Green Schools and Environmental Education

Jonee Kulman Brigham's work in Green Schools and Environmental Education (GSEE) supports sustainable educational facility performance and environmental education related to the designed environment - integrating the two areas into a single project where possible. Brigham brings a broad background in sustainable building design, technical analysis, guideline development, post-occupancy building evaluation, and design assistance to serve the educational sector in facility improvement. Brigham is passionate about education and outreach and the lessons the built environment has to offer environmental education and brings experience with teaching, and interpretive projects about the role of the built environment in environmental issues.

"I am particularly interested in the intersection of school greening efforts and environmental education about the built environment of schools. At any age, from Pre-K to post-secondary, the conveniences of the built environment can make it hard to see our interdependence with natural systems. But we can challenge this and interpret the built environment as a tool to reveal interconnection and teach systems thinking. There is a great opportunity to incorporate literacy about the designed environment into broader efforts at eco-literacy and environmental awareness that goes beyond celebrating notable green features, to understanding the built environment as part of larger social, economic, and ecological systems. Even in an average school building, design and the designed environment can be used to better connect students with nature and make the building function as a learning experiment for explorations in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as well as the arts and humanities. The process of greening existing learning environments or designing new green learning environments offers even more opportunity to use those built environments as a learning laboratory while increasing pride of place and connection to local community."

Contact is welcome to discuss collaboration in areas of green schools and environmental education: Please email Jonee Kulman Brigham at

Current Projects

Watershed Stories: Learners Exploring Their Place in the Ecosystem (2018-2019)
Funding: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

PI: Jennifer Frisch, Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Service Professions, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Co-PI: Jonee Kulman Brigham, Senior Researcher, Minnesota Design Center, College of Design, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
School Partner:
Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Duluth, Minnesota

“Watershed Stories: Learners Exploring their Place in the Ecosystem” grounds STEM learning about the watershed through the engagement of personal inquiry and story, while aligning with NOAA’s definition of a “Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience” (MWEE). Teachers at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Duluth, Minnesota, will participate in a training to learn how to use GIS Story Maps with their students in order to explore their schoolyard and its connection to the watershed. During the training, teachers will explore a model for art-led, place-based, experiential environmental education called Earth Systems Journey (ESJ). The ESJ experience will be used as an illustration of tools teachers can use to frame an environment-themed interdisciplinary curriculum, and they will be supported in adapting elements to meet their teaching strengths and standards.

The overarching goal of the proposed B-WET project is to build capacity to deliver Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences (MWEEs) by supporting administrators, teachers, staff, and community at Stowe Elementary School in adapting an existing MWEE model to suit the context of their students and community while reinvigorating their Environmental Education emphasis and planning for sustained program development over time. The project will contribute to a greater understanding and stewardship of the Great Lakes watershed by using participatory methods to give teachers, students, and community members of Stowe Elementary School opportunities to build and practice inquiry skills, and enabling sustainable action through emphasizing community connections to the watershed. Project progress will be communicated widely through the development of GIS story maps that can be added to and/or adapted over time.

Minnesota GreenStep Schools Program Development and Piloting

The project team completed phase 1 development of the framework of MN GreenStepSchools, and are currently planning for funding of next phases.

Minnesota GreenStep Schools Sustainable Best Practices Framework Phase 1 (2015-2017)
Funding: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Environmental Assistance Grant

The project develops a statewide best practices framework for K-12 schools to advance their building/site sustainability and student environmental education achievement. The resulting program design will be ready to pilot. The project fills the need for a consistent and beginner-friendly green schools framework, and builds from the successful delivery model of MN GreenStep Cities and the nationally recognized green school performance areas of Green Ribbon Schools. The project connects existing state and private programs and expertise with schools in the context of a step-by-step "on-ramp" to challenge, assist and recognize schools moving toward higher performance, compatible with Green Ribbon or LEED.

Need and Purpose: Minnesota K-12 Schools have no mandate to provide environmental education or to green their operations to improve environmental impacts. There is great potential for integrating existing environmental education curriculum and proven building and campus improvement strategies into schools. Existing green school programs, despite their strengths, only address a fraction of this potential. Currently, there is no central place to document and compare progress and recognize success across these programs. The Minnesota GreenStep Schools project will address these issues and provide a robust, trusted, consistent, and beginner-friendly framework and program design concept to challenge, assist and recognize schools as they advance their building/site sustainability and student environmental education achievement.

Proposal Team:
Institute on the Environment : Project manager, Beth Mercer-Taylor, Lead Researcher, Jonee Kulman Brigham
US Green Building Council, Minnesota Chapter, Green Schools Coalition: Stakeholder Engagement, Stephanie Leonard, Sheri Brezinka
Advisory Group Partners (as of proposal, expanded since proposal): Thomas Hoff, South West/West Central Service Cooperative,  Shannon Pinc, Sustainability Consultant, Meg Cavalier, River’s Edge Academy, SciMath MN

Mississippi River Water Journey Camps (Initial Phase: 2015-2016) Repeating annually
Funding: Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF)

“Water Journey Camps” get children outdoors exploring the natural environment, doing service plantings, and teaching the public how to conserve water and improve water quality to help protect natural areas. Two different one-week summer camps: “Water Journey: Drink” and “Water Journey: Rain,” will be held twice each (a total of four camps) at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.  The camps will be offered as one of the specialized programs available for children to attend during the University of Minnesota Recreation & Wellness Summer Youth Program (more information at  “Water Journey Camps” will serve youth in ages 6-8 in one set of the camp offerings and age 9-11 in the other set.

 The camps use an engaging arts/science adventure approach, called Earth Systems Journey,  to bridge a gap between environmental education focused on conservation behavior and environmental education focused on downstream impacts of conservation. By revealing the water infrastructure that connects daily use of water with what happens at the other end of the pipes, conservation lessons can be made more relevant to students’ experience. The camps are designed to address four areas that research indicates enhance stewardship behavior. (1) Children need more opportunities for outdoor experiential environmental education to form bonds with nature. (2) People must see the connection between their actions in the human-built environment and the associated impacts in the natural environment. (3) Children need opportunities to contribute through service activities and using their learning to help others in order to enhance their stewardship competence and identity. (4) Children and the public they will help educate need to have local, place-based examples of how their actions affect the natural areas in their community to increase the immediacy and relevance of stewardship. 

Selected Prior Projects

The following projects were led or co-led by Jonee Kulman Brigham while at the University of Minnesota and inform her work in Green Schools and Environmental Education. For a description of other prior work outside the U see the work summary in the biography page.

2014-2015 Fellowship Project for Institute on the Environment:

River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi River
An Earth Systems Journey at River's Edge Academy

This project took place at River's Edge Academy Charter Environmental High School, where Brigham collaborated with teachers, staff and students on a year long "Earth Systems Journey" of water through their school, tracing the flows to the Mississippi River, both upstream and downstream. 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 provided funding as part of Brigham's Resident Fellowship there. And the project was 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. With the assistance of project partner U-Spatial, students used online mapping software (ArcGIS online) to share their learning about the water cycle and increase public awareness. Community contributors included the National Park Service, St. Paul Regional Water Services, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, the Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization and others. You can read more about it on the River Journey blog. The Earth Systems Journey (ESJ) is a curriculum framework for expeditionary, 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 in 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 followed 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. Over the year, students document 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 successfully piloted at the concept development level with preschool and kindergartners in 2011.

"Mapping the Journey: Experiential, Place-based Environmental Education and Spatial Thinking using ArcGIS Online"
Esri ConnectED Grant for teacher training, led by U-Spatial. Training took place summer 2015. More information at the project website.

Art, Story, and Infrastructure: A Model for Experiential Interconnection in Environmental Education

This project gathered an interdisciplinary team of University faculty and outside partners around the topic of how to use place-based interaction with infrastructure, interpreted through art, story, and science to create an experiential and informed sense of interconnection of our daily use of resources with the engineering and natural systems in which they interact. The project laid the essential groundwork needed to develop a replicable curriculum model based on a concurrent research process and demonstration project. The project was led by Jonee Kulman Brigham and funded by a mini-grant from Institute on the Environment. Completed March 2012. See project summary for more information.

Conversation-E: Science + Art in Dialogue and Service to Sustainability
This interdisciplinary pilot project engaged artists, writers and scientists in conversation and exploration of the research at the Cloquet Forestry Center surrounding the issue of global climate change and its effects on the ecology of the climate-sensitive NE Minnesota forests . The results included an art/literature/environmental education exhibition and panel discussion based on that collaborative work at the Institute on the Environment. Conversation-E is a pilot for how Institute on the Environment can creatively collaborate across disciplines and with outside partners to foster innovative and effective public outreach about the work of its researchers. The name, “Conversation-E,” is inspired by the roots: “convers-at-IonE,” pointing to the opportunity to expand the interdisciplinary conversations already at the Institute to better integrate the arts. The “E” is for Environment, one of the most critical conversations of our time. The project was co-led by Jonee Kulman Brigham Roslye Ultan, Peter Reich, and Rebecca Montgomery, and was funded by a mini-grant from Institute on the Environment. Completed 2014. See website for more information.

U of M Solar Decathlon: ICON Solar House Environmental Education Exhibit
The University of Minnesota was selected as one of 20 teams worldwide to compete in the 2009 Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon is hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. The U joined 20 college and university teams in a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house to inform and excite the public about renewable technology. Brigham was part of the leadership team. For more background on project, team, and multiple funders, see project summary.

B3 State of Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines (B3-MSBG)
The B3 Guidelines, as they are now called, are a set of requirements for sustainable building in the area of sustainable site design, water management, energy conservation, indoor environmental quality, and materials and waste. The guidelines are required for all new construction or major remodels receiving State of Minnesota bond funds. With with PI, John Carmody, Jonee Kulman Brigham was Co-PI and Co-editor of the guidelines through June 2012. See link for the project summary and team listing and see B3 main page to link to current version of program.

Sustainable Post Occupancy Evaluation Survey (SPOES)
This interdisciplinary project created a survey instrument for assessing the performance of buildings after they are occupied in terms of the occupants comfort, satisfaction, and well-being, as well as addressing their perceptions of the space and how it affects their productivity. Jonee Kulman Brigham co-led the development of SPOES with Dr. Denise Guerin, Professor Hye-Young Kim, and several graduate students in the interior design department. This instrument is integrated into the assessment process for B3 Guidelines, and has been used on other research and consulting projects as well. See B3 page on this tool for more information about the current program.