Thursday, June 18, 2009

Incorporating Outdoor Activities: Suggestions Specific to Science 10

I would like to share with you a few suggestions on ways that I have come up with to incorporate topics of sustainability and environmental education into the B.C. grade 10 Science program. The majority of these suggestions are focused on ways to reconnect our students with nature and familiarize themselves with local ecosystems

PLO-A5 Demonstrate ethical, responsible, cooperative behaviour

Any of the below projects and activities will cover this PLO quite well. By encouraging group work and encouraging your students to look at things in terms of systems will force your students to think about ethics and responsibility.

For Example: Visiting a local landfill will allow your students to see how much waste their community is producing. This can be a great opening activity to talk about recycling and composting because it will force them to think about ways they can reduce waste and therefore be more responsible and environmentally ethical. This activity would also be a great introduction to taking about systems and the concept that each action as a consequence and therefore some kind of impact on the system.

PLO-B- Sustainability of Ecosystems

This entire unit lends itself to so many opportunities to talk about systems and sustainably.

Make sure they really understand what that means, why we are studying this and why we should care. Before you jump into the assigned curriculum have the students describe and model systems that they are familiar with in everyday life such as a car, computer or even the human body. Have them come up with the key concepts of a system and see if they can come up with a definition.

Once they have a grasp on this concept relate the idea of systems to ecosystems and sustainability. Be sure they have an understanding of what sustainable really means and why they should care.

From there you can go on any number of outdoor activities and have them find specific examples of systems.

You can also take them to a local stream or forest and have them try and pick out plants and animals specific to their bioregion and ecosystem.

Lastly, when they are studying the different bioregions around the world, have them compare each bioregion to the one they live in so that they can get a better understanding of their local environment.

PLO- D5-Demonstrate evidence that supports plate tectonic theory

Have the students research plants, animals and rock types that are typical to their local environment, than have them go out in a nature walk and see if they can identify these things and make drawings of them. Now ask your students to research typical plants, animals and rocks from an environment across the ocean. Now ask them what it might mean if you found something specific to your area across the ocean? Guide them with ideas such as rock types, animal and plant type and climate evidence. This will allow you students to discover the concept of continental drift just as Alfred Weigner did. You could then follow up with the Pangaea map and present them with the evidence that Weigner found.

PLO C6- Explain Relationship of displacement and time interval to velocity for objects in uniform motion

This learning outcome can be demonstrated easily by having your students go on a Field trip to a near by steam. You could have them calculate the surface velocity of the stream by throwing pine cones into the river and calculating the time it takes for a pine cone to travel a predetermined distance. They could than make a graph and find the average velocity. Rather than doing an experiment indoors you are allowing them to get outside and explore nature.

There are endless possibilities to how we can incorporate different subjects into a field trip or outdoor activity. It just takes a little creativity.

Now I understand with a set curriculum and a set timetable it can be very difficult to get the students out of the classroom, especially at the secondary level, but there are ways to get around it. The best solution I can come up with is to plan a whole day field trip where you cover a lot of different PLOs in one day. You can cover Earth Science, Chemistry, Biology and even physics all in on day.

You can cover: Stream ecosystem, stream restoration, pollution as a point source (incorporating chemistry by talking about terms such as rate, concentration, temperature and catalyst in terms of water and soil pollution. You can also talk about organic versus inorganic compounds such as herbicides and pesticides), forest ecosystems, human interaction (roads, trails, garbage etc), Heat and thermal energy (convection, conduction and radiation) and how they are transferred through the water, air, soil and plants and animals.

The key here is to try and be creative, and remember be sure to talk with other teachers, different schools and even the community for support and ideas!

Take the Local Approach: Networking and Community

I have been able to share with you what necessary things that we, as educators and even parents, need to ensue that are children gain through education. They must develop a good understanding of the ecological principles and systems science. They need to be able to recognize patterns and relationships and apply these concepts to everyday life as well as to issues surrounding sustainability and the environment.

It is also our responsibility to restore our children's sense of pride and respect for nature, or in other words restore their biophilia. The only way we are going to make sure that our students are able to address complex issues involving climate change, waste reduction and global food resources is to allow them to approach these issues with positive, non-issue orientated mindsets. These values and mindsets can be achieved only if our children are passionate and motivated by earth and its natural processes. And remember, the best approach to take when restoring a child biophilia is to take a local approach. Children, and people alike, are more likely to become committed to something that they have a real connection to, something they can experience first hand.

It is one thing to teach these values and concepts to our children, but it another thing to make sure that the projects and lessons we use to teach our children this information become a part of education forever. The best way to ensure that projects continue on even after the key creators leave is to make diverse networks involving community, parents, businesses and the government. The idea of environmental education is to form connection and networks so that we can share information and ideas across all levels of education.

So remember, always look to what you have in your own backyards, or just outside the boundaries of the classroom. Help your students make a connection to the local environment. Once you have done this, look to the support of other schools, foundations, and the local community and be sure to create relationships and networks with everyone you possible can!

Biophilia: Restoring our Love for Nature

While doing my research I can across a new and interesting term, BIOPHILA!

The term "biophilia" literally means "love of life or living systems

This term was first made mainstream by a man by the name of Edward O Wislon in his book called "Biophilia" Wilson suggests that biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.”

I found this to have a profound implication for me as both a student and as an educator. I think that if we want to get are students to become involved and enthusiastic about sustainability and environmental education than the first step must be to make sure that are students have a certain appreciation, or what we might call love, for nature.

In David Orr's speech, " The End of Education" he tells of how the average teenager is able to recognize 1000-2000 corporate logos but less than 10 plants or animals native to their region. This statistics demonstrates our societies general disconnect to natural world. In his book “Last Child in the Woods,” Louv call this a “nature-deficit”. Here he attributes the rise of child obesity, attention disorders, and depression to our society’s nature-deficit. In other words, if we want to teach our children the principles of ecology we first need to reconnect them with the natural world and restore our general love for nature.

Many children grow up with a general disconnect and it our responsibility as educators to restore there love of nature through project-based, hands on learning activities that take place in nature. Whether it is through the arts with writing and poetry (see Pamela Michael's essay " Helping Children Fall in Love with the Earth: Environmental Education and the Arts" found in the book "Ecological Literacy") or through science on a nature walk or a trip to the garden, there is always a way to get the students involved.

From the Parts to the Whole: A Systems Approach to Teaching

It has come to my attention that the best way to ensure we live in a sustainable world is to do one seemingly simple thing: look at the world around us! The answers we are seeking are actually right in our own backyards. This concept of designing sustainable societies by modeling them after natures ecosystems is described in detail in an essay entitled “ Speaking Nature’s Language: Principles for Sustainability.” The author of this essay, Fritjof Capra, is a founding director of the Centre for Ecoliteracy (CEL). For more information on the CEL see Fritjof Capra primary contribution to the CEL was his push for education that is based on ecological principles and systems thinking. In other words, Capra has recognized that we need to teach our students the basic principles of ecology so that we can run a society that is grounded by these principles. To learn and understand these principles all we need to do is look at nature. As soon as you begin to really look at how nature works, you will realize one very important point: everything is a living system, no matter where you look. It is this very idea of systems that is the key to sustainability and environmental education. Systems are everywhere, from a single cell in a leaf, to the tree itself, to the forest it lives, even a part of the global carbon system. So if systems are everywhere, why is it so hard for us to recognize them and why is this principle of systemic thinking not a mainstream concept?
Capra has described to main reasons why out modern world has so much difficulty with this seemingly basic concept. First is the realization that systems are a nonlinear phenomenon meaning that they are networks of interconnected relationships that work on feedback systems and this is a difficult realization for modern science. Traditional Western Sciences are based on linear systems which work as a series of individual chains of cause and effect. Our basic principles of economics are also based on a linear system where growth, quantity and efficiency are considered as signs of success. This is simply not the case in systems sciences because sustainability is the key not efficiently.

Another reason why many people have a difficultly with systems is because our culture’s values and fundamental worldview is rooted in materialism (Capra, 2005). In sciences we tend to look at and study life by studying its parts, such as DNA, enzymes and other material structures in a cell. In the business world we tend to look at the products and the number figures which are again material things. System sciences recognize that the knowledge of these material things is important, but what are even more important are the non material patterns and processes that connect the material objects to one another.

In essence Capra is saying that we need to change our definition of success and out general way of looking at society and we need to take this new approach. Capara calls this “a shift of perception” when we start to look at the world in terms of relationships, connectedness and context rather than individual objects, content and structure. Capara outlines 6 major shifts in perception which are outlines in more detail within his essay: From parts to the whole, from objects to relationships, from objective knowledge to contextual knowledge, from quantity to quality, from structure to process and from contents to pattern. Coming from a science background I found these shifts to be very contrary to what I was taught about science. We have always been taught that science is about physical observations and quantitative measurements. The idea of relationships and context can be difficult to grasp because you often cannot measure or quantify them.

Outlines below are the 8 concepts that Capara has defined as the most essential concepts in the Language of Nature

*Each part of the community makes its own contribution to the project and the efforts of each are enhanced by the work of all.
*The network has the resilience to keep the project alive even when individuals move on and are gone.
*Ensures the longevity of the project

Nested Systems

*There are systems and networks embedded within larger systems and networks.
*The different systems represent different levels of complexity.


*The existence and sustainability of individual populations and that of an entire ecosystem are dependent on one another.
*No individual organism can exist in isolation.
*Sustainability always involves a whole community


*Diversity makes a system more resilient because it contains species that have overlapping ecological functions that can partially replace one another if an organism leaves.
*The more diverse the community, the more complex the network’s pattern will be and therefore the more resilient the community will be.
*High diversity means different approaches to problem solving and multiple levels of support


*Ecosystems reuse and recycle nutrients in a non-linear fashion
*The idea of “waste equals food”- Here is where liner, economics collides with non-linear ecology


*We live in an open-system model where energy does not travel in a linear system and cannot be recycled, only converted. This means we need a constant influx of energy.
*A sustainable community or society would use only as much energy as it can capture from the sun


*All living systems develop and from this process all systems undergo the process of learning
*Individuals and environments adapt to one another and co evolve in a non-linear way and so we cannot fully predict a systems response to any given change or development.
*A sustainable community will exercise caution when committing itself to practices with unknown outcomes or effects.

Dynamic Balance

*All ecological cycles act on feedback loops which means that the systems self-regulate and continually reorganizes itself.
*This self regulation works on the basis of tolerance limits. Within a given limit a system can compensate for a change or deviation, but when the change goes beyond the boundaries of the tolerance limits problems can arise.
*Due to the high diversity of a system it is able to create new structures, networks and patterns when it encounters certain points of instability.
*For a community to be sustainable it needs to be able to recognize when the creation of new patterns and structures is necessary to maintain balance.

For more information on the concept of Systems thinking please see Frijof Capra's essay " Speaking Nature's Language" which can be found in the book "Ecological Literacy: Education Our Children for a Sustainable World"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mission Statement

This blog has been created in hopes to help anyone interested in incorporating the concepts of Sustainability and Environmental Education into their classroom. Over the last few weeks I have browsed through countless websites and read a handful of books and articles in hopes to come up with list of ways in which all teachers or educators can incorporate theses concepts into the everyday classroom. Throughout my research , all of which I will share with you on this blog, I kept coming back to the same realization: It is not strictly about the specific lesson plans or worksheets you give to your class, but rather all about the way in which you present the material and the experiences that the students have while learning the concepts!

I originally sought out to make a blog full of lesson plans, worksheets and teaching tools to help secondary teachers reach certain prescribed learning outcomes while teaching lessons centered around the environment and topics related to sustainability. I soon came to realize that incorporating a theme into a regular lesson is not really improving environmental education, it is just the same old lesson with a different set of examples. If I wanted to really make an impact I would have to change the way I approached the topic. I would have to change the way I was teaching the lessons, or better yet I would have to change the way the students would learn the material.

Never the less, I would like to share my experience and research by providing a guide that other teachers can follow when they too are developing learning experiences based upon Sustainability and Environmental Education.