Bringing Some Green to an Urban Scene

By Michael Flores, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Urban Planning

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Ten to Twelve 90-minute classes


Henry Ford academy has moved to our Downtown San Antonio Location. The space is urban, with an industrial interior design; consequently, there is little green space, or plant life. The challenge is to create green spaces in our building. The Green space will need to include plant life that can survive in our Building’s environment, that can thrive in an internal space without natural sunlight or other biotic factors, and that will aesthetically please our school’s patrons and administrators.

  • Students will be able to directly influence the school’s interior design.
  • Students will be able to interview adult partners to learn about different gardening practices.
  • My hope is that these interactions with adult partners, coupled with the possibility to change part of the school’s interior design, will evoke engagement.

National Standards

English Language Arts, Writing (W.9-10.1):

  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

English Language Arts, Writing (W.9-10.3):

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

English Language Arts, Speaking and Listening (SL.9-10.1):

  • Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

English Language Arts, Speaking and Listening

(SL.9-10.4 -5):

  • Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

  • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


Science Standard 6

(Level 1): Knows that plants and animals need certain resources for energy and growth (e.g., food, water, light, air)

Level III: Knows factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support (e.g., available resources; abiotic factors such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition; disease; competition from other organisms within the ecosystem; predation)

Level IV:

  • Knows how the amount of life an environment can support is limited by the availability of matter and energy and the ability of the ecosystem to recycle materials

  • Knows ways in which humans can alter the equilibrium of ecosystems, causing potentially irreversible effects (e.g., human population growth, technology, and consumption; human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, and atmospheric changes)

Agricultural Education

  • (1.4): Understands the interrelationship of agriculture with the environment and natural resources (e.g., how agriculture affects the quality/availability of soil, air, and energy resources; how climate, weather, and availability of resources affects agriculture)

  • 3.4.2: Plans fertilizing schedules and determines fertilizer ratios when growing plants


  •  Students will illustrate the products and reactants of photosynthesis.

  • Students will be able to describe the flow of energy and matter through plant communities.

  • Students will identify plant species that thrive in our local environment, then compare/contrast the biological systems of plants that thrive in our local environment to plants that cannot thrive. (This explanation should include a discussion of the  transport, reproduction, and response systems in plants.)

  • Students will conduct interviews and produce a photo-essay that will help them identify the needs and limitations of our particular space in downtown San Antonio.

  • Students will design a prototype for a school garden that fits the needs of the identified user(s), our school, and local environment.


  1. Computers

  2. Google Earth or other Online Mapping technology

  3. Empathy Map - Stanford D School:


  1. Photosynthesis Lab Materials (Refer to Lab)

  2. Quadrat Sampling Lab (Refer to lab)

  3. Craft materials: construction paper, foam board, pipe cleaners, markers, cardboard, straws, popsicle sticks, string, wire, etc.


Photosynthesis: a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy, normally from the sun, into chemical energy that can be later released to fuel the organisms\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\' activities.

Quadrat: a small plot used in ecology and geography to isolate a standard unit of area for study of the distribution of an item over a large area.

Design: a road-map or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation. It defines the specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints in achieving that objective.

Empathy: the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them.

Define: making sense of the widespread information you have gathered through empathy. The goal of the Define mode is to craft a meaningful and actionable problem statement that focuses on insights and needs of a particular user, or composite character.

Prototype:  is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that  get you closer to your final solution. A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with – be it a wall of post-it notes, a gadget you put together, a role-playing activity, or even a storyboard.

Ideate: process in which you concentrate on idea generation.

Photo-essay: a set or series of photographs that are intended to tell a story or evoke a series of emotions in the viewer.

Population: a summation of all the organisms of the same group or species, who live in the same geographical area, and have the capability of interbreeding.

Empathy map: A User Empathy Map can help tee up a discussion about the needs a user has. The discussion will be centered around what was observed, and what can be inferred about these user groups’ beliefs and emotions.

Composite character:  a synthesis method whereby a team creates a (semi)-fictional character who embodies the human observations the team has made in the field. These might include \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"typical\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" characteristics, trends, and other patterns that the team has identified in their user group over the course of their field work.

Chloroplasts: Chloroplasts are organelles, specialized sub-units, in plant and algal cells. Their main role is to conduct photosynthesis

Ecology: the scientific study of interactions among organisms and their environment, such as the interactions organisms have with each other and with their abiotic environment.

User-Need Statement:  a meaningful and actionable problem statement that focuses on insights and needs of a particular user, or composite character.

Glucose: a simple monosaccharide found in plants. A product of photosynthesis and reactant in cellular respiration.

Carbon Dioxide: a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of 2 oxygen atoms each covalently double bonded to a single carbon atom. One of the reactants of photosynthesis and one of the products of cellular respiration.

Biome: climatically and geographically defined as contiguous areas with similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, and are often referred to as ecosystems.


  • Students should have background knowledge in plant cell form and function.

  • Students should have an understanding of the nature of science.

  • Students should have an understanding of scientific experimentation.

    • How to ask investigable questions.

    • How to research topics regarding their questions.

    • How to form hypotheses with independent and dependent variables.

    • How to conduct experiments that are reproducible.

  • Students should have an understanding of scientific methods.

  • Students should be able to identify the biotic and abiotic factors of an ecosystem.

  • Students should be able to analyze the relationships between the biotic and abiotic factors of an ecosystem.

  • Students should have been introduced to Design thinking before this lesson.

Day 1 (25-30 Minutes) Intro:

  1. Students will be presented with the overall challenge: To design a garden or “green space”  that fits the needs of our urban space in Downtown San Antonio.


Day 1 (40 - 55 Minutes) Representing Photosynthesis / Cellular Respiration

  1. Students will produce a non-linguistic representation to help them understand the components that plants need to grow. Students will:

    1. Create a shadow box that illustrates the reactants and products of the photosynthesis reaction.

  • Students will select objects that represent the individual reactants and products of photosynthesis, then arrange them into the correct order for the reaction.

  • Example:

    • A light bulb could be used to represent sunlight.

    • A balloon blown up by the student could be used to represent carbon dioxide.

  • These object-symbols would then be arranged in their respective sides of the box.

    • The box could be a shoebox, a cereal box, or another manageable  box.


Day 2-3 (120 - 150 Minutes) Lab / Lab Write Up:

  1. Students will conduct a lab to investigate the factors that affect the rate of photosynthesis in order to understand the factors that affect a plant’s growth.

  2. The purpose is to compare and contrast plants growing in natural sunlight to plants growing in unnatural sunlight. (See Attached Lab:


    2. AP Biology Lab Manual, Lab 4: Plant Pigments and Photosynthesis, The College Board, 2001.)

  1. The Lab can be modified to focus only on the effects of different kinds of light. However, the more data that students collect, the more photosynthesis-affecting factors students can discover to aid them when they design a garden maintenance program.

  1. This lab can be assessed via a Lab Write-Up or via a poster presentation.
  Day 4-5 (175 Minutes) Quadrat Sampling:
  1. Students will conduct a population study of plants that thrive in our local environment. They will use the area surrounding the school (Milam Park, the Riverwalk) to conduct Quadrat sampling in order to determine an estimate of the kinds of plant species that thrive in our community. (See Attached Lab.)
  2. Quadrat Sampling Lab:

    1. Lab is modified to meet the local biome.

    2. Because of our location in Downtown San Antonio, using plant species similar to the ones we find along the Riverwalk may be an aesthetic choice to consider, since these plants would link the interior of our school with the surrounding downtown environment.

Day 6 (60 Minutes) Photoessay:

  1. Students will make a photo-essay that shows examples of gardens and green-spaces that are thriving in urban spaces. The goal is to understand how other users with similar environmental conditions make green spaces work in places with environmental limitations.

      1. Students will use Google or another internet search engine to find pictures of other urban gardens.

      1. Students will arrange these pictures into a keynote presentation or movie.

        1. Each slide should have a title.

        2. Each slide should have a caption that explains the image.

      1. Presentation and Reflection (30 Minutes)

        1. After each group presents their photo-essays, students will write a one-page summary.

        2. The summaries should capture any similarities that were seen in the presentations between the users and spaces that were presented.

      1. Note: Students may find a benefit to including pictures of green spaces that did not work, as a way to identify choices and designs that we should stay away from.

Day 7-8 (120 -150 minutes) Interview Preparation and Field Interviews:

  1. Students will conduct interviews of community members, school administrators, peers, gardeners, and landscapers in order to identify the particular needs and limitations of our school.

    • One idea that could make this step more effective is to assign student groups to interview a particular user.

      • Each group would be assigned the task of conducting interviews with one of the following “user pools”:

        • School administrators and Staff

        • Community members: business owners, employees from surrounding businesses,

        • Other students, parents.

        • Gardeners and landscapers

Day 9 (65-75 Minutes) Define:

  • Groups would then use these interviews, along with the other data they have amassed, to craft a user-need statements for their user-group.

  • Students could then use an empathy map to help them compose a composite character sketch to produce a composite user for the garden space. This composite user should be informed by the plant life investigations, photo-essay, and interviews.

  • As students begin to craft final versions of user-need statements, they could submit their top user-need statements to some of their interviewees to get feedback.

  1. The idea of this step is for students to evaluate their statements against the feedback of the actual users.

  2. Students can then go back to their groups to refine their statements.

  Day 10 (75-90 Minutes) Ideation:
  1. The students will work in their interview groups to produce ideas for a green-space or garden than addresses their user-need statement.

    1. In the ideation phase, students should try to generate as many solutions and ideas for their space as they can.

    2. Encourage quantity.

    3. Voting (15-20 Minutes) These ideas will be voted on by other classmates to narrow the solutions to ones that address the user’s needs.

      1. The voting process may even be opened up to include classmates from outside the class, along with teachers.

      2. Another idea would be to inlcude the users that were interviewed in the voting process.

Day 11-12 (180 Minutes) Prototyping:

  1. Once students agree on an idea that best fits their user’s needs, they can begin building or sketching the prototype. Students will use various materials to create a prototype of their Green-Space idea.
  1. The prototype can be a sketch or a 3-D prototype of their idea for a garden or green space.

  2. The prototype should include a list of materials that will be used in the green-space.

  3. The materials should include a list of the biotic factors, especially the plant-life, as well as the required abiotic factors.

  4. The prototype should show how the garden or green-space will fit into the school.

    1. The prototype should not be a structure or drawing that is disconnected from the actual space that it will be set into.

  1. Students will produce a maintenance plan for their green-space that should include:

  1. Watering times

  2. Plant nutrition doses

  3. Lighting times and lighting methods

  4. Possible maintenance crew and maintenance crew scheduling.

  Day 12 (75-90 Minutes) Presentations:
  • Students will present their prototypes to a panel that will include users, administrators, gardeners, and students. The goal of the panel should be to judge which prototype best meets the needs of the user.


1. Shadow-Box
  • The product should illustrate the photosynthesis chemical equation,

  • The products should have symbols for the reactants and the products.

  • The students should be able to verbally justify their choices for symbols.

2. Factors that Affect Photosynthesis Lab Report

  • Lab report Rubric

3. Quadrat sampling Lab

  • The skills being assessed in this activity are data collection and data analysis.

  • To grade this activity, I would start by looking at a students presentable

    • Data Table

    • Quadrat Sketch

  • I would expect to see clearly communicated tables that have relevant titles, subtitles, and an explanatory caption.

  • The data should be logically organized.

  • The sketch should have clear titles and subtitles. It should have a legend to make the drawings clearer.

  • I would also assess the student’s ability to analyze the data.
  • This would require student responses to  questions about what their data means about our environment.
  • The questions offered in the “Quadrat Sampling Lab” packet can help with this assessment.

4. Photo-essay

  • I would not grade the photos. I would expect that the photos used clearly show the subject being captured.

  • This activity assesses a student’s ability to communicate a message using primarily visual content.

  • I would expect that the slideshow is not only a random collection of pictures, instead, the slideshow should:

    • Show problems with urban spaces

    • Show gardens or green spaces in urban spaces

    • The captions should summarize how the green space is a response to the problems of an urban space.

5. Prototyping

  • The prototype assesses a student’s ability to produce a response to a user’s need. If the student fails to recognize needs or fails to properly define the user, then the product will not meet a need.

  • To assess this activity, I would need students to present their prototype. In this presentation, students should explain and show:

    • The user

    • The user’s needs

    • The problems identified

    • The ways their prototype addresses the needs and problems.

  • I think that if the student shows that the user’s needs were driving each step of prototyping, then they would show mastery of that skill.

  • As for assessing innovation, that may take a panel of judges. This panel should include users, administrators, gardeners, and students. The goal of the panel should be to judge which prototype best meets the needs of the user.

Enrichment Extension Activities

I think that many of the activities already employ Higher order thinking skills.

  1. The labs require students to analyze data, then make inferences from that data to help them make conclusions about environmental factors that affect the rate of photosynthesis.

  • After this lab, I can make a connection to the design challenge by asking students to investigate our building’s environment. Then, they will need to use the conclusions they made from the lab to apply to how our building’s environmental limitations will affect plant growth.

  1. During the Quadrat Lab, students will be spending time along the riverwalk and in Miliam park in our city’s downtown area. I would love to use these opportunities to expose students to our city’s history, especially that of our downtown river. This may be a connection that I can make with the geography or social studies class.

    1. Students could learn about the history of Miliam park, especially since it is so close to the city’s old Market square, an old place where people would meet.

    2. While studying the vegetation along the Riverwalk, students could also study this river’s importance to our city’s past and present.

    3. Probably the most ambitious idea would be to prepare students for another project that I am planning. Since students will be walking around downtown, this project is a great introduction to the “Cell-neighborhood” project that we will do at the end of the year. In this project, students investigate how the urban design of our surrounding neighborhood contributes to its ability to thrive or its Anomie. Students use the idea of intracellular homeostasis via the concerted efforts of a cell’s individual organelles as an analogy for the neighborhood’s “health.” Basically, students compare and contrast intracellular design to a neighborhood’s design, then evaluate the neighborhood’s ability to maintain homeostatic conditions.

      1. The “Urban Garden” project would be a good project to use to lead into the “Cell-neighborhood” project.

  1.  The photoessay asks students to assemble other pictures into a coherent narrative about how green spaces thrive in urban areas. This does tap into evaluation and synthesis.

Teacher Reflection

I do know that I have a lot of students who attend class inconsistently. I can predict that a lot of the group work will be hard to complete when groups are incomplete. To accommodate for the inconsistent attendance, I could turn the project into a whole-class project. Instead of separating the class into User-Need statement groups, the class will concoct a user-need statement as a whole group.

  • Because there is one user-need statement, the ideation could be completed as a whole group instead of in small groups.

  • The voting would occur as a whole-class.

  • The goal would be to have an idea that has been generated by and voted on by the whole class.

  • Once the idea is agreed upon, then the class can be broken into groups for prototyping.

  • I think that staying as a whole-class up to the prototyping phase will limit the affect of absentee students.

Related Files

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.