Making air quality visible for grade schoolers in Pittsburgh, PA.
for the Environmental Charter School
Researcher • Curriculum Designer • Photographer • Learning Technology Designer • Information Architect
Techniques + Tools
User Testing • Field Research • Spatial Storytelling • Fusion360 CAD Design • Laser Cutting • Magnetism
A comprehensive curriculum for grades fourth—fifth at the Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh, PA.
How might we design a curriculum for the Environmental Charter School (ECS) that builds literacy around Pittsburgh’s air quality, identity, and industrial past that promotes civic engagement for a healthier future?
Promote civic engagement
Make the invisible visible
To achieve these goals we researched the problem space, interviewed stakeholders, and conducted usability tests of final deliverables. The final kit includes a teacher’s curriculum guide, student field guide, air magnifier kit, and plans for an in-school collaborative art installation.
These pieces work together for an immersive exploration of air quality through Pittsburgh’s industrial heritage.
Our scientific research included a broad survey of learning science, identity and pollution, and pollution’s effects on the neurodevelopment of grade school students. We also examined Pittsburgh’s air quality record, including the “smokiest” days on record. This historical data informed how we built an experience with air pollution that can be made visible.
The client interviews and research we conducted informed the demographic areas of intervention. We proposed a curriculum to match each grade loop of the Environmental Charter School, but focused on 4th-5th grade. This age range has the cognitive ability to think abstractly and is also developing their sense of empathy. Combined, this makes 4th and 5th grades the ideal demographic for a sensory-forward exploration of Pittsburgh’s air quality over time.
Our reframe of Design Thinking is “Design Feeling: the messy joy of problem solving.” This feeling is an internal practice of continuous iteration and action: one that naturally lends itself to civic action.
To make air quality concrete, we brainstormed many different sensory experiences. Ideas like projection mapping, tangible data, and edible air were all explored. The most well received idea was a vinyl installation that obscured vision in decades with highest air pollution. The whiteboard drawing to the left is our initial concept.