P.S. 31’s Earthship Communities
By Alison Schuettinger, NWF/Greenpoint Eco-Schools Sustainability Coach @ PS 31, and PS 31 4th grade students
As part of the Greenpoint Eco-School’s program, P.S. 31 is working towards integrating sustainability across disciplines. The art teacher, Ms. Owen and I recently collaborated on a Green STEAM based project for three 4th grade classes. We created a 10-week unit that guided students through the design and construction of Earthships.
Earthships are a type of radical sustainable passive house architecture, first designed by architect Michael Reynolds in the 1970s. Considering the new STEAM Wing at P.S. 31 this year, our objective was to create a project that connected sustainability, STEAM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) and upcycling in the art room. We began the Earthship unit by practicing with students how to build basic 3D architectural models using cardboard and toothpicks. After learning about the systems and features of an Earthship, students used clay, tires, plastic bottle caps, cardboard, fake turf grass and paint to create their own Earthship structures and communities. Students used their own imagination and ideas to define the vision, purpose, and functions of their Earthships. I am amazed at the mindful stories and innovative communities that they came up with!
Students created a space station, homeless community, senior center, hotel, campground, skatepark, zombie apocalypse, high tech base camp, slime themed birthday party, pollution free Fire Fox base, plant spa, school, zoo and much more. Three students worked together to create a homeless community called HP, that included many spiritual features that they came up with completely on their own. When asked to describe the different features, constructed out of clay, Delilah pointed out, “the small houses for the homeless, a place for the Queen, a place for Jesus to live and be protected, and a bunny Spirit Animal that can help protect you when you need to pray.” The intention and meaning behind every piece of clay was beautiful. When I asked them what they learned from the project, Delilah shared “that we could do this in real life, that we can save people’s lives while it’s cold in the winter”. Their structure was a perfect example of how all groups created something, without any prompts, that had an altruistic social or environmental impact.
Another group of 4 students, created a Community of New York with the purpose of giving people a home and keeping them warm, ”and also to protect people from floods.” The group shared that a “wizard, witch, bat, human, 2 police officers, wolf, rock monster and an emoji,” all reside in the Earthship. When asked what they learned from creating the Earthship, one of the members shared, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” Another student added, “Maybe this structure could be built in the future.” One student’s favorite part of the creation was the “healing and advice tree.”
All the structures were crafted with thoughtful details and creativity; it was a truly awesome co-teaching experience. It started out as an art project with a very simple learning objective to model Earthship architecture and create a sustainable home using recycled materials and it evolved into an opportunity for students to express complete freedom with their ideas.