CAPSTONE: Environmental justice in Sunset Park (1 of 3)

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Objective

Students will be able to 1) identify toxic areas or Sunset Park; 2) describe the successes and failures of Bush Terminal park through the lens of environmental justice; and 3) use evidence to debate student-generated claims about the nature of environmental justice in Sunset Park.

Big Idea

The environmental justice movement needs informed citizens in afflicted neighborhoods to advocate for change. How might we use Sunset Park as a case study for of how citizens can apply STEM skills to create a more environmentally just community?

FRAME: Environmental justice in Sunset Park

What can we do to bring environmental justice to our community?  This CAPSTONE experience brings together the various threads of this unit-an environmental justice framework, community mapping, geographic information systems, stakeholders, and engineering design thinking-to return to an analysis of environmental justice in the Sunset Park community. Do community residents disproportionately shoulder the brunt of a toxic environment? What evidence can we find to support our ideas? And what might we do to make our community more environmentally just?

Most importantly, this CAPSTONE embeds environmental justice in the Sunset Park community. The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance launched a Waterfront Justice Project in 2010 and is currently focusing on Sunset Park through community-based participatory research. (Key idea from these links: "The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has designated the majority of Sunset Park’s waterfront as a New York State Environmental Zone as well as a "potential environmental justice area," meaning it has areas with high poverty and unemployment rates.) This focus on environmental justice in Sunset Park, then, is not merely a concept in a class. It is an ongoing program of community rehabilitation using the tools of the environmental scientists.

CAPSTONE PROCESS OVERVIEW:

DAY ONE:

Students develop a baseline understanding of environmental justice issues in Sunset Park. They will take a virtual "toxicity tour" of the neighborhood, learn about environmental justice issues specific to Sunset Park through readings, and engage in a silent debate to evaluate the merits of Bush Terminal Park through an environmental justice lens.  By the end of this first day, students should be able to identify at least three toxic areas in Sunset Park, describe local environmental justice issues in Sunset Park, and cite evidence to support claims made for or against Bush Terminal Park as an adequate solution idea to environmental justice problems in Sunset Park.


DAYS TWO AND THREE:

Students learn more about Bush Terminal Park and stakeholder investments in the development of the Sunset Park waterfront. To do this, students critically analyze the "197-a" waterfront development plan in collaborative groups with the goal of presenting an interpretation of the plan.  By the end of these sessions, students should be able to describe the history of Bush Terminal Park, describe key features of the Sunset Park waterfront development plan, and develop a compelling presentation with visuals that describes and evaluates waterfront development in Sunset Park through the lens of environmental justice. 

DAY FOUR:

Students present recommendations for the future waterfront development of Sunset Park and also develop a short written synthesis of the major ideas for this unit; both will serve as summative assessments. By the end of this session, students should be able to describe the successes and failures of the Sunset Park waterfront development plan through the lens of environmental justice and stakeholder interests, make evidence-based recommendations for the future development of the waterfront, and identify community organizations that would be most able to assist with future, environmentally just development work.

By the end of this unit CAPSTONE, successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. identify toxic areas or Sunset Park
  2. describe the successes and failures of Bush Terminal park through the lens of environmental justice
  3. use evidence to debate student-generated claims about the nature of environmental justice in Sunset Park.
  4. describe the history of the Bush Terminal Park complex
  5. identify stakeholders in the Sunset Park waterfront development
  6. extract information about environmental justice from an official New York City planning document
  7. develop a presentation about an environmental issue related to Sunset Park waterfront development
  8. describe the successes and failures of the Sunset Park waterfront development plan through the lens of environmental justice and stakeholder interests
  9. make evidence-based recommendations for the future environmentally just development of Sunset Park
  10. identify community organizations that would be most able to assist with future development work

RESOURCE NOTE: The attached PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE contains educator materials that might be modified for classes.

FLIPPED: Sunset Park toxicity tour

What is the purpose of this section?

Students watch the embedded "Toxicity Tour" of Sunset Park and describe five instances of toxicity.  Where are the most toxic areas of the neighborhood? Why are these areas toxic? What might be the consequences of this toxicity? 

The goal of this activity is for students to attach a visual reference to maps they created in the previous lesson and to learn about claims that might be evaluated during this CAPSTONE. Is Sunset Park really toxic? If so, does this toxicity affect humans? What might we do to combat the impact of toxicity on humans? Students will share this work in collaborative groups in class.

ENGAGE: Paraphrase,reflect, and share out

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students translate the big idea and focus question into their own words and share out their understanding of the FLIPPED assignment.  The teacher is able to check students' understanding of the main ideas of this series of lessons and to gather information about students' personal interests in the toxic threats in the Sunset Park neighborhood.  By the end of this section, students should be able to explain the purpose of the CAPSTONE in their own words and describe toxic elements of the Sunset Park neighborhood.

What will students do?

Students will complete three tasks:

TASK 1: Students individually paraphrase the big idea and deep learning question. This is the same process that students have used previously.

TASK 2: Students peer review work with members of their learning groups.

TASK 3: Students share ideas from the FLIPPED assignment and choose one to share with the class as a group.

What will teachers do? 

Students should not experience difficulty with the first two tasks other than potential difficult with vocabulary or sentence construction. For these problems, teachers should have dictionaries or online word resources available. Students may have trouble citing evidence for ideas sharing ideas learned from the FLIPPED assignment. Because this CAPSTONE requires students to cite evidence to support claims, teachers will want to push students thinking immediately.  Why do you think that these areas of Sunset Park are toxic? What evidence do you have for your claims? What evidence would you want to have to support your claims?

EXPLORE: Shallow dive

20 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students are able to deepen their understanding of toxic threats within the Sunset Park community and the community's response to these threats.  They are also able to practice summarizing nonfiction texts and developing evidence-based claims that reflect their understanding of the reading.  The teacher is able to discuss students' understanding of toxicity in Sunset Park and assess students proficiency with making evidence-based claims about toxicity in the community. By the end of this section students should be able to make at least one evidence-based claim about Sunset Park toxicity. Claims will most likely relate to the history of Sunset Park toxicity or current solutions to the toxicity problem.

What will students do?

Students develop evidence-based claims for two articles.

ARTICLE 1: This is a story about the opening of the new Bush Terminal park in Sunset Park on a remediated brownfield site.  

ARTICLE 2:  This is an article that accompanies the FLIPPED activity.  Students, however will have only seen the video.  This text provides some historical background for present toxicity in Sunset Park.

For both articles students use a simple graphic organizer with the following three sentence starters:

  • The central claim or main idea of this article is...
  • Key evidence used to support  this claim  is...
  • Questions I have about this article are...

Once students have finished annotations for both articles, they will write synthesis responses. These responses will be used in the EXPLAIN activity.

What will teachers do?

Students will have the most difficult with citing and explaining appropriate evidence for claims. Many students will simply copy and paste a quote from the article as evidence. Teachers must push students to explicitly make a connection. In other words, students must articulate the warrant for their choice of evidence. Students that are consistently unable to provide a warrant may need remediation. I have modified this document as an interactive mini-lesson to help students develop warrants for claims.

 

EXPLAIN: Blended silent debate

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students engage in a silent debate through a Google doc interface to express ideas about how to rehabilitate Sunset Park through environmental justice initiatives.  The teacher is able to push students thinking, assess students application of engineering-design thinking skills from "Unit 0", especially the define and ideate stages, and assess students ability to develop evidence-based claims through authentic peer-to-peer interactions. By the end of this activity, students should have expressed an original claim about environmental justice in Sunset Park and also responded to at least two other student claims.

What will students do?

Students silently debate answers to the following two questions through a Google doc interface:

  • How environmentally just is Sunset Park? 
  • What can we do to make this community more environmentally just? 

Students complete this work in two rounds.

For the first round students share their synthesis writing with all group members to peer review. Each group member will read and respond to all synthesis pieces from the group.  This will last for 5 minutes.

During the second round, all students are invited to join a whole class debate by accessing a shared Google doc distributed to all students through Edmodo. The teacher will randomly choose five students to make evidence-based claims. Once a student has finished other students in the room are invited to provide feedback using the "comment" feature. This section will last for 10 minutes.

What will teachers do?

This activity is a blended learning task that requires teachers to have comfort with a Google doc ecosystem. It will work just as well with traditional paper or whiteboards.  However, one advantage of the digital silent debate is that many times the usually quiet students become more activity. When asked, these students explain that walking up to the whiteboard to write a claim in front of the class is scary; writing a comment about an idea though a shared document is not.

 

EXIT: My takeaway is...

5 minutes

As an EXIT ticket, each student completes this phrase on a scrap of paper: "My takeaway from the silent debate is..." Each student shares this writing with the group and then the group shares this idea with the class.  This is a valuable moment for teachers to collect formative assessment data. Are students using evidence to support ideas? Are students using the vocabulary of environmental justice? If, for example, a group shares that "Sunset Park is toxic", there is evidence that they still have not developed the academic habit of presenting claims with appropriate evidence.