River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi 

An Earth Systems Journey at River's Edge Academy

River Journey took place at River's Edge Academy Charter Environmental High School, where a collaborative team, of teachers, staff, and students students took a year-long "Earth Systems Journey" of water through their school, tracing the flows to the Mississippi River, both upstream and downstream. The project is funded by Institute on the Environment through a Resident Fellowship for Jonee Kulman Brigham, the project leader. See the Team & Support page for the many other organizations supporting the project.


This project is multi-faceted and supported by many partners. Some of the planning and development was done during Brigham's time as a Buckman Fellow 2013-2014. The Institute on the Environment at the U of MN is providing seed funding as part of Brigham's Resident Fellowship at the Institute. And the project will be one of the focus areas of Brigham's year as a Visiting Scholar in the Art Education Program at the U of MN College of Education and Human Development.

The Earth Systems Journey (ESJ) is a curriculum framework for experiential , place-based environmental education. ESJ teaches ecological/environmental content, principles, analysis and decision skills in way that integrates human-engineered systems with natural systems. ESJ combines experiential education about systems thinking with the behavior-changing impact of story in the form of a Hero’s Journey. ESJ uses art and story as the core structure of the curriculum in order to engage and motivate students and unify their learning in a larger context of meaning. Upon this story-based core, interdisciplinary application of environmental education curriculum brings humanities into dialogue with science and engineering studies so that environmental issues can be considered from many points of view and ways of understanding. Students’ expeditions follow the actual flow of water through their school’s building and grounds and into the surrounding community to explore how water interconnects them with human-engineered infrastructure and natural systems. Students then reflect and analyze environmental issues they discover, and plan and execute environmental service projects in order to apply their learning and build their environmental identity through group expression of stewardship. Over the year, students document and spatially analyze their place-based water studies using digital mapping technology that allows for collaborative and interdisciplinary analysis and which will also serve as a public, online dissemination of their learning. The ESJ model has been previously piloted with preschool and kindergartners in 2011.

More background on the approach is included in this video presentation from Institute on the Environment's "Big Questions"  lecture series.

For more details and a discussion of how the project aims at a sense of place, see the case study published in the Journal for Sustainability Education.

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