What does it mean to use place-based settings to develop environmental literacy? What is environmental literacy? Why should anyone care?
There is a growing movement in the United States connecting the natural environment to the traditional "essential" school subjects of math, science, reading, and writing. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents at these schools are developing ways that hope to develop cognitive skills often stressed by standardized tests. Most of us want our kids to learn measurement, observation, analysis, and explanation skills so that they can function in modern society. But a large number of people are starting to look at nature as one of the best ways to teach and learn these skills. And many of them hope that students engaged with the natural environment might also develop a positive, respectful, and lasting relationship with nature. This is the beginning of educating for sustainability.
Numerous organizations have sprouted at the national, regional, and local level. These include the Green Schools Alliance, the United States Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, the North American Association for Environmental Education, the Center for Ecoliteracy, the Farm to School, Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland Green Schools initiatives, the Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education, and many more (see 3E-COE blog's sidebar for a larger list).
Right now, all of the public elementary schools in the State College Area School District have school gardens. These are places for students to develop academic knowledge, exercise skills, and connect with nature and one another. The district recognizes that the garden can be ideal to meet standards in the biological sciences, ecology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, math, health and physical education, and be used for writing, reading, and more. Can they even develop self-efficacy, self-sufficiency, and friendliness? The district states, "With an emphasis on inquiry-based education and learning, school gardens go beyond teaching biology, math and writing to students; they provide a more integrated method of learning, one which enriches students' mind, body and heart and produces favorable behavioral changes."
One of these schools, Park Forest Elementary, has gone above and beyond gardens. They have a bird blind, a cold box, the greenhouse on the way, a nature walk through a large patch of woodland frequented by at least on Pileated Woodpecker, the outdoor pavilion, the amphitheatre, a wetland (pictured at right), vegetable and pollinator gardens, 13 composting chambers, and a student-run recycling program. Soon, they will be getting beehives (enclosed to protect children from bees and vice versa). As a way to integrate the fifth grade curriculum, students and teachers engage this Schoolyard Project by writing a 'Zine that incorporates writing, science, and technology into a long-term project with numerous positive learning and behavioral outcomes. It doesn't hurt that they also engage students in a working democracy within the school.
Today, we will talk to five special guests from Park Forest to learn more about these programs Principal Donnan Stoicovy and one of the fifth grade teachers Lisa LaDriere-Konan will be joined by three fifth graders. All of them will tell us about what an "environmentally smart" person knows and does and how we can school for it, what their outcomes are, and what lessons other schools might learn from them.
Join us today, April 16th, from 4-5 pm on the Lion FM.