Project Birdland

Baltimore, MD

Led by Mahan Rykiel Associates, the Project Birdland collaboration has created a design-based STEM curriculum that weaves together Next Generation Science Standards, modules from the Baltimore Ecosystem Study science literacy program, and design thinking to empower students to study and shape the world around them.

In the summer of 2017, Project Birdland implemented its first full-scale pilot transforming the educational experience at the Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School in the Locust Point neighborhood of Baltimore. Learning directly from urban ecologists, designers, and fabricators the students were challenged to study the impacts of urbanization and habitat fragmentation on urban song birds and to design and build birdhouse prototypes and an urban bird habitat; applying high-tech STEM principles and digital fabrication techniques to benefit urban ecosystems and landscape performance. The in-classroom design challenge culminated with a professional design jury selecting two student birdhouses for advanced manufacturing by the Baltimore-based Gutierrez Studios and a large community build-day that had hundreds of volunteers working alongside professions to install more than 3,000 native plants in the schoolyard; serving as both habitat for the birds/birdhouses and as an urban ecology lab for students.

With the success of Project Birdland at the Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School, the Baltimorebased initiative is proving that design-based STEM education can be a catalyst to stimulate students’ imagination and inspire civic action to tackle not only the technical challenges of on-demand supply chain dynamics, advanced manufacturing, and software design, but also the critical questions necessary to protect our cities and natural resources from the ever changing forces of nature.