Recently, Ten Strands hosted its first event at the Brower Center in Berkeley—a great venue for networking, building community and viewing a documentary, where our special guest David Gelber introduced his Emmy Award winning series Years of Living Dangerously. Photos from the event can be viewed on the Ten Strands Facebook Page. People involved in many different branches of education mingled and exchanged ideas. Lupita Cortez Alcalá, Deputy State Superintendent of Instruction, showed her support (and that of the State Superintendent Tom Torlakson) for all students to become environmentally literate.
That goal will require environment-based education (EBE) to be a part of all students’ classroom work. You may be asking, what’s the difference between EBE and environmental education? Well, read on!
California’s Education and the Environment Initiative Curriculum teachers.
Let’s first build a context for the answer by asking another question: “What do teachers do?” That’s a question I was often asked when I was teaching, to which I responded, “What don’t teachers do?” Teachers are responsible for citizenship cultivation, culture dissemination, values propagation and standards-based education. It’s tough work! Teachers can only be their best if they have great training, inspiring mentors, supportive administrators, and teaching materials that engage. Once you engage a student with stimulating pedagogy and relevant curriculum, you’re halfway there.
I was a high school teacher for ten years, teaching Environmental Science and Civics. I experienced how environment-based education can rivet students’ attention. I felt this calling to influence the public school system so that all teachers could teach with lessons that connect kids to their environment. So, I left the classroom and established Ten Strands.
Using the environment as a context while teaching is a proven lightening rod for success. “The environment” isn’t just a faraway mountain stream, a redwood tree or an ocean wave. The environment is all around us, all the time—air, water, soil, plants, animals, food, and the sun!
The sun shines down on all 7 billion of us, and we are inescapably dependent on the health of natural systems. Connective strands weave together people and nature, but ever since the Industrial Revolution people have been altering all parts of nature as if there’s no tomorrow! Well, OK, not the sun—it’s pretty much out of our control. But people do use the atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon dioxide and have unleashed chemicals that ate a hole in the Ozone layer. (I’m happy to say that the Ozone layer is thickening once again.)
More people accumulating on earth means more pressure on natural systems. Who’s going to teach young Americans how to interact effectively with nature? Teachers in public schools, that’s who. Teachers are the only ones who have access to all students across all demographics for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. No other institution in America can make that claim.
This topic of environmental literacy is way too big for just one course in environmental science. It’s way too complicated to think that a couple field trips and overnight outings will get it all in, even though those experiences are super important!
Now, on to the difference between environment-based education (EBE) and environmental education.
EBE has at its core three major goals: helping students achieve success with academic content standards; developing their understanding of interactions between natural and human social systems; and preparing students to be active members of a civil society with the skills they need to identify and resolve environmental challenges. It is designed to help students achieve proficiency through a school’s standards-based academic programs in English language arts, math, science, and history-social science, as well as in other disciplines such as technology, art, and music. It is not a separate topic with its own discrete academic content.
Imagine if all K-12 teachers taught a small portion of their subjects using the environment as a context. The EEI Curriculum was designed precisely for that. Kids love it, they learn better, and teachers love it! In a recent survey, 97% of teachers using the Curriculum said that it was a great way to meet the Common Core State Standards and 95% said they would teach it again next year. They like the problem solving, critical thinking and emphasis on group work.
Back in 2003 the California legislature passed a law called the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI). The goal was to use the public school system to produce environmentally literate graduates. They would have a leg-up in a global job market where understanding environmental impacts is becoming more and more important, and just as important is the civic aspect—environmentally literate graduates are better able to make wise decisions as consumers, voters, and well-rounded citizens.
The EEI law created a set of environmental principles and concepts to guide the development of the EEI Curriculum using the environment as a context. There are 500 lesson plans spread among history-social science, science, and English language arts. They are divided into units for the thirteen grades from Kindergarten through high school. Teachers can use a few lesson plans a month to switch out with their regular lessons.
These environmental principles are so basic that everyone can agree with them. Here they are—take a look and see if you agree:
- People Depend on Natural Systems (think: water, soils, food-web);
- People Influence Natural Systems (think: fishing, logging, using fertilizer);
- Natural systems follow cycles that people depend upon and have the power to alter (think: carbon cycle, water cycle, dams, and roads);
- There are no impermeable boundaries between human societies and natural systems (think: water pollution, air pollution); and
- Decisions affecting resources and natural systems are complex (think: Endangered Species Act, Environmental Protection Regulations, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act)
Ten Strands is here for teachers and students. We are a nonprofit that:
- Partners with State Agencies. Together we:
– Increase teacher access to environment-based Professional Development;
– Demonstrate the correlation of EEI Curriculum to the Common Core State Standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards.
– Market the EEI Curriculum to California teachers.
- Works with the Environmental Literacy Task Force to advocate for the Environmental Principles and Concepts to be written into the new California State Science Framework.
Because of the collaboration between Ten Strands and CalRecycle, a quarter-million students will have used lessons from the Curriculum by winter 2014. The day will arrive when the next generation totally “gets” how to live within safe boundaries of environmental interaction. EEI teachers are harnessing the public school system to produce an environmentally literate population by using EBE in the classroom, and supporting classroom learning with environmental studies, field trips and outings to generate the practice of becoming environmentally knowledgeable and aware.
Please support efforts to introduce the EEI Curriculum to whatever schools you’re connected to. It not only takes a village, it takes an empowered public school system! Dr. Gerald A. Lieberman, Ph.D delves extensively into a deeper understanding of the difference between EBE and EE in his book Education and the Environment: Creating Standards-Based Programs in Schools and Districts.