Background: WonderLab is a STEAM after school program focused on environmental science located at Lesley University. By utilizing faculty resources and the facilities located at the university, WonderLab allows students to: be confident and curious in nature, have bravery in experimentation, make sense of data as consumer and producer, strengthen intra- and inter- personal skills, and have access to STEM pipeline. Thanks to a collaborative two-year grant from the A.J. & M.D. Ruggiero Memorial Trust, Lesley University is currently partnering with the Mount Auburn Cemetery. This partnership allows WonderLab to use the site as a large green space in which to collaborate with Lesley researchers, collect and analyze data on various environmental phenomena, and develop and implement site specific curriculum and programing.

Define the problem: Two challenges WonderLab staff have identified with running an urban environmental education program; the proximity to green spaces and integrating the arts into their data collection and representation/presentation.

Lesley’s University Hall is located in the heart of Porter Square on Massachusetts Ave. Three frequently utilized spaces include the university’s back parking lot, the Lesley Garden, and Raymond Park. The latter two are between a 10-15 minute walk and the parking lot presents safety concerns during peak class time. Staff expressed the desire to study one green space where students choose their own field of study.

The integration of the arts is an aspect of the program that is constantly evolving and improving. However, students have expressed interest in a more choice based approach to the arts as well as a project they have time to work over the course of multiple days.

By capitalizing on the Mount Auburn partnership, WonderLab staff observed an opportunity to create a long term research and art project inspired by the cemetery.



The after school program is only open to students to attend one day a week. During each session the bulk of the programming occurs within two hours. One major limitation was the weekly time allowance especially during the site visits. In addition, students are not often asked to design their own research projects in a traditional classroom environment so a lot of work preparing students to formulate questions was done in advance. The last limitation is staff support. While WonderLab ratio is small, so many students need one-on-one support so a system in which staff can continuously check in with students needed to be put into place.


Part II. TOOLBOX of Resources

Begin to define the resources (paper, websites, natural spaces) that will be utilized for each step below. Either a resource you have found at Mt. Auburn, an outside resource (article, website, etc.), or one you have to create yourself. 

Step 1 Define/Wonder  - Two day process

Day One: General Sensory & Observation

WonderLab’s site-specific project begins with an open ended exploration of the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Students were given tools such as their field journals, cameras, cemetery maps, and a scavenger hunt. Upon arriving at the cemetery, students were introduced to the idea that they would be choosing one aspect of the cemetery to research in depth and create a project based on their findings. Students were then invited to use the first week at the cemetery as purely open-ended exploration. Staff were instructed to listen to the questions and observations voiced by students and then encourage a deeper exploration and record their findings.

Staff chose Consecration Dell as the first cemetery site to explore due to its diverse surroundings and aquatic life. Here staff introduced two sensory and observation based activities; Solo Sit and Are You Aware (Appendix A). After sensory and observation activities, students were given time to free explore. During the walk back students were given a Mount Auburn Scavenger Hunt to introduce them to more aspects of the cemetery (Appendix B).

At the conclusion of the day staff encourage students to reflect upon what inspired them and what aspects of the cemetery they would be interested in further exploring.

Day Two: Pond Study

Mount Auburn Cemetery offers immense opportunities to explore aquatic habitats at the four water bodies on site. Day two of open ended exploration consisted of a structured pond study at Halcyon Lake. Here students were equipped with ponding nets (kitchen strainers taped to dollrods), magnifying glasses, tubs, plastic spoons, pH papers and thermometers. Students were also given macroinvertebrate identification and dichotomous keys.

The pond study consisted of collecting macroinvertebrates and observing their shapes, movements, and characteristics. Some students chose to explore the chemical components of the lake by testing the pH and temperature. Students collected samples in their tubs, took photos, recorded notes in their field journals, and used the identification papers.

Staff taught students how to use the tools and then allowed students to conduct their own collections and experiments. At the end of the day, the group gathered to discuss their findings.  In addition, students were encouraged to reflect upon how this experience could inspire a final project.

Step 2: Research/Observe 

Initial research began with an exploration into various art forms and environmental artists. Once students understood their research would be presented in an art form, staff introduced various environmental sculptors, puppeteers, dancers, poets, painters, and sound artists. Students were then given time in the computer lab to begin initial research into their art form and the cemetery. All were given the cemetery’s website and a brief tutorial on what the website offers for their research. In addition, staff wrote key words related to their art forms and allowed them to research in Google images, YouTube, Vimeo, and Their findings were emailed or recorded in their field journals. Students were then asked to make a final choice for their cemetery topic and chosen art form. Once these were chosen students developed a plan for the next visit at the cemetery; what did they need to collect, observe, experience, etc.

Staff provided individualized support for web research and development of student ideas. Outside experts were emailed, including cemetery researchers and staff, to find out specific information that could not be located on the cemetery’s website.

Step 3: Brainstorm/Design to Collect – Two day process

Day One: Final site visit

At the final cemetery visit students were given the prompt to collect final observations and information on their topic. Staff were knowledgeable of each student’s vision and gave each student advice on where to collect their final data and how they may go about doing so. This included taking photos, recording information in field journals, collecting cemetery information from signs, plaques, and maps.

Day Two: In class research and modeling

Once students were back in WonderLab they began making models of their project, developing a project timeline, and continuing research on the computers and via emails with cemetery personale. At the conclusion of this work day, each student had a written timeline and detailed project outline including their needed materials.

Step 4: Select and Plan/Interpret to Communicate

This stage was completed over three class periods. Students were given access to the Lesley art studio and dance studio to begin their individual art projects. Staff worked intensely with each student to guide them through the creative process and help refine their ideas. During their stage, students were also encouraged to experiment with new materials and art forms to best express their findings.

Step 5: Create Prototype/Redefine

In order to keep students actively refining and reflecting on their projects, staff conducted group critiques. Each staff member had a group of 3-4 students they were responsible for throughout the creating process and critique. These critique groups allowed students to share their progress and offer suggestions to their classmates. In addition to small groups, staff conducted a large critique where students shared their idea and progress allowing for group feedback.

Step 6: Final Showcase

In order for students to develop a stake in these projects, staff arranged a final showcase/gallery opening for stakeholders involved. Students were taught how artists represent their work within a gallery including signage, artist statement, placement, and accessibility. Student families were invited for food, a gallery walk, and final awards marking the end of the semester.

Click for a photo essay of the Summative Presentation

Click for an additional photo essay of WonderLab student processes for exploring, observing, collecting data, and showcasing their cemetery work!

Appendix A

Solo Sit

Objective: To increase observation skills and gain a deeper understanding of their current environment. 

Time: Dependent on time and engagement

Set up: None

Materials: Field Journals, pencils and/or colored pencils, markers, crayons etc.


Discussion: Share Observations or journal about experiences

Are You Aware?

Objective: To increase observation skills and gain a deeper understanding of their current environment. 

Time: Dependent on time and engagement

Set up: None

Materials: Clothespin


Discussion: Share Observations of what was found while looking for the clothespin

Appendix B

Weber and Gleeson 2017