Our Approach

The Sustainability Workshop is designed around three simple principles:

Put the work first

At the Workshop, authentic problems drive and define the curriculum, and dictate what specific knowledge and skills students need to develop. Student work is assessed using real-world criteria that are known to students, staff, and external partners. When we accepted Mayor Michael Nutter’s challenge to reduce energy use in our building by 10-30 percent, that became a project. When we decided we needed an actual Workshop space where we design and build things or meet as a whole group, that became a project. Whether those projects are successful is not determined by how our students did on a test, but rather by whether we achieve our objectives.

Trust students to make decisions

Even when they make a decision their teachers would not have made. Even when they make mistakes. We want our students making, explaining, and justifying as many decisions as possible. It’s what they will be expected to do when they get jobs. It makes them responsible for their work and their ideas. It reinforces the idea that the problems we’re trying to solve really don’t have one right answer.

Make the most out of failure

Some reformers like to say that “failure is not an option.” We agree – it’s a necessity! Failure is an indispensable part of all innovation and all problem solving. When you build something and it fails, everyone can see that it failed. There is nothing abstract or removed about it. But the really important part is what happens next: trying to figure out why it failed, and what can be done to fix it. That’s where the learning happens. It’s also how we learn to be resilient. Failure is supposed to happen. It’s what happens next that really counts.

To see how we put these principles into practice, please visit our Student Projects page.