September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Finding New Resources in a Changing Science Education Landscape

Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016

by Amity Sandage

Field studies at Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School

Field studies at Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School

After two decades in education, I still love the natural rhythm of the school year. It is the teacher’s turn in the learning cycle. Reflections at the end of each school year spark new ideas that then flow and percolate throughout the summer. And I know come August I always find myself excited and apprehensive in equal measure. Excited to improve and try new approaches, and apprehensive because I need some concrete resources to accomplish the goals that began as visions floating around in my head and morphed and settled over summer into real plans. But where and how to find these resources when fall is fast approaching and NGSS is changing the landscape?

There is a network of resource professionals ready to help teachers connect science instruction with unique field experiences, grants, local experts, citizen science projects and more. CREEC (the California Regional Environmental Education Community) is a statewide network set up by the California Department of Education to help teachers find environmental education resources connected to instructional goals. Every region of California offers unique environmental education resources—State and National Parks programs, marine sanctuaries, outdoor science schools, open space preserves, natural history museums, and more. California has hundreds of organizations providing thousands of environmental education programs and resources across the state—many of them free and designed to support state education standards. But many of these resources are underutilized. This is not because teachers and the education system do not value environmental education. On the contrary, the Next Generation Science Standards, the new Blueprint for Environmental Literacy and an increasing emphasis on STEM and career readiness require more connections to environmental topics than ever. Students will need to understand natural resources management, environmental systems, environmental engineering and science-based decision making processes to face future challenges. Schools need environmental education resources now more than ever before, and CREEC is set up to help teachers access them.

CCSAdBValuable environmental science resources and programs may surround schools, but many teachers still face imposing barriers to taking advantage of them: time to find what resources are available and to align them to instructional goals and new standards, and funding for transportation and program fees.

The CREEC Network is designed to help address these barriers. CREEC maintains an online hub at www.creec.org for environmental education throughout California. This enables teachers to find grants, sign up for professional development opportunities and use a searchable database to quickly find resources and programs for their students to build strong connections to the environment, apply science practices, and advance them along the path to environmental literacy.

The network also provides a CREEC Coordinator, an expert advisor, in each region. The CREEC Coordinator in each of California’s 11 administrative regions serves as a conduit for information flowing between the school system and the non-formal environmental education sector. They alert teachers and administrators to opportunities for teacher professional development or grant funding. They help schools find programs that fit the needs of teachers and students. And they work closely with environmental education program providers to communicate the priorities of the schools so that environmental education organizations can design and offer programs that are accessible and support classroom instruction.

I serve as CREEC Coordinator for Region 5, a four-county region spanning the South San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. Environmental education providers in Region 5 and many other regions have been delving deep into NGSS in order to begin shifting their programs to support the new standards. As someone who loves teaching in the classroom and who also treasures the unique learning opportunities that take place outside of the classroom, I am passionate about my role in the CREEC Network. I feel fortunate to be in the position to connect the work of teachers and environmental education program providers around NGSS. It is an exciting time in science education, with new standards that encourage teachers and students to reach beyond classroom walls to accomplish their goals.

You may have already been familiar with CREEC; the network has been in place for well over a decade. But in this time of transition to NGSS, I encourage teachers to reconnect with the network often, as CREEC is evolving along with state education priorities. As a project of the California Department of Education, CREEC sits on the pulse of our education system. Our system has been going through sweeping changes in our education standards, and all educators are struggling to adapt and keep up. As teachers transition to Next Generation Science Standards, environmental topics provide meaningful opportunities for weaving together scientific and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas as well as for testing integrated science models in real-world, relevant contexts. Cycles of matter and energy transfer in ecosystems, the roles of water in Earth’s surface processes, human impacts of Earth systems…these and other NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea progressions intersect naturally with programs and resources outside the classroom. CREEC can help make these connections.

How do you connect with CREEC? It’s simple—go to www.creec.org and find your region. Subscribe to your region’s quarterly newsletter to get word of local opportunities. Follow CREEC on Facebook to keep up with exciting news. Search the Resource Directory for local programs. And don’t be shy! Share your challenges during the transition to NGSS. Use the network, and head into Fall with some new resources and connections to support your journey into the new education landscape.

Amity Sandage is the CREEC Coordinator for Region 5 (South San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas), and is a part of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. She can be reached at amity@creec.org.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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Written by Peter AHearn

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