I Love It When a Plan—for Environmental Literacy—Comes Together

By Gerald Lieberman, PhD|September 6, 2017

The State Board of Education (SBE) officially adopted the EP&Cs (Environmental Principles and Concepts) in 2004 and they are an important piece of the curricular expectations for all California students. Teachers can introduce these EP&Cs through their many connections with the three dimensions of the CA NGSS, and by focusing instruction on the environment of their local community and the issues that it faces. (California Science Curriculum Framework, adopted by the State Board of Education, November 3, 2016)

It may have taken several years, but then, everything good takes time. This past week, with the support and encouragement of the California Department of Education, a small group of us, from the State Education and the Environment Roundtable (SEER), Ten Strands, and CalRecycle’s Office of Education and the Environment, came together to give a publishers’ briefing to the companies developing instructional materials that conform to California’s new Science Curriculum Framework. Rounding out our team was Juanita Chan, Science Lead from Rialto Unified School District, Wendy Weller, a teacher from Elk Grove Unified School District, and Barbara Woods, a curriculum coach from Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.

It all started back in early 2014, when Dr. Tom Adams, now deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education (CDE), asked me to get engaged in the process of developing the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based science framework for the state. Later that year, the process of developing the new framework moved into “full-speed ahead” with meetings of a Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee. This committee was comprised of highly-qualified science teachers, university science educators, and administrators.

It was early in that process when I told my colleagues at Ten Strands and CalRecycle that if we were going to make the investment in helping to develop a new framework, we needed to put it on our agendas to undertake planning and conducting a briefing for the publishers of new science instructional resources. That plan came together on August 29 in Sacramento at a publishers’ event organized by the CDE’s Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division.

In November 2016, I shared a story about the five major breakthroughs represented in the newly adopted science framework (A Watershed Moment for Environmental Literacy for All K–12 California Students). The many connections between the new science framework and our overarching goals of achieving environmental literacy for all students in California represent a major shift in the goals of K–12 education in our state.

Among many others, the new framework presents five goals that directly support a movement toward environmental literacy. These include science instruction that:

  • Engages students as active participants in their own learning, where they do science rather than just reading about it;
  • Is relevant to local communities and student interests, where content and skills build on students’ existing experience to learn about and solve real-world problems;
  • Has an explicit focus on Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs);
  • Incorporates outdoor and environmental learning experiences as powerful tools for implementing key instructional shifts required by the CA NGSS and California’s EP&Cs; and,
  • Provides broad-reaching guidance to teachers and publishers about making instructional connections between the EP&Cs and NGSS for all students—from kindergarten to high school.

Our goal for the publishers’ briefing was to share with them the requirements identified by the State Board of Education as Category 1 Requirements—things that all new instructional materials must have to be adopted by the State of California. The Overview chapter of the framework introduces this requirement:

Explicit focus on Environmental Principles and Concepts… California has identified several critical understandings, called the Environmental Principles and Concepts, that every student in the state should learn and be able to apply…

To help fulfill this goal, the California State Board of Education (SBE) approved a framework guideline that calls for the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) to be incorporated into relevant subject matter frameworks, including science… As a result, the EP&Cs have become an important piece of the curricular expectations for all California students in science and other content areas. (California Science Curriculum Framework, November 3, 2016)

At the August 29 science publishers’ briefing, we provided both guidance based on the new science framework and several resources to help them understand how to fully integrate the EP&Cs into the new instructional materials they are currently developing and will submit to the SBE in spring 2018.

The guidance we provided the publishers was what the SBE had approved in the new science framework. We explained the importance of criterion 1.15, a must-have, gatekeeper requirement for SBE adoption of every publisher’s instructional materials. This criterion reads:  

15. Instructional resources, where appropriate, examine humanity’s place in ecological systems and the necessity for the protection of the environment (Education Code Section 60041). Resources include instructional content based upon the EP&Cs… adopted by the SBE (Public Resources Code Section 71301) in context and aligned to the CA NGSS, as exemplified in Appendix 2. (California Science Curriculum Framework, November 3, 2016)

Appendix 2 was developed as a cooperative endeavor of SEER, Ten Strands, and CalRecycle. We also gave them detailed instructions on how to use Appendix 2 of the Framework. This extensive appendix provides numerous suggestions about how publishers and teachers can connect the EP&Cs to specific elements of California’s NGSS.

We also provided publishers with two detailed exemplars to demonstrate how NGSS-focused lesson sequences can be designed to fully integrate instruction in the EP&Cs and three-dimensional content of the NGSS. These example lessons offered detailed explanations of connections between the EP&Cs and NGSS, as well as procedures for educators. The goal of these exemplars was to guide instructional materials writers as they develop their own materials, therefore they included marginalia that provided in-depth explanations, for example:

This lesson series begins with an outdoor environmental learning experience that introduces the environmental factors that can influence the growth of organisms (LS1.B). Students will explore the local conditions that can affect the growth of an adult plant. It thereby reinforces their understanding that the byproducts of human activity are not readily prevented from entering natural systems (EP&Cs Principle IV Concept b). (California Grade 6-7 EP&Cs Exemplar Lesson Series. SEER, 2017)

The exemplars include both a 4th Grade Lesson Series, and a 6th-7th Grade Lesson Series. These exemplars are publicly available to both publishers and teachers.

Additionally, we developed and provided the publishers with a Sample Scope and Sequence for California EP&Cs. This document provides extensive examples of potential learning outcomes and was designed to demonstrate to publishers how the CA NGSS and EP&Cs can be integrated into instructional materials and activities. Using connections like those provided in the scope and sequence allow publishers to meet the SBE’s Category 1 requirement for both the NGSS and EP&Cs. Teachers are also finding this to be a useful tool as they undertake the development of their own NGSS–EP&Cs instructional plans.

Instructional materials produced by the publishing industry are not the only avenue that we are all pursuing to increase the environmental literacy of all California students, but because they are widely used, they represent one very important path toward this long-term goal.

Dr. Adams’ support and encouragement for environmental literacy over the past 15 years has made this all possible. Ten Strands provided the underpinning for this work, not only with funding but by taking on a crucial leadership role from start to finish.

Gerald Lieberman, PhD
This article was written by Gerald Lieberman, PhD

Dr. Gerald A. Lieberman is founder and director of the State Education and Environment Roundtable, and is an internationally-recognized authority on school improvement. He served as the principal consultant for the State of California’s Education and the Environment Initiative, and is a past chair of the Commission on Education and Communication of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.