A student holds an evenly dried mango slice over his head like a trophy. His feet are caked with the dry Haitian earth and his arms kissed by the equatorial sun. He and his classmates designed and tested this solar mango dryer as part of their ninth grade Environmental Analysis class, but that was months ago in New York. To see it working firsthand, to imagine its potential to enhance agroforestry, and to reduce vitamin A deficiency in this rural community – is thrilling.
It’s possible to weave together mastery and purpose in our science classes. We can and should implement projects that simultaneously engage students in rigorous scientific thinking and provide opportunities for students to make tangible contributions to their communities. At Tech Valley High School in New York, science students are engaged in projects such as urban soil remediation, invasive species tracking, sensor engineering for water quality monitoring, mapping food deserts, and quantifying carbon sinks. They master content better because they are applying their learning to initiatives that truly matter. The project that most exemplifies this interplay of mastery and purpose is Ayiti Resurrect – literally “Haiti Rising” – a 5-year, multi-disciplinary environmental service project that is changing lives in the farming community of Komye, Haiti.