Journey.

The week of June 11th, in my role at the University of Minnesota, Earth Systems Journey and ways it has been applied was presented at a teacher training at Stowe Elementary in Duluth, MN. It is part of “Watershed Stories: Learners Exploring Their Place in the Ecosystem” funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and led by Jennifer Frisch, Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Service Professions, University of Minnesota, Duluth. Teachers at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Duluth, Minnesota, will participate in a training to learn how to use GIS Story Maps with their students in order to explore their schoolyard and its connection to the watershed. Read more here.

June 18-June 29th, the annual Mississippi River Water Journey Camps, based on Earth Systems Journey, were held at the University of Minnesota, at the Institute on the Environment.  New campers and new partners always keep each year a little different. See more about the camps here.

July 7-8, techniques used in the Rain-Drain-Pollution-Solution, an Earth Systems Journey project, were presented at the Education Summit at the annual ESRI User Conference in San, Diego.

And finally, this summer, I was invited to Bonanza Education Center to be a visiting teaching artist in residence in a camp called “Big Stone Lake Stories,” based on Earth Systems Journey. This was a special opportunity to work with a dynamic community in western Minnesota, in the Ortonville area, to explore new areas for Earth Systems Journey (ESJ). This was the first time ESJ followed water from a well and to a septic field, and it was the first time there were a team of artists, all collaborating on creating a rich experience for the campers. The camp was funded by Southwest Minnesota Arts Council and many community partners. Read more here.

Earth Systems Journey at National Council for Science and the Environment

Jonee Kulman Brigham presenting a poster on Water Journey Camps at the NCSE Conference, January 23-4, Washington, DC

Earth Systems Journey was represented in a poster on Water Journey Camps, as well as in a Symposium presentation on “Artists as Partners in Infrastructure Education.” What drew us to this conference was the theme of sustainable infrastructure, and the invitation to look at built, natural, and social infrastructures all together to address sustainability.

Conference: National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) 2018: The Science, Business, and Education of Sustainable Infrastructure: January 23-25, 2018, Washington, D.C.

Spring 2017 News

There’s been a lot of Earth Systems Journey Activity in Spring 2017!

The exhibit: “We Watch the Stream: Impressions from River Journey” by Jonee Kulman Brigham with River’s Edge Academy will be on display April 10, 2017 – August 15, 2017 at the MWMO Stormwater Park and Learning Center. The reception was Friday May 12 from 4-6pm with a presentation at 5pm. Please see the exhibit page for more details.

2017 Mississippi River Water Journey Camps were held June 12-23 at Institute on the Environment, at the University of Minnesota. The first camp explored the path of the “Water We Drink.” The second camp explored the “Story of Rain.” Check out the website to find the story of this year’s camps, and the camper’s photos highlighted in the GIS storymaps they created. There is also an exhibit about the camps summer 2017 from June 12 to August 16, 2017.

The camps from summer 2016 and associate GIS Story maps are being presented at the ESRI Education Summit in July 2017, which brings together educators engaging students with GIS to exchange ideas and best practices.

The Rain-Drain-Pollution-Solution brought the Earth Systems Journey model to a 6th grade classroom at Edgerton Elementary. Here, students explored the path of stormwater through their school grounds, created maps, and researched stormwater potential pollutants to share with the public online and at “WaterFest.” Learn more at the project website.

New and Pending Grants: A very exciting new exploration is underway with the Bell Museum. A Mini Grant called “A Systems Journey – Ecological Education and the Distributed Museum” from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment was awarded this spring to the Bell Museum to work with Earth Systems Journey and a group of advisors to explore Earth Systems Journey programming at the new Bell Museum+Planetarium, set to open in 2018.  In addition, two more grants have been proposed and others are under development at the University of Minnesota that use the Earth Systems Journey model.

Summer will include exploration of energy, and materials/waste versions of Earth Systems Journey, continuation of grants and exhibits, conference presentations, and article writing.

Mississippi River Water Journey Camps

Mississippi River Water Journey Camps took place Summer 2016. This project led by Jonee Kulman Brigham, creator of Earth Systems Journey, was completed with a wonderful team at the University of Minnesota. Here’s a video with highlights, followed by a summary. And for more information go to the project website.

“Water Journey Camps” get children outdoors exploring the natural environment, doing service plantings, and teaching the public how to conserve water and improve water quality to help protect natural areas. Two different one-week summer camps: “Water Journey: Drink” and “Water Journey: Rain,” are held twice each (a total of four camps) at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. The camps serve youth ages 6-8 and 9-11 and are part of the University of Minnesota Recreation & Wellness Summer Youth Program.


Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. The initial investment will establish the camp design, content, materials, an approaches so that it is set up to repeat within the structure and fee system of the youth camp program. The first camps will be in summer 2016.


The camps use an engaging arts/science adventure approach, called Earth Systems Journey, designed to bridge a gap between environmental education focused on conservation behavior and environmental education focused on downstream impacts of conservation. By revealing the water infrastructure that connects daily use of water with what happens at the other end of the pipes, conservation lessons can be made more relevant to students’ experience. The camps are designed to address four areas that research indicates enhance stewardship behavior. (1) Children need more opportunities for outdoor experiential environmental education to form bonds with nature. (2) People must see the connection between their actions in the human-built environment and the associated impacts in the natural environment. (3) Children need opportunities to contribute through service activities and using their learning to help others in order to enhance their stewardship competence and identity. (4) Children and the public they will help educate need to have local, place-based examples of how their actions affect the natural areas in their community to increase the immediacy and relevance of stewardship.


The project is led by Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota with a team of collaborators and supporters.

For more information about the camp program or your registration: University of Minnesota Recreation & Wellness Summer Youth Program

For more information about the planning and design of the camps: Beth Mercer-Taylor or Jonee Kulman Brigham


River Journey Complete

With the celebration of learning and graduation ceremony at River’s Edge Academy June 4th, 2015, the active part of River Journey was completed. Below is a summary of the project, and you can find more details about the project and related presentations and exhibits at the project website: River Journey blog.

2014-2015 Fellowship Project for Institute on the Environment:

River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi River
An Earth Systems Journey at River’s Edge Academy

This project took place at River’s Edge Academy Charter Environmental High School, where Brigham collaborated with teachers, staff and students on a year long “Earth Systems Journey” of water through their school, tracing the flows to the Mississippi River, both upstream and downstream. This project is multi-faceted and supported by many partners. Some of the planning and development was done during Brigham’s time as a Buckman Fellow 2013-2014. The Institute on the Environment at the U of MN is provided funding as part of Brigham’s Resident Fellowship there. And the project was one of the focus areas of Brigham’s year as a Visiting Scholar in the Art Education Program at the U of MN College of Education and Human Development. With the assistance of project partner U-Spatial, students used online mapping software (ArcGIS online) to share their learning about the water cycle and increase public awareness. Community contributors included the National Park Service, St. Paul Regional Water Services, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, the Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization and others. You can read more about it on the River Journey blog. The Earth Systems Journey (ESJ) is a curriculum framework for expeditionary, place-based environmental education. ESJ teaches ecological/environmental content, principles, analysis and decision skills in way that integrates human-engineered systems with natural systems. ESJ combines experiential education in systems thinking with the behavior-changing impact of story in the form of a Hero’s Journey. ESJ uses art and story as the core structure of the curriculum in order to engage and motivate students and unify their learning in a larger context of meaning. Upon this story-based core, interdisciplinary application of environmental education curriculum brings humanities into dialogue with science and engineering studies so that environmental issues can be considered from many points of view and ways of understanding. Students’ expeditions followed the actual flow of water through their school’s building and grounds and into the surrounding community to explore how water interconnects them with human-engineered infrastructure and natural systems. Over the year, students document their place-based water studies using digital mapping technology that allows for collaborative and interdisciplinary analysis and which will also serve as a public, online dissemination of their learning. The ESJ model has been successfully piloted at the concept development level with preschool and kindergartners in 2011.