Monday, July 09, 2018

Developing Environmental Education

Dedicated educators, administrators, parents, and community members in our school community have fostered environmental education in many ways throughout the years. One shining example of this is the school garden that one teacher in particular, Ms. Niles, and many, many parent volunteers and other educators have nurtured at the school where I teach. This is essential 21st century teaching and and learning--lessons that will support students' future living and learning too.

Our team at fifth grade has helped out in small ways with the garden, but we've never truly embedded the garden into our schedule or teaching routine. This is something I want to continue to think about particularly since the garden efforts related to plants and composting fit our teaching/learning standards.

Over the past few years, we have also worked with local environmental agencies to integrate our teaching and learning standards with the natural rivers and wetlands environment that surround our school and community. Students have been able to interact with and observe the many science standards they are tasked to learn in real-world settings and interactions. This has been positive.

Further, this year, students matched their environmental studies with service learning by completing a stewardship hike where they picked up lots of trash along a 3-mile round-trip hike to and around the local Sudbury River, a National and Scenic Wild River. This was a positive and exhilarating adventure led by a dedicated former teacher and current environmental activist/educator, Patrick Conaway.

How will we develop this environmental education in the days ahead and why is this important?

We all know that our children will need to be better and more knowledgeable stewards of land and space in the future as populations rise and resources become more challenged. Most of us have been fortunate to live at a time when clean water, healthy soil, and clean air are not monstrous challenges to overcome, but instead we were able to rely on the benefits of our natural environment. We have seen dramatic changes, however, in the cleanliness of our air, soil, and water in our lifetime, and now we see the dramatic and disastrous effects of that. We know that when children are introduced to environmental education, recreation, and stewardship early on, their efforts in that realm continue into adulthood. This is important to their good living today and into the future.

To develop our efforts in this regard, we will need to do the following:
  • As a teaching team, revisit last year's efforts to decide what activities and events are "keepers" and what learning experiences need to be revised or retired.
  • Revisit who will lead and teach what with regard to environmental education and related standards.
  • Map out the environmental education curriculum efforts.
  • Consider an early year trip to Greenways to practice how to learn in nature. 
  • Plan and promote related learning experiences with and for students.
  • Reflect about those experiences during and afterwards as one way to deepen and develop our efforts in this area.
  • Continue to learn about effective environmental education through reading, research, and our partnerships with Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, National Wild and Scenic River Program, SUASCO, OARS, and Pat Conaway.
  • Plan, prepare for, and promote a number of field studies and expert visitors related to our naturalist/environmental education efforts potentially including the following:
    • Greenways Exploration
    • Sudbury River Stewardship Hike
    • Great Meadows Adventure
    • Headstarting endangered and other local species
    • Boston Museum of Science visit with a focus on environmental education as well as other STEAM areas of study.
    • Transition Wayland and Transition Framingham expert visitors for information about sustainable living and composting.
    • School garden activities
    • Sudbury River Canoe trip (there would need to be substantial planning and safety considerations for an effort like this--it may be that this is a better high school activity).
    • Coordination with high school environmental study activities
To develop any area of the teaching/learning program demands reflection, review, revision, and redesign. Today's post is a starting point, one I'll discuss with the team of educators as we move ahead with better, deeper science study in the year ahead.