Students for Sustainability: Authentic Learning in the Quest for Sustainable Solutions

  1. The “SPARK”

A move towards more authentic, powerful learning often times requires a “spark”, and in the case of the Net-Zero project, the spark for teacher Mark Schweitzer came in 3 parts: 

  • A presentation by Peter Gamwell, where educators were asked to think of their own story and what “extraordinary” thing they wanted to have happen in their classes. 
  • Mark’s previous career as a climate change scientist, where his passion for sustainability was fostered and grew into a passion to educate young people about the environment and environmental stewardship.
  • The grant…

The moment this spark became “real” to Mark though, was when he was encouraged by his administration to apply for a Grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta. Mark was successful in winning the grant in early 2019. The purpose of this grant was to raise awareness of sustainability in a community, and for Mark, this was when he formed a group of students in the school who were passionate about sustainability in schools. The grant specifically allowed for:

  • the funding of a classroom teacher for one period a day to focus on creating a Net Zero school.
  • the creation of a student group (Sustainable Solutions for Schools) which aimed to promote the project within the school. This group met during Learning Strategies (30min each day) to collaborate, brainstorm, trouble-shoot and plan the project. 
  • Sustainable Solutions for Schools: Two environmental student groups in Strathmore High School (SHS)coming together, under one name. 
    • Net-Zero: Student group learning how to create a Net-Zero school, which produces as much energy as it consumes, in the hope of creating a model that other schools and students can follow. 
    • Save Our Roots: Student group that focuses on recycling and reducing waste in the school (plastic straws, recycling bin program within the school, potentially build a green-house). 
  • The hiring of outside experts, Carbon Busters (Zero carbon builders), who came to SHS to complete 4 separate workshops with students, in the areas of sustainability and renewable energy.  

Often, when teachers are looking for ways to create deep learning experiences for students, they intentionally look for ways to build a culture of thinking in their classes. In this type of culture, students are encouraged to be open-minded, think critically and be persistent in overcoming challenges in authentic tasks. 

In Mark’s case, the goal of achieving a Net-Zero school with students is the “authentic task” that students are engaged in; however, the “vision” behind the task is to take students passions for sustainability and build key competencies ( creativity, communication, citizenship, critical thinking, and connecting and collaborating) that employers are currently seeking.

  1. The “LEARNING”: Authentic, Messy, Real

Since winning the first grant, the students within SSS (Sustainable Solutions for Schools) have been driving the learning process. Throughout the process thus far, students have found their own passion for sustainability ignited, while encountering challenges brought forward through achieving a Net-Zero school. They have developed key competencies alongside their peers, and have played to their strengths with guidance from their teacher, outside experts and partners. 

  1. The Action-Plan with  PARTNERS: 


Four workshops with students (each workshop focused on certain skills, and they were a huge influence in assisting students to understand net-zero design and energy efficiency.)

  1. Sustainability & Renewable Energy- how to do an energy audit, sharing essential tools with students to complete the audit. **Students reflected on utility bills (water, electricity, & sewer). Students took measurements to complete their own energy audit that they could compare to Carbon-Busters at the next workshop.
  2. Energy Audit Comparison- Carbon Busters conducted their own professional energy audit & encouraged students to shadow their experts while this happened. There was time to compare the students’ results with their own and then Carbon Busters provided students with a comprehensive report on SHS’s building, which included heating/energy/water usage, as well as possible solutions that could be used to mitigate and make the building more energy efficient.)
  3. Q&A Presentation on the Comprehensive report: Carbon Busters presented their findings to Administration and students and time was given to brainstorm possible solutions together. Sketch-up software: building and design. Complete energy models- showed students how to use the software. 
  4. Sketch Up Software & Project management skill development: This workshop is set to occur mid-November 2019. Carbon Busters will assist students in using the Sketch-up software and helping them to prioritize tasks moving forward with the project.  
Met with students in May 2019 as a potential Stakeholders meeting.

  • Stantec brought an Architect, Engineer, and 2 Senior Managers to SHS to listen to students and Mark discuss their Net-Zero project. 
  • To work with students, Stantect is interested in forming a mentorship program to have the students work with their own professionals (lawyers, engineers, architects. 
Town Council presentation with David Levasseur & Lorraine Bauer Town Council meeting in May 2019 – Students presented their Net-Zero project to the Town of Strathmore representative.

  • There was a Q&A period following the presentation with Town Councilors
  • Following this presentation, students were put in contact with the town planner and infrastructure financial adviser to discuss possible future steps in the project. 

Tahra Sabir (Financial Services)

Tahra Sabir, working with Mark, helps support  the financing of this project and cost benefit analysis using prior utility bills and projected project cost.


For an in-depth dive into the Net Zero project at Strathmore High School, check out this podcast on Powering Possibilities!

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