Do Good Things Spotlight: Project Zero — From Garbage to Good Things

In the few years I’ve been co-creating, growing, and evolving NOVA lab, I’ve had at least 65 different projects. And while the process of creation in this class is more important than the actual project outcomes themselves, it’s not correct to say that projects don’t really matter in the end. They do. No student would take the class if they didn’t feel they could make a dent, a ding, a difference in the world, as daunting as that may be.

But each year, through perseverance, vision, and a good deal of luck, at least three teams strike gold and create projects that take off beyond expectations and, almost from the get go, “do good things” in the world.

In 2020, our first year, the audacity and scope of the projects (see * below) astounded me enough to move us to speak at Educon, the nationally known education convention hosted by the students (and staff) of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy

And this past Thursday evening, March 28, 2022, my astonishment in this year’s projects continued as I had the opportunity to watch the Project Zero team of four high school seniors present their pitch to our school district’s Safety and Operations committee.

Project Zero is dedicated to bringing composting of biodegradable waste to our HS. The project was born out of a design sprint offered by a team of Drexel University professors at our first trip to the Fluxspace Innovation Accelerator. A team of seniors, two from each section of this year’s NOVA Lab classes, brainstormed a project to help reduce greenhouse gasses and climate change by promoting composting through the separation of biodegradable waste from refuse bound for landfills.

Through months of research, phone calls, meetings with the administration and the Back to Earth Composting Crew, setbacks, and presentations, this team has, from the sound of the responses at Thursday’s meeting, convinced the district to pilot biodegradable waste composting at our high school.

And while the team would certainly concur that the path to this level of success was more tedious and “meeting filled” than they ever could have imagined, they’ve also learned important lessons about civic responsibility, bureaucracies, and time management.

There are many other good things taking place in NOVA Lab this year. From Support Dogs to prototypes of brush washing stations for our art department, the variety and depth of the projects is exhilarating. But what is common to all these projects is also uncommon to the work students do in most every other class, for this work is purpose-driven; it is, in the words of Professor Bill Damon, “meaningful for the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”

And that…? That is a Good Thing for now, and a Good Thing for our future.



*Year One Projects:

Make it 100, a drive to get 100% of eligible seniors registered to vote by April 20

Living Now, a lifestyle brand that sought to bring the joy of the outdoors to teens trapped behind screens, and deliver $1000 to the Appalachian Trails Fund.

Observo, a quest to build and prototype a cheap, homemade Dobsonian Reflector telescope.

Published by Garreth Heidt

Designerly Minded High School Humanities and Liberal Studies Teacher Faculty Mentor FIRST Robotics Team #7414--PV Retrobotics. Constantly learning, trying to be more a maker and less a consumer of culture. I believe in the infinite value of a liberal education and the power of design thinking to help make the world a better place.

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