To learn more about career discovery, register now for Dream Big with Design later this month, ASLA’s inaugural virtual showcase of landscape architecture and PreK-12 design learning, with fun sessions and resources for students, as well as for PreK-12 educators, ASLA members, and other design professionals seeking to introduce students to the profession. There’s also a pre-Dream Big webinar happening on Friday, September 17—Hollywood’s Backlot Urbanism: A Cinematographic Pattern Language for Landscape Architecture, presented by Chip Sullivan, FASLA.
From June 28 to August 6, 2021, I had the opportunity to be an instructor in a summer program at elementary schools in Henrico County and Richmond, Virginia. Even though my priority at the time was working on my book, I accepted the challenge as a way to test how lessons on landscape architecture concepts can be integrated when implementing STEM activities.
I used lessons that I created and taught during my career as an educator for over 30 years at New York City public schools, but now with an added STEM approach. Although I knew that I was going to integrate concepts from landscape architecture and 3D design, I decided not to include the phrase “landscape architecture” in the program title because it can sound like complex and intimidating work for elementary school children. For this reason, I selected lessons that would help students develop design skills about the outdoor and built environment using the word “environment” as a more inclusive term, because I wanted to be perceived just as the “STEM teacher.”
But what is STEM? Many people know it as the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; however, I agree with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)’s description of it as “an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real world lessons as students apply these disciplines in contexts that make connections between school, community, work and the global enterprise enabling students to compete in the new economy.” Therefore, I used this definition as a guide when designing each lesson for this summer program.
In this COVID era, new challenges require new solutions. There are many questions that cannot be answered yet but new design issues will arise on how human activities and gatherings will be affected because of the pandemic. In schools, we used to think that the ideal spaces for instruction were the classrooms, where sometimes there is no cross-ventilation and the air quality can jeopardize the health and safety of the users. However, in the same way restaurants that used to have only dine-ins are now offering drive-thrus, schools might be forced to use their outdoor spaces as outdoor classrooms. This will present a real design issue for architects and landscape architects and will bring us an opportunity for the community to see and appreciate the work we do.
So, if the future trend will be to use outdoor spaces as a classroom, let me share an example of an outdoor classroom designed and done by students.
While working with a non-profit organization that used architecture and the built environment to implement K-12 learning experiences, I had the opportunity to serve as an Architect-Educator in an elementary school in Staten Island, New York. As a former New York City art teacher, I immediately connected with the art teacher of the school. While working together and sharing that I also had a degree in landscape architecture, she asked me if I was able to help her restore the schoolyard that really had not been cared for. After I finished working with the groups to which I had been assigned, I volunteered my time to help her restore the school garden.
K-12 Educational Programs in Landscape Architecture: How to Create Clients and Professionals of the Future
As an ASLA member, you have no doubt heard the phrase “K‐12 educational programs.” Why does this phrase keep resurfacing as an issue in landscape architecture? In this article, I will bring to light why this topic is important and worthy of further development.
First, let’s ask ourselves the following:
Do people understand what a landscape architect does?
Are there many positions in government for the recent graduate that recognize and differentiate the role of landscape architect?
What is the most effective way to promote our profession? Spending unlimited money in advertisement and public relations? Or is there a more effective and economical way to promote our profession?
Are we creating clients of the future? Are we creating landscape professionals of the future?
Are college programs in landscape architecture overwhelmed with applicants, or are some in jeopardy?
What are we doing as a profession to broaden our marketability and diversify our profession in non‐traditional roles?
How can we work together with other fields or professions to achieve common goals?
How can we expect government agencies to offer more positions in landscape architecture? How can we expect homeowners to hire landscape architects in these times of “do it yourself” TV shows? What can we do to be more effective in the outreach and understanding of the profession?