Launched: “River Journey” a new Earth Systems Journey at River’s Edge Academy

River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippiis the name of the current Earth Systems Journey pilot. This project will take place at River’s Edge Academy Charter Environmental High School, where I will collaborate 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 multifaceted and supported by many partners. Some of the planning and development was done during my time as a Buckman Fellow 2013-2014. The Institute on the Environment at the U of MN is providing seed funding as part of my Resident Fellowship there. And the project will be one of the focus areas of my year as a Visiting Scholar in the Art Education Program at the U of MN College of Education and Human Development. Additional support is provided through my role as an artist at Full Spring Studio and its Earth Systems Journey program.

Earth Systems Journey (ESJ) is a curriculum framework for expeditionary, place-based environmental education. In its core approach, 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 follow 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. Students then reflect and analyze environmental issues they discover, and plan and execute environmental service projects in order to apply their learning and build their environmental identity through group expression of stewardship. The ESJ model has been successfully piloted at the concept development level with preschool and kindergartners in 2011.

In this project some additional special opportunities for GIS map-based digital exploration and communication will be incorporated with the support of U-Spatial, the University of Minnesota’s GIS research support center. Over the year, students will document and spatially analyze 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 and personal reflections about the value of water and the Mississippi.

See the website for the River Journey project for updates and more information.

Buckman Fellowship & Video

I am grateful to the Buckman Fellowship program, its founder, board, presenters, and Group Leader Colleen Kahn and the other Fellows in the cohort for a wonderful year of exploration and education in philanthropy. It was a privilege to be able to work on trying to build the Earth Systems Journey Program alongside so many others doing so much for community.

In the fellowship year, I worked on developing the project model and communications and  also established a network of supporters and resources, proposed four grants with collaborators, and a began a pilot project with an environmental charter high school. It is amazing what can get done with inspiration, new tools, new knowledge and the support of peers.

Here is a video generously produced by the Buckman Fellowship Program interviewing me about Earth Systems Journey.

Yet another benefit from a wonderful program.


cropped-ESJ-logo-websized.jpgEarth 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 experience 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?init-scoop-b - Copy

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? Both. While it is related to environmental art, it is perhaps better described as “Art-led Environmental Education,” since it is using art in a more instrumental way toward more specific goals about education.

IMG_3594-copy - trim - CopyWhy?

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.

outpour collageNext Steps & Contact

I am in the process of developing this website for Earth Systems Journey.

If you are interested in holding an Earth Systems Journey 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 outcomes.

Earth Systems Journey is part of Full Spring Studio, LLC.
If you’d like to get updates on Earth Systems Journey, please let me know at