The UCSD EarthLab Community Station is an outdoor environmental classroom of 4 acres, replete with community gardens, solar houses, water harvesting facilities, an energy “nano-grid” and other environmental infrastructure designed by UCSD researchers and students as learning tools for the six public schools in walking distance of the site. Thousands of at-risk youth and their families circulate through EarthLab each year, engaging in participatory STEM-based environmental education and climate action at neighborhood scale.



The EarthLab is a 4-acre plot of land located in the Diamond Neighborhood of Southeastern San Diego. It is bounded on the North by the MLK Highway, Euclid Avenue to the East, Carolina Drive to the South, and the MTM Driveway to the West.



To restore water-quality and habitat within the Chollas Creek Watershed and to create an exciting outdoor experiential learning environment, "the EarthLab," for the 6000 ethnically diverse, low-income K-12 students and their families who live in the surrounding community. Groundwork is an environmental enhancement non-profit organization empowered by the San Diego City Council. EarthLab sits on property owned by the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD); Groundwork manages EarthLab under a 40-year lease with SDUSD.



The purpose of EarthLab: EarthLab's outdoor experiential learning environment provides an opportunity for educators to integrate the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with outdoor activities that seamlessly extend underrepresented minority students' understanding of STEM subjects, college, and career possibilities. Experiential learning at EarthLab motivates deep engagement and compels broad engagement, providing a powerful contrast to what happens in many classrooms.



  • Collaborates with SDUSD; in 2014, secured a 40-year lease from the district to work with local schools to enhance students' STEM educational experiences; continues to collaborate with the school district to secure funding to improve facilities; to date: $250K for grading, ADA-approved entrance, emergency vehicle access
  • Collaborates with UCSD faculty to acquire academic expertise in urban planning, engineering, education; faculty offer "practicum courses" which bring graduate and undergraduate students who serve as RAs, tutors, and coaches to local youth; faculty also assist Groundwork in political dealings, grant writing, acquiring material resources (such as an algae pond for study of energy production from chemical sources); the process and results of research projects and reports benefit Groundwork.
  • Collaborates with industry partners to secure their intellectual support in the design of the EarthLab; to secure material resources such as architectural plans, solar panels, wind turbine, "Smart House-and to secure their political support in dealings with government, granting agencies, and the university
  • Collaborates with elementary, middle, and high schools within the Diamond Neighborhood to organize educational experiences that integrate informal and formal learning in accordance with new state and federal mandates (CCSS and NGSS); Examples:

    - 90 elementary school students participated in twice-weekly science activities as part of the "Summer Readers/Future Leaders" extended learning project in Summer of 2013 and 2014; project continues in 2015 and beyond;

    - Guided by Groundwork Informal Science Educators, MTM teachers bring their students to EarthLab for educational experiences that extend classroom learning

    - Aided by a small grant, Gompers' 7th grade science teacher uses EarthLab for a variety of hands-on, inquiry-based educational experiences



    Learning-both organizational and individual-guides the research questions investigated at the EarthLab.

  • Does Groundwork learn to move beyond a site providing informal learning opportunities for local students and become a vehicle for residents seeking new modes of community participation to improve the academic, social and physical wellbeing among children and families?
  • Likewise, does Groundwork activate a vision of "community youth development," in which Earthlab provides constructive, affirming, and encouraging relationships with adults, while at the same time providing an ensemble of opportunities to enable young people to build their competencies in order to become engaged partners in their own development and the development of their communities?
  • Does UC San Diego learn to move beyond treating research, teaching, and service as discrete entities, and blend them into a coherent pattern that enables students and faculty be more civically engaged?
  • Do the schools in the Diamond Community and EarthLab learn to incorporate the principles of informal learning within classrooms? Do policy reforms (such as NGSS) and classroom instruction inform informal learning at the EarthLab?
  • How can EarthLab influence teaching and learning in nearby K-12 schools?
  • Do teachers learn to become conversant in conducting instruction in formal and informal environments and display discourse moves that encourage reasoning with evidence?
  • Do participating students learn to develop scientific literacy represent their knowledge in multiple ways, and reason with evidence in science and other disciplines?
  • How can project-based experiential learning at EarthLab engage underrepresented minority youth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? What principles generalize to other settings?
  • How does youth participation at EarthLab affect school-based performance measures: standardized test scores, course choices, civic engagement, and career paths?
  • What models and practices of participatory design and research result in meaningful goals and outcomes for the EarthLab community of students, parents, educators, and university partners?






    Groundwork San Diego - The Earthlab


    Unveiling The EarthLab Hands-On Learning Center!