When I pause to reflect on the bigger ideas of why we teach and why taxpayers and parents support schools, I am drawn to the Introduction to Science for All Americans (Rutherford and Ahlgren 1989), “What the future holds in store for individual human beings, the nation, and the world depends largely on the wisdom with which humans use science and technology. And that, in turn, depends on the character, distribution, and effectiveness of the education that people receive.” Science education must prepare students to make informed personal and political decisions.
Many of those decisions will revolve around issues of the environment. We are drenched daily in reports about alarming environmental trends. We are all familiar with the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming. Recently, researchers have predicted that the world’s fish populations will collapse by 2048 if current trends of warming, overfishing, and pollution continue.
So, what are the solutions? There are many proposals and solutions that require a mixture of personal and political will. Should I buy a hybrid? Can I eat mahi mahi? These decisions require knowledge, commitment, and possibly sacrifice. They require an environmental education.
In the past, there’s been some tension between environmental education and science education. Environmental education includes social sciences, natural sciences, as well as emotions involved in making decisions. As the first Earth Days were germinating, there tended to be a tendency for action before knowledge. Some extremists even blamed science and technology as the agent of environmental destruction. Science educators misunderstood the inherently interdisciplinary nature of environmental education and accused it of being “fluffy.” But the times for polarity are over. We can no longer afford to be ignorant of the consequences of our actions. This issue pays tribute to our acknowledgement of the importance of environmental education and its role in helping us develop our students into caring, knowledgeable citizens. Here are a few highlights:
- “A WebQuest for Spatial Skills” (p. 21) showcases a creative solution to developing spatial understanding—designing hypothetical habitat maps. In the process, students meet learning standards, solve a real-world problem, and learn about animal habitats.
- In “A Natural Integration” (p. 26), students learn how to use and then create their own resources that educate us about plants, demonstrating that writing field guides is not only a great way to develop effective writing skills but also an active learning process.
- In “Trash or Treasure?” (p. 32), students expand their environmental awareness through a creative-thinking exercise in which they ponder how trash can affect animals and their habitats—and discover some surprising findings.
- “Plants and Pollution” (p. 37) offers a fresh approach to teaching about plant biology through a student inquiry that connects the human impact on the environment to a study of plants.
- “Environmental Education Saves the Day” (p. 42) is a positive reminder that when a whole school unites in mission and focus, good things happen—seamless integration, partnerships, and more.
- In “Firsthand Nature” (p. 48), a teacher’s emphasis on direct observation of nature and child-centered inquiries helps turn young students into budding naturalists.
The learning environments in these articles cover everything from rural Louisiana to New York City and parts in between. In each one there is a shared interest in educating students to be better stewards than recent generations have been. That’s a great and positive change, and we salute it. Happy Earth Day!
Rutherford, F.J., and A. Ahlgren. 1989. Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.