Curriculum Concepts from CELF Summer Institutes

CELF has conducted twelve Summer Institute for Sustainability Education programs since 2005, working with over 50 public and private schools and over 425 teachers and administrators through this program alone.

The 2010 Summer Institute featured three sessions: two for middle and high school teachers (NY & MA) and one for K-5 teachers (NY). New York Institutes convened at the beautiful and historic Reid Castle on the campus of our partner, Manhattanville College School of Education in Purchase, NY. In Boston, in partnership with Boston Latin School and BLS YouthCan, the Institute was held at Simmons College.

The Institute has attracted teams of teachers from Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, as well as New York. At the CELF Summer Institute in NY, most participants have hailed from schools in Westchester County, NY where CELF has trained faculty from dozens of schools in curriculum and programming in education for sustainability. In Boston, a large team of Boston Latin School teachers joined educators from across the greater Boston region to contribute content to the MA EfS Curriculum Pilot. Curriculum developed by educators at the inagural CELF Boston Summer Institute is being piloted at Boston Latin School during the school year as the first step towards statewide adoption of a MA EfS Curriculum.  The Campaign for EfS curriculum is being spearheaded by the teachers and students of BLS Youth CAN.

The chart below provides examples of the kinds of curriculum “makeovers” that individual teachers and teams have developed during the Summer Institute. Larger scale projects, such as multi-grade level, scaffolded interdisciplinary curriculum maps and integrated units have been created by school teams.  For example, at the 2009 Institute, a team from New Rochelle High School developed a high school level Sustainability Major – a four-year course of study.

Selected Curriculum Concepts Developed by CELF Summer Institute Participants


Grade Level / Subject:

Curriculum Concept:

High School Interdisciplinary Major

An interdisciplinary team of teachers created a four-year scope and sequence for a sustainability major that serves as a thread through existing courses and electives. The major begins with the integration of sustainability into required courses, and also offers specialized electives. The program is structured in the following “layers”:

  1. Integration into required courses
  2. Electives
  3. Capstone projects
  4. Connections to standards

4th grade English: fiction-reading unit

Make sustainability the overarching focus of the unit, adding more literature with that theme, including eco-mysteries from Jean Craighead George; Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman; and The Year of the Panda by Miriam Schlein.
Examine how people’s choices affect the ecosystem in which they live and whether people can change. 

5th grade computer instruction

Teach Excel formulas and graphing using a home energy audit and calculating watts, kilowatts, energy costs and carbon footprints
Use CAD and Google Sketch-up to design a passive solar home.

7th and 8th grade social studies

Research Easter Island as a context for understanding systems dynamics, the Commons and the multiple causes and impacts of its collapse.

7th and 8th grade math

Use algebra and graphing to calculate depletion rates of oil; calculate BTUs to analyze energy conservation opportunities.

High school music theory

Explore why rare woods are valued in making instruments and how they are being depleted; long-term thinking and caring for instruments so they will last.
Research “sustainable” instruments, and dig deeper into green claims to uncover if they are true or not.

High school chemistry


Explore local bodies of water and factors that impact water quality.
Work with scenarios around the building of a mine in the community, assessing pros and cons; life cycle analysis of copper mining and processing and its impacts.
Conduct life cycle analysis of polymers and plastics, starting with bottles left behind in classrooms.




“At the early stages of construction, CELF encouraged us to capitalize on learning opportunities related to our new green building. We continue to work together to identify and build into our curriculum lasting, meaningful content that will support sustainability as a cornerstone of learning at Gateway.”

Robert Cunningham, EdM
Gateway Headmaster
New York, NY


“At the beginning of the week I wasn’t sure how this was going to fit. But as we got more into it, I started seeing connections. The more we talked about things and the more we did activities, I saw more ways to infuse sustainability concepts and thinking into my curriculum.”

9th grade English Teacher
Riverside High School
Yonkers, NY


“We intend to do every thing in our power to encourage education for sustainability. Education for sustainability is not just about the environment, as important as that is. It is also about people – about providing the maximum educational opportunity – at every level to every person."

Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
March 2009



Copyright 2014. Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation. All Rights Reserved. CELF-taught is a Service Mark of CELF.