Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Eco-Classroom of the Future Is Here Today

Business
Eco-Classroom of the Future Is Here Today

An eco-conscious education company and a botanical garden have teamed up to create a futuristic sustainable educational classroom for children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The thoroughly forward-thinking "living building" model for modular—or portable—classroom design will feature nontoxic materials, solar energy and water conservation.

A new, sustainable classroom design will feature nontoxic materials, solar energy use and water conservation.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The project is the brainchild of the Sustainable Education Every Day (SEED) Collaborative, an organization that designs sustainable school rooms for children around the world, and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a non-profit steel and glass Victorian greenhouse in inner city Pittsburgh that promotes sustainable landscapes.

"We are very excited about our new SEED classroom and the opportunity to expand our programs for children," Phipps executive director Richard V. Piacentini told EcoWatch. "We are equally excited to demonstrate what a healthy learning environment looks like for kids, one free of toxic chemicals and one that provides lots of natural light and ventilation. Because the classroom was designed to meet the living building challenge, it is also net-zero energy and water."

Some of the innovative eco-friendly features include tubular skylights, solar panels, an energy recovery ventilator, a food-producing green wall, monitors that measure energy and water use, hand-pump sink, composting toilet and a cistern inside the building that holds fresh water.

Modular classrooms are becoming more common since they provide a quick building solution to house the growing population of school children. Some 260,000 modular classrooms are in use in the U.S. alone, according to SEED. Many of them are found to pose potential health risks to children due to poor ventilation and lighting, and high levels of toxins such as formaldehyde, flame retardants phthalates and volatile organic compounds in the building materials.

The new classroom model aims to prevent those health risks by providing a safe and educational environment for children to learn, according to SEED Collaborative executive director Stacy Smedley.

“Phipps has demonstrated leadership by being the first on the East Coast to embrace a SEED Classroom,” she said in a press statement. “We are excited to be a part of Phipps’ continued commitment to educating children and adults on the important role that the built environment should play in restoring planetary and human health. This space will be a hands-on learning laboratory, informing how we think about a Living Building designed classroom as a tool for education and engagement.”

The new SEED classroom also has an educational goal: to teach kids more about science and math. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education developed its signature Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in response to a call by educators to improve children’s knowledge and test scores in these academic areas. The Phipps Conservatory will host science education programs in the SEED classroom that will teach kids how to operate and maintain the classroom using sustainable energy, water and planting.

Currently, one SEED classroom is in development at the Perkins School in Seattle, Washington, an 80-student independent elementary school for children.

The Rainforest Alliance and Facing the Future offer tips to educators on how to make their current classrooms more sustainable and promote sustainability education.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

How to Teach Kids About Sustainability 

Obama Sets Out to Fight Climate Denial in Classrooms, Museums, Bathrooms and Other Places

Nation’s First All-Vegan School Menu Coming to Los Angeles

Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch