Students Investigate Sustainable Design @ Common Ground

by Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement

Chemistry students use a hair dryer to test the specific heat of cross-laminated timber, which makes up the primary structure of Common Ground's new building.

Chemistry students use a hair dryer to test the heat transfer properties of cross-laminated timber from Common Ground’s new building.

Earlier this month, students in Emily Schmidt’s chemistry class were studying the properties of matter: density, malleability, conductivity, permeability, weight capacity. In chemistry classes around the country this fall, students are likely doing something similar.

Common Ground students put a twist on this core science content, though — working with the materials that make up the science lab, building, and campus around them. They dunked chunks of permeable pavement into beakers of water to measure displacement. They tested the strength of the cross-laminated timber that makes up the primary structure of Common Ground’s new building — testing whether it is, as the building’s designer’s argue, stronger than steel.

The work that these chemistry students are doing is the latest example of Common Ground students turning the world around them — and our new building in particular — into the focus of their investigation, learning, and leadership. Earlier this school year, we finished up editing seven short videos on how this new structure models sustainability. The videos are the final product of last spring’s Sustainable Design class, and feature the voices of both our students and the professionals who build this new structure. Students worked with Travis Carbonella, a professional videographer — but the content and ideas are all theirs.  Thank you to the Greater New Haven Green Fund for the financial support needed to hire Travis!

Students in Common Ground's Sustainable Design class worked with the designers and builders of Common Ground's new building, and with a professional videographer, to create short films on Common Ground's new building.

Students in Common Ground’s Sustainable Design class worked with a professional videographer to create short films on Common Ground’s new building.

The core premise of both these projects: When learning hits close to home — focused on the environment and community that our students experience every day — the relevance, rigor, and relationships that make for powerful learning experiences are all strengthened. Students are investigating real questions in need of answers, and sharing what they learn with real audiences.

Of course, there’s lots more that we can and will do to build on this premise. If you have ideas about opportunities to root learning in the local community, I would love to hear from you at

[button url=””]Watch students’ videos on sustainable design @ Common Ground »[/button]


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