Education – the Changing Climate

By Will Parish|December 10, 2013

I recently attended the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) conference in Sacramento, CA and was impressed with the pace of educational change. I was especially encouraged that several sessions on STEM and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) demonstrated an interest in incorporating Environmental Education into the frameworks and standards.

A particular moment of inspiration came from listening to Sugata Mitra’s presentation when he spoke about the inherent ability of students to teach themselves.  See his TED talk on the subject here:

 

As a former teacher I have witnessed students teaching themselves in ways that inspired my own teaching. Mr. Mitra has conducted experiments that provide strong evidence of the inherent capacity of children to:

  • be curious about and aware of their surrounding environment
  • want to learn
  • seek (and access) information and tools
  • have the ability to teach themselves without a teacher spoon-feeding them.

His experiments in the slums of India provide examples of how transformative a computer can be as a learning tool.  With shifting standards (and how to meet them) already on educators’ minds, it is significant that students soon will be using tablets and the Internet rather than the traditional written materials and classroom methods that teachers are used to.

Our understanding of how the mind actually incorporates new knowledge and ideas for new practices, including learning new behaviors, is expanding at an accelerated speed. We are seeing that one way to engage students more directly in their own education is to become more flexible and responsive. There is movement towards shaping learning experiences that considers students’ diverse learning processes, and responding with appropriate tools and interventions. Increasingly textbooks will be a thing of the past, augmented and eventually replaced by diverse source content and a pedagogy where the teacher’s role shifts to one of mentor or coach rather than an A→B  disseminator of knowledge. The jug-to-mug model is on its way out.

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In my ten years of teaching Environmental Science in San Francisco, I observed that students’ interest in a topic goes up as its relevance to that student increases. I witnessed the millennial generation looking at how certain behaviors, such as product consumption and energy use, have an impact on the world beyond their homes and immediate environment. Most significantly, students demonstrated a willingness to change their own behaviors as a result of gaining insights into their own carbon and energy footprints.

My own first experience with a move toward a greener consciousness began in the 1980’s when I was pursuing alternative energy projects in the private sector. At the time, technology was not quite advanced enough (nor was the American population ready) for a whole-scale shift to consider how human/ecosystem interaction around energy could shift to operate in a healthier, more sustainable manner.

Today the climate has changed – literally and metaphorically. Evidence is all around, for example:

  • Use of the Internet and technology to connect people with information and each other, increasing the ability to coalesce around issues
  • Vocal and organized public opinion against products and practices that sacrifice human health, dignity or healthy landscapes
  • Businesses paying increased attention to more sustainable practices in response to public pressure
  • Ballot initiatives cropping up across the country calling for more responsible use of natural resources, and the rights to access clean water, healthy food, and uncontaminated land
  • Increased popularity of courses that deepen students’ understanding of how human systems work in connection with natural systems
  • An increase in the number of LEED and The Living Building Challenge certified buildings
  • A rise in new tech jobs tied to the green economy

So much of what Ten Strands aspires to accomplish is linked to this sea-change of perception in the need for a healthy environment. Recognizing that each part of the ecosystem is valuable to the survival of the whole, and is needed for a happy human existence, is at the heart of what we do. Thank you for being interested, and we welcome you to join us in creating and fulfilling this shared vision.

 

Will Parish
This article was written by Will Parish

Will Parish is a credentialed public high school science educator with a 30-year record of innovative accomplishments in the environmental and educational fields. He taught Environmental Science at Gateway High School in San Francisco, and now serves on the board. He served on the California State Board of Education’s Curriculum Commission and then founded Ten Strands as a nonprofit organization to support California’s efforts to achieve statewide penetration of high-quality environment-based education into schools.

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