“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E.O. Wilson
Shaping the future will demand more than just knowledge—it calls for discerning and insightful decision makers who have a deep connection to our planet and a steadfast commitment to equity for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Ten Strands and the Concord Consortium have been partnering to help create such a future.
The Concord Consortium is a nonprofit organization that does research and development related to technology and its best uses in STEM education. We envision a world where all students and teachers use effective digital resources to engage deeply, justly, and equitably with STEM concepts and practices in varied personal, cultural, and social contexts.
As an anchor organization working with Ten Strands on the Climate Change and Environmental Justice Program (CCEJP), a project established to create a set of curricular materials to be freely distributed across California and beyond, the Concord Consortium offers resources and support to the curriculum writing teams. For instance, we are excited to recommend our Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP), a free, open-source tool designed to engage students of all ages in learning with and about data.
As the world becomes more complex and interconnected, we find ourselves immersed in an ocean of information and data, and helping our students to navigate this complexity is crucial. Data are everywhere, and using data relevant to student lives to explore issues of equity and justice can be a very powerful motivating force in student learning. CODAP’s intuitive interface allows youth to ask and explore questions using a complex dataset quickly and easily and to make sense of the answers.
The writing team working on the eighth-grade curriculum has been developing materials that allow students to examine data from atmospheric sensors across the state of California and explore inequities regarding the environmental impact of air quality on different populations. Using CODAP, students are able to gather and analyze data, searching for patterns that can be used to create narratives about the world. These “data stories” can help bring context to what might otherwise appear as a set of jumbled numbers and help students gain insight and comfort with complex datasets.
The twelfth-grade writing team is using U.S. Census data to support student exploration of the impacts of different environmental characteristics on different racial and ethnic populations in California, while the seventh-grade writing team has gathered data on subsidence (decreasing altitudes) of land in the Central Valley as a result of groundwater extraction for agriculture. In each of these curriculum units, data acquisition and exploration is a cornerstone of exploration.
The complex nature of the problems our society faces around climate and environmental justice not only need data for exploration but also a systems perspective to properly grasp the complex interactions between nature, humankind, and the sociopolitical context in which these issues are embedded. The Next Generation Science Standards lists “Systems and System Models” as a crosscutting concept that cuts across all disciplines, “providing students with connections and tools that can be applied in many different contexts.” When modeling is done collaboratively, it can bring together diverse voices and ideas, helping to create a unified picture of the world.
SageModeler is a free, web-based tool developed by the Concord Consortium and the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University that supports systems thinking by bringing together the ability to visualize a system, showing its complex groupings of components and connections, and allowing the user to simulate a system model to test its behavior against that observed in the real world.
Each of the curriculum units being developed uses modeling as a keystone activity, and several of the writing teams have been exploring the use of SageModeler as a way for students to generate models that represent their thinking and to document their increasing understanding as the units progress. For example, the fourth-grade unit is examining how climate change is causing the electricity to go out more often and is considering the use of SageModeler as a way to get students to express their understanding of the links between climate change and power.
The group examining subsidence in California’s Central Valley is using SageModeler to help students better understand the dynamics of water flow into and out of aquifers used to support all forms of agriculture. Students are able to transform their knowledge of aquifer structures in the Central Valley into a dynamic representation that allows them to experiment with different water policies and environmental circumstances to see how present projections of water availability into the future might be adjusted to promote sustainability.
Working together with Ten Strands and the CCEJP writing teams, we strive to create a future where students collaborate and use appropriate tools, including CODAP and SageModeler, to become the discerning “synthesizers” imagined by E.O. Wilson. The world needs such thoughtful and insightful people.