Exploring the California K-12 Science Framework at the Exploratorium

By Karen Cowe|January 30, 2014

Last Saturday, I attended the first of five focus group meetings for the 2016 revision of the Science Framework for California Public Schools. The Framework is being revised because California recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The revision of the Science Framework, and the inclusive process the state plans to follow, creates a real opportunity for all students in California to gain “environmental know-how” (ChangeScale, 2014) which they will take into their lives and communities.

The first meeting was at the new Exploratorium in San Francisco. As I walked through the door I noticed a sign above it that read “a community museum dedicated to awareness,” which was very apropos because the reason I was there was to raise awareness, on behalf of Ten Strands, to encourage the California Department of Education to consider the inclusion of the Environmental Principles & Concepts (EP&Cs) as part of the framework revision. On a personal level, I respect the process and the opportunity to show up. I feel it is significant that the state is seeking input from the public and listening for contributions made by stakeholders in making decisions that will impact their communities.



The Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) are very timely and significant in this discussion. They were developed as a result of the Education and the Environment Initiative [Pavley, Chapter 665, Statutes of 2003-AB 1548] and they exist to “examine the interactions and interdependence of human societies and natural systems and provide the framework of what California students should be learning to build environmental literacy.” (CalEPA). The Education and the Environment Initiative curriculum was built as a model around the EP&Cs, and exists as a free resource that all California teachers (K-12) can access.

Below is the message I delivered on behalf of Ten Strands:

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We wish to encourage the CA Dept. of Education to create a framework that includes teaching science through the lens of environmental literacy: the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the interconnectedness of all human and natural systems.

We wish to encourage the CA Dept. of Education to use California’s premier environmental education effort, the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) as a model when developing the new Science Framework.

  • The EEI has been developed by the California Environmental Protection Agency, in cooperation with the State Department of Education and the Natural Resources Agency. The curriculum is the first environment-based curriculum of its kind to receive CA State Board of Education approval.
  • The EEI Curriculum is based upon 5 Principles, and 15 Concepts, and these principles are collectively called “Environmental Principles and Concepts” (EP&Cs). The substance of the EP&Cs are embedded throughout the NGSS: they are extremely consistent with the conceptual shifts embodied in the K-12 Framework, and the NGSS.
  • Moreover, the EEI curriculum provides excellent support for many of the NGSS science and engineering practices, and for mastery of many of the NGSS performance expectations. (The State of CA Office of Education and the Environment (OEE) is producing correlation documents by Spring).
  • The EEI Curriculum also provides excellent support for the Common Core State Standards. (OEE has already produced correlation documents).

Specifically, we urge the Science Frameworks to:

  • Consider how the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) support multiple aspects of the NGSS, and to identify EP&Cs as framework criteria. In reviewing the NGSS, there appears to be an especially strong correlation of the EP&Cs with a number of the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts and Disciplinary Core Ideas, especially performance standards that focus on “Earth and Human Activity”
  • Look to the EEI Curriculum as a source for specific questions when developing science instruction in the classroom
  • Use the EEI Curriculum format of the locally based “California Connections” as a model for supporting the NGSS call for local information; and
  • Use the EEI Curriculum as a model for engaging differentiated learning, and English Language Learners

The EEI Environmental Principles & Concepts and the Curriculum represent a strategy to teach science through an environmental lens, a strategy that teachers throughout California have already used to increase motivation, foster deep engagement, and prepare students or careers and civic participation in science-related fields.


I am looking forward to continued participation in this inclusive dialogue and would welcome and encourage anyone with an interest in making sure we develop ecoliterate students to attend and give public comment. We’ll be attending all the upcoming focus groups:

  • January 30, 2014 San Diego County Office of Education
  • January 31, 2014 Orange County Office of Education
  • February 4, 2014 California Department of Education, Sacramento
  • February 11, 2014 Fresno County Office of Education

If you would like to participate in the process but can’t attend in person, you can send your comments to scienceframework@cde.ca.gov.

California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) summarized:

  1. People Depend on Natural Systems;
  2. People Influence Natural Systems;
  3. Natural Systems Change in Ways that People Benefit from and Can Influence;
  4. There are no Permanent or Impermeable Boundaries that Prevent Matter from Flowing Between Systems;
  5. Decisions Affecting Resources and Natural Systems are Complex and Involve Many Factors.
Karen Cowe
This article was written by Karen Cowe

Karen Cowe is an education-industry executive with over 30 years of experience in sales and fund development, marketing, program design, professional learning, business development, and operations. Prior to joining Ten Strands, she was president and chief executive officer of Key Curriculum Press, an innovative and award-winning K–12 STEM publisher. Before that, she was managing director of Burlington Books in Athens, Greece—the first publisher in Greece to offer locally-focused English language instructional materials for Greek students. In addition to her understanding of the complexities of the US education landscape, she has valuable insights into education in other nations, having built relationships in Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Karen holds a bachelor in business and a minor in education from Saint John’s College, York and a master of business administration from Saint Mary’s College, California.