Thinking Outside the Classroom: environmental literacy
Editor’s note: Thinking Outside the Classroom is a monthly column written by educators from the Keystone Science School.
How environmentally literate are you? Environmental literacy, simply put, is an understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. It’s a basic yet important concept given that so many aspects of life in Colorado are tied to the natural landscape; recreation, the economy, city planning and resource allocation, just to name a few. An environmentally literate citizen is generally better able to manage our resources.
The importance of environmental literacy is being recognized by more and more educators statewide and nationally. To address this need for Colorado’s youth, the Colorado Board of Education (BOE) and Department of Natural Resources collaborated in writing the Colorado Environmental Education Plan (CEEP), which was adopted by the state BOE in December 2012. CEEP aims to build partnerships among classroom teachers, schools and districts, environmental educators and community leaders to help all Colorado students have hands-on, field-based experiences with the environment. To avoid adding to the plates of already busy classroom teachers and students, the plan does not create new education standards; rather, it seeks to highlight the existing standards that address environmental education.
Keystone Science School (KSS) has several local partnerships and programs in place to address environmental literacy specifically for Summit County’s youth. All Summit School District third-graders participate in a mountain ecology field day, funded by a grant from Vail Echo, in which students hike local trails and get the opportunity to learn hands-on about the issues, such as mountain pine beetle and wildfire risk, that affect our forests. One third-grader wrote of the experience, “I learned that sometimes it is good for trees to die because the population might overgrow.”
Thanks to funding from the Copper Environmental Foundation, another program aimed at environmental literacy brings all eighth-graders from Summit Middle School to participate in a KSS-facilitated unit on water management.
The program includes a field day to measure water quantity in local streams; study of water law and water management in Colorado; a chance to pose questions to real-life water experts; and a town-hall meeting in which students discuss water-management options with one another. An eighth-grader wrote, “It is vital that we have effective water management in Colorado so that the people/states downstream will have the water they need.”
This idea of environmental literacy is not limited to science education. Take for instance the “Mining and Water Quality” program offered at KSS during the school year. Students learn about the history of mining in the Snake River watershed (history and social sciences); perform chemical, physical and biological tests to assess the health of the river (math and science); and hike/snowshoe/cross-country ski various area trails (health and physical fitness). The program culminates in students assuming a stakeholder role, such as mine property owner, county commissioner or area resident, and coming together in a town-hall meeting to discuss ways to deal with remaining mine pollution (using language and communication skills as well as 21st century skills such as critical decision-making and collaboration).
These experiences and partnerships are what the CEEP hopes to foster and expand through the creation of a statewide environmental education council and four regional councils this summer and fall. By bringing together educators and resources, more Colorado students will get the opportunity to spend a day in the forest, dig a snow pit, test the health of streams and rivers and engage in other hands-on, experiential learning to better understand their own backyards, state resources and national and global environmental issues.
Interested in learning more? Visit http://www.caee.org/colorado-environmental-education-plan to read about the Colorado Environmental Education Plan.
Becca Eza is a program instructor at Keystone Science School. For more information about the school, call (970) 468-2098 or visit http://www.KeystoneScienceSchool.org.
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