Article

October 1st, 2021

Educator Voice: How this architecture teacher’s students are designing solutions to address climate change

EducationEducator VoiceInvention EducationSTEM

by Richard Knoeppel

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I was part of a generation aware of the importance of taking care of the environment. I can recall spending my Saturday mornings visiting my neighbors who saved newspapers and aluminum cans for me to take to the local recycling center once a month.

But today, as I watch wildfires in California, hurricanes on the East coast and droughts right here in Nevada, I know that actions of previous generations have not been enough to stave off the harmful effects of climate change. As an educator, though, seeing my students engage firsthand with climate solutions (including building an electrical vehicle and a solar array), I still think we can make a difference. 

As a Career and Technical Education Teacher (CTE) who teaches architectural design, I am able to teach my students about carbon neutrality, sustainability and renewable resources, including energy.

I know that actions of previous generations have not been enough to stave off the harmful effects of climate change.

The integration of clean energy topics into my curriculum has been made easier because of the strong relationships I have built with local architecture professionals. These professionals have created initiatives, strategies and frameworks that help guide the different climate solutions concepts I teach in my classroom. For instance: 

  • The 2030 Challenge, which pushed the industry to decarbonize, helps me discuss the importance of designing carbon neutral buildings and how students can make simple changes in their lives to help accomplish carbon neutrality.  
  • The American Institute of Architects (AIA) 50 to 50 provides fifty strategies to reduce fossil fuel consumption in buildings. The short readings in this document provide students with concepts and strategies to help create more sustainable architecture while battling the environmental changes that affect climate. 
  • The AIA Framework for Design Excellence seeks to inspire sustainable, resilient and inclusive design through 10 principles that protect the environment as well as the health, safety and welfare of the public. This framework focuses on many conservation concepts as well as the need to design with equity in mind.

With these frameworks, students in my classes are able to design buildings with Climate Action in mind. In the virtual environment, using primarily Autodesk products, students can rapidly design structures using building information modeling software. The design choices they make can be quickly tested to determine their efficiency using tools like Green Building Studio or Insight.

Students quickly learn how to make simple changes to their designs in order to increase the efficiency of their building while minimizing the impact on our environment. New technologies like Generative Design allow students to leverage a series of specified data inputs and to parametric design in order to make more informed design decisions.

The integration of clean energy topics into my curriculum has been made easier because of the strong relationships I have built with local architecture professionals.

Teaching about climate change and sustainable design in a virtual environment helps to reinforce important ideas and concepts, but the hands-on application really helps students to directly apply what they learn in their CTE and academic classes.

I’ve been fortunate to see my students engage with this applied learning. I’ve seen students work to create an air quality study in our bus lanes through the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow program. Using Arduino units and open source software, we were able to collect air samples to show the impact idling buses have on air pollution at our campus. Partnering with our county division of air quality we were able to illustrate the negative effects of the diesel emissions. 

…the hands-on application really helps students to directly apply what they learn in their CTE and academic classes.

Through a Project Management Institute grant, students built a working solar array for all students to be able to charge their cell phones at lunch. In addition to the skills they developed through the project’s construction, students also needed to determine optimal placement of the solar panels as well as the equipment necessary to generate and store the power, how to convert from DC to AC and how they would monitor the overall efficiency. 

This past year, I’ve served as a commissioner with K12 Climate Action, an initiative by the Aspen Institute, and we recently released an action plan with policy recommendations to support all schools in addressing climate change. These recommendations include supporting career and technical education in integrating clean energy and environmental sustainability — just like I have in my school. Recognizing the potential for students to share their ideas and create solutions to real-world problems is why it is important to help our schools take climate action. 

The climate issues faced by the world today are perhaps more complex than they were when I was a child, but the solutions to solving them are often as simple as my Saturday morning recycling. Much of this starts with education and empowering our young people to take action.


Richard Knoeppel is a National Board Certified Teacher who has worked in K-20 education for the last 35 years. For the last 27 years, Richard has taught at Advanced Technologies Academy (A-TECH) in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he has built a nationally recognized program of study in architectural design receiving a 2016 Excellence in Action Award from AdvanceCTE.

 

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