Technology, Research, Ecology and Exchange for Students (TREES)

Technology, Research, Ecology and Exchange for Students (TREES)

Given the key role of ecology in sustainable development, we are committed to educating K-12 Teachers, a critical cohort who carry forward the work of sustainable development. The wellbeing of youth and the wellbeing of our planet are intrinsically connected.

During the 21st century, today’s youth will become adults who face some of the greatest environmental challenges: adapting to climate change; conserving remaining biodiversity; protecting and accessing clean water, developing innovations in renewable energy; restoring the urban infrastructure and the natural systems upon which the built environment rests; preventing emergent infectious diseases while simultaneously engineering better medicines; and finding the balance of the requirement to feed the planet, while maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Thus, today’s secondary school students need a robust education to help them address these multifaceted and complex challenges that have critical environmental, socio-economic and political impacts. Their eventual quality of life and economic wellbeing is directly linked to their academic success, and this success is deeply connected to excellent education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At Columbia University, Earth Institute’s current K-12 Programs include three National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiatives: The Technology, Research, Ecology and Exchange for Students (TREES) Program, the Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) Program, and the School-based Ecology and Environmental Discoveries (SEEDS). One additional program is the Earth Institute Professional Development Program in Environmental Sustainability.

The Program

The Technology, Research, Ecology and Exchange for Students (TREES) program helps teachers design, implement and evaluate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and STEM/ICT (Information, Communication, Technology) content and teaching strategies for the study of ecology, biodiversity and environmental sustainability in urban ecosystems. The TREES curriculum focuses on community ecology from the perspective of biodiversity and urban ecosystem goods and services such as water and energy. The skills that TREES concentrates on are development through inquiry, scientific method and project-based learning. The workforce component of TREES exposes students and their teachers to the STEM and STEM/ICT professions linked to the natural and human made infrastructure upon which New York City rests (waterways, green space, biota, to name a few). The TREES program is funded by a $1.2 million, three-year grant from NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers Division.


EI seeks to build capacity in secondary education through the multiplier effect of partnering with teachers in interdisciplinary, hands-on science learning for STEM. Educational research indicates that attendance in middle school is linked to performance in high school. Positive learning experiences in middle school can make all the difference. One way to help make this happen is to use the schools and school buildings themselves as “learning labs.”