Human Impacts, Human Solutions: Engaging Elementary School Children in Solution-Based Science
Posted: Monday, April 1st, 2013
by Minda Berbeco
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are scheduled for release this spring and already many teachers and administrators are abuzz with questions about the anticipated changes. How will core topics be addressed? Will teachers need to rethink their lesson plans? Are students going to be overwhelmed? Many folks were startled by the inclusion of human impacts on natural systems in the standards, even at younger ages – leading them to ask how we can address such issues without making children fearful and despondent? This last question is one I received long before drafts of the NGSS were even released, but now that it appears it will be a core component of several of the standards, the question has become all the more relevant. How, indeed, can we talk about human impacts on natural systems without frightening or depressing students?
Although some well-meaning parents and teachers might want to try to protect their children and students from these realities, it is unrealistic to think that children haven’t already heard about many of them. If you ask even young students about polar bears and ozone layer depletion, for example, you’ll probably find that they have heard something about these topics from family, friends, or even media like television or movies. Rather than evade the subject and risk letting possible misconceptions stand, the challenge is to teach the climate science behind these issues so that students don’t find them quite so terrifying. A good way of doing so is to emphasize potential solutions and teach students about possible ways to mitigate or adapt to climate change. This is an extraordinarily broad challenge for teachers, so the question is where we must start.
A good starting place is with a federal organization you can trust for quality scientific information and a solutions-focused approach to management, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They have a core curriculum centering on coral reefs: their biology, human impacts, and management. Unlike many lessons around human impacts on natural systems, these lessons start in younger years (third grade) where students begin to learn about coral reefs and their inhabitants. After understanding reef system basics, students can then start to learn about human impacts on coral reefs and how they can be managed in a thoughtful manner. The curricula and lesson plans are located at http://coralreef.noaa.gov/education/educators/resourcecd/lessonplans/.
Although many students easily make connections between themselves and ocean systems, others do not – coral reefs just seem too far away even though California is a coastal state. Another way for teachers to help students frame human impacts on natural systems in a solutions-focused manner is to first connect them to their immediate landscape by looking at the schoolyard itself or the urban ecosystem that students live in. The Cary Institute has developed very clever lesson plans encouraging teachers to take advantage of their own schoolyard to teach about basic scientific questions regarding human impacts on systems. Through these lessons, elementary school students learn about the natural, physical, and social elements of their environment and how they interact and affect one another. In a lesson demonstrating human impacts on soils, for example, students are asked to compare schoolyard soils with high and low student traffic. They can measure soil temperature, percolation, and even critters in these different locations to understand how humans impact their environment. From there, teachers can engage students in conversations about how people affect their environments, and ways in which students can work to manage those impacts.
The lesson plans are located at: http://www.caryinstitute.org/educators/teaching-materials.
Sometimes taking students outside of the classroom can be difficult, and having an easy-to- access media source at their fingertips can be a good alternative for teaching children about scientific issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done a nice job putting together an informative and interactive website with videos demonstrating not only the science of climate change but also the challenges and potential solutions. The videos take students on virtual expeditions around the globe to examine human impacts in different locations, discussing how we know what we know about climate change and the human connection. It’s a colorful, inviting website that teachers can use to support classroom activities or ask students to visit on their own. The website is located at: http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/.
Learning about human impacts on natural systems can be emotionally challenging for students, particularly at the elementary school age. However, the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly more visible and there are great resources available to help teachers address these issues. Students are already hearing about the challenges. It is up to their science teachers to put them into context, explain the science in an age-appropriate manner, and help them to develop their understanding and skills for the future.
Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education.
Posted: Monday, March 27th, 2017
The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) stands with our science and science education colleagues in endorsing the March For Science and its associated activities.
The decision by the CSTA Board of Directors to support the March for Science was based on the understanding that this is an opportunity to advocate for our mission of high quality science education for all and to advance the idea that science has application to everyday life, is a vehicle for lifelong learning, and the scientific enterprise expands our knowledge of the world around us. The principles and goals of the March for Science parallel those of CSTA to assume a leadership role in solidarity with our colleagues in science and science education and create an understanding of the value of science in the greater community. CSTA believes that the integrity of the nature of science and that the work of scientists and science educators should be valued and supported. We encourage your participation to stand with us.
There are over 30 satellite marches planned for the April 22, 2017 March for Science in California (to find a march near you, click on “marches” in the upper right of the main page, select “satellite marches” and use the search feature). We encourage members who participate in the March for Science to share their involvement and promotion of science and science education. Feel free to promote CSTA on your signs and banners. For those on social media, you may share your involvement via Twitter, @cascience and our Facebook groups.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…