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Science Lesson | 10 Towns that Changed America Curriculum

Science Lesson

Create a Public Service Announcement about the environmental benefits of architectural reuse

Pearl District, Portland, OR (credit James Clark)


In this lesson, students will create a 30 second Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the environmental benefits of adaptive reuse (reusing buildings for uses different from their original intent)

Grades: 6 – 12
Time: 4 periods


This lesson addresses selected themes from McRel Science Standards

  • Standard 11: Understands the nature of scientific knowledge
    Level III (Grades 6 – 8): Understands the nature of scientific explanations (e.g., use of logically consistent arguments; emphasis on evidence; use of scientific principles, models, and theories; acceptance or displacement of explanations based on new scientific evidence).
    Level IV (Grades 9 – 12): Knows ways in which science distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing and from other bodies of knowledge (e.g., use of empirical standards, logical arguments, skepticism).


To prepare to teach this lesson, teachers should:

  • Watch the Pearl District segment from the PBS special 10 Towns that Changed America, on DVD or online.
  • Review the lesson plan.
  • Download and print copies of the brainstorming, script, and storyboard worksheets.



  • Copies of the brainstorming, script, and storyboard worksheets
  • Smartphone or iPad or tablet (to film PSA); editing software (if available); images of historic buildings/neighborhoods for students to film, either from miscellaneous books, or Google images
    NOTE: If no editing software is available, students may just film using the iPad or smartphone. They may have to do it over a few times until they’re happy with it.

Period 1

  1. Watch the segment about Portland’s Pearl District from the PBS Special 10 Towns that Changed America.
  2. Ask students to think about any buildings or areas of their own community that have fallen into disuse. Why? What were the changes in Portland that left the Pearl District pretty much abandoned? (Generate students’ response on the board.) When a city changes and neighborhoods become abandoned, city leaders are faced with different choices. What are some of those choices? (Demolish and rebuild, or redevelop what’s already there.) Ask students why Portland decided to retain the buildings of the Pearl District. (Artists started moving in, the value in the area was seen in the way it was described—the buildings as ‘oysters,’ the artists inside as ‘pearls.’
  3. Ask the students what were some of the benefits of redeveloping the Pearl District instead of razing it? (Answers might include creating a walkable area, mixed-income, lively commercial life, public spaces, streetcar spurred new development.) Introduce the term adaptive reuse. (Adaptive reuse means using a building for a different use than it was originally intended. In the Pearl District, the buildings were built as warehouses, but today they are used as stores and lofts.) Make sure students understand its meaning.
  4. Explain that an additional benefit to reuse is environmental. How so? Tell the students that there is a saying: “The greenest building is the one that is already built.” What does this mean? For example, you do not need to create or harvest or transport new building materials with an existing building. Existing buildings were often designed to maximize sunlight and warmth, thus lowering energy needs. Break students into groups and have them brainstorm ways that reusing buildings helps the environment. Distribute brainstorming worksheet. Afterward, students come together to share.

Period 2

  1. Tell students that they are going to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that encourages adaptive reuse. The PSA does not have to focus on the Pearl District. It is about promoting the concept of adaptive reuse in general. Explain what a PSA is. Why would a PSA be a good platform to explain the environmental benefits of adaptive reuse? (Answers will vary.) (NOTE: If you have access to editing software, and your students know how to use it, go ahead and use it. The end result will be more professional and polished. If not, though, you may have the students film with a smartphone or iPad or tablet. If you don’t have access to any of these digital devices, students may create PSA posters.) Explain that the first step in making a short film is creating a script. Break students into their groups to create their scripts. Explain that it should not be longer than 30 seconds. Students share their ideas afterwards. NOTE: You may photocopy as many copies of the script page as students need.

Period 3

  1. Explain to students that now that their scripts are complete, they may create the storyboard for their PSA. Explain that on the storyboard sheet, they are going to do a little sketch of each section of the film in the box, i.e., to show the visual image that is happening at that moment. On the lines below the box, they write the section of narration or character interaction that accompanies the visual image. Break students into their groups again and hand out the storyboard worksheet. They will work together to create the storyboard. Students share their storyboards afterwards. NOTE: You may photocopy as many copies of the storyboard sheet as students need.

Period 4

  1. Tell students that today they will film. Break them up into their groups again to film their PSAs. They may shoot photos of buildings from books or even images they find on the Internet.

Additional Resources


  • Christopher S. Dorsek. Portland’s Pearl District

Online Sources

For Further Study

This Science lesson can be extended to other subjects or paired with other 10 Towns that Changed America lessons to create the following interdisciplinary connections:

  • Art: Students may make an accompanying poster for their PSA film
  • Mathematics: Calculate how many tons of rubble would be added to landfill if one building in the Pearl District were to be demolished. Calculate how many tons of carbon would be added to the atmosphere if a new building were constructed on the site (even a “green” one). Include the cost of creating building materials, trucking them to the building site, etc.
  • ELA: If there are abandoned or disused buildings in the students’ own community, they may research and write a short paper that documents that buildings or neighborhood’s history.
  • Social Studies: Students may make a map that shows the locations of disused or abandoned buildings in their own community. They may make a plan for the buildings’ reuse.