Tuesday, May 1, 2012

7 Tips for Funding Your STEM Education Effort

Do you have a great idea for teaching environmental education in your school or institution? This blog post explains seven tips for funding STEM education:

1. Know your capabilities.
2. Articulate your vision.
3. Demonstrate memorable outcomes.
4. Contribute to the body of knowledge.
5. Understand your funder.
6. Seek out partnerships.
7. Develop a search habit.

The best piece of advice that I saw? Engage in the daily grind. Seekers of funds need to develop a daily or weekly habit of searching for resources. Some funding windows open and close quickly, leaving little time to prepare a proposal for the administrator checking resources only monthly. Also, some applications are rejected for lack of funds not for lack of quality -- don't be caught at the back of the line when funding is available.

Share your wisdom in the comments -- are there any other tips or tricks for securing funding that you've found work for you or your organization?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is there an ideal amount of recess?

A recent study found a possible connection between the amount of time students spent at recess and achievement in reading. However, there is no "single answer," according to the study by researcher Ummuhan Yesil Dagli of Yildiz Technical University in Turkey. "Daily recess, once or three or more times, for a total of 45 minutes or longer; and daily recess, twice, for a total of 31-45 minutes appeared to produce the highest reading scores for students," the study states.

Get your kids outside!

Learn more: Study Asks: Is There an Ideal Amount of Recess?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Climate Change as a STEM Discipline

This article, by Doug Haller (a STEM education consultant) argues why climate change is an important component of STEM education, how to prepare and support teachers to teach climate change in grades K-16, and what educators should anticipate with respect to student understanding of climate change prior to introducing the topic.

One piece of advice comes from Karen Kirk, of the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College. Kirk recommends that teachers introduce climate change only after students have demonstrated understanding and value of the nature and process of science. Based upon experience, Kirk knows that one cannot casually introduce a complex and challenging topic such as climate change and expect students to readily except the data and conclusions.

Compiled by Erin E. Anderson

Friday, December 2, 2011

Teaching Environmental Issues and the Affective Domain

This article, by Karin Kirk of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College, offers a great step by step guide to engaging students with environmental science topics that might be controversial.

Her recommendations:
  • Teaching the science first
  • Teach with data
  • Use active learning techniques
  • Controversy, ambiguity, and topics with incomplete or missing evidence can be used constructively (but need to be introduced judiciously)
  • It's not all doom and gloom
  • Clearly define your role and your teaching approach
  • Lead by example, but don't preach
The site also offers selected literature, teaching methods, and activity collections.

Visit her page here.

Compiled by Erin E. Anderson

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dealing With the Fallout: Tread Lightly When You Carry a Green Stick

            So, what happens after you’ve successfully implemented a place-based, community-focused, developmentally appropriate approach to environmental education? Hopefully you’ll be one step closer toward achieving your lofty outcome, but along the way you’re likely to run into people whose perspective will differ from yours. Objectors commonly claim that environmental educators are short on facts and long on cultivating unnecessary fear. Others argue that teachers who employ these methods are advocates rather than objective educators who consider many sides of the issue.
            David L. Larsen, in his address Be Relevant or Become a Relic, said, “The resource benefits when resource professionals are secure enough in their own perspective and beliefs to step outside those beliefs and enable others to care about the resource for their own reasons.” In this passage, the resource refers to the object of your project or program, be it a watershed district, invasive specie, or other issue that faces your community. It underscores the importance of learning the facts, and hearing all sides of the story.
            Presenting multiple points of view and embracing a diversity of perspectives is important for many reasons. It creates more opportunities for buy-in from the community and maximizes ownership through partnerships. For example, projects or programs that aim to save the community money are great motivators for involving business interests in collaboration. Additionally, Larsen says, “It creates an environment of respect that allows for dialogue rather than conflict.” When you’re under attack, it’s easy to get defensive and hard to share the power, but it’s important to at least try to start from a place where you are listening to the concerns of the other constituencies. Usually it’s not a matter of, “my way or the highway,” but building a new road together.
            Finally, it’s important to recognize when you have a dog in the fight. Some people are just not interested in what you have to say. This might happen when a situation is emotionally charged, when there is a strong political or ideological agenda at play, or when people are fearful of change and its impact on their life. Often these entities already care a great deal about your project or program, but you are at two ends of the same spectrum.
            To add to your “Dealing With the Fallout” toolkit, I’ll close with a few excerpts from Tread Lightly When You Carry a Green Stick in David Sobel’s handbook, Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Here, Sobel illustrates that sometimes all it takes to win over the detractors is not changing the program, but changing the language that you use to describe it:

Environmental education often raises people’s hackles…Our challenge [is] to develop a strategy that respect[s] the various perspectives in the community and to find a form of environmental education that honor[s] local economic and ecological realities…In the beginning, the Community-based School Environmental Education (CO-SEED) materials talked about educating for “ecological literacy,” which for many in the North Country translated into tree hugging. They assumed we wanted to teach children that cutting down trees was bad and that by extension, people that cut down trees (their parents) were also bad…The program explores the history of people’s relationship with the land just the way an environmental education program would, but “cultural heritage” has less baggage than “environmental education,” and places environmental issues within a broader context. Similarly, we have found it more effective to talk about “place-based education” rather than “ecological literacy.” Sometimes, we elaborate and refer to “community- and place-based education,” to give equal emphasis to cultural and natural contexts for learning…In community- and place-based education we need to find the same kind of balance between environmental quality and economic vitality…Place-based education is about connecting people to people, as well as connecting people to nature.

Learn more:
Educational Research, Vol. 48, No. 2, June 2006, pp. 223–241
Written by Deborah R. E. Cotton, University of Plymouth, UK
Abstract (abbreviated):
         Environmental issues are frequently controversial and involve conflicting interests and values. Much environmental education literature explicitly encourages teachers to promote pro- environmental attitudes and behaviors amongst their students, despite evidence that teacher support for such a policy is ambiguous at best. The literature on teaching controversial issues provides conflicting advice for teachers, though many authors advocate the adoption of a neutral or balanced approach. However, there has to date been little research into the strategies which teachers actually adopt in teaching about controversial environmental issues.
This research aimed to address the gap in the literature by investigating the beliefs and practices of three experienced geography teachers teaching controversial environmental issues in English secondary schools. The study draws upon both interview data and transcripts of classroom interaction.

“But, there really isn’t anything controversial about environmental science, if the topics are taught with honesty, citing respectable sources and allowing probing questions, then the benefits of educating in this area far outweigh the risks of ignoring that environmental elephant.” 

This site highlights some effective teaching strategies for engaging learners with controversial issues, and helping them create their own opinions.

Compiled by Erin E. Anderson

When and Why Do These Topics Come Up in Museums, Zoos, Aquaria and Parks?

Now that you have some ideas about how to interpret environmental controversy, let’s examine when to expect these issues to arise and why they may become topics of discussion and debate in your institution. At nature centers, natural history museums, science centers, zoological parks, aquaria and national parks, where the collection itself and the way it is kept may raise environmental concerns, controversy may be commonplace. That is not to say, however, that other types of museums are exempt from dealing with these issues. There are a plethora of reasons why tough environmental questions may be at the forefront of the visitor’s mind. Here are just a few:
§  Current Events: Whether it’s oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico or new data about the melting polar ice caps, negative headlines are sure to raise awareness of the myriad environmental controversies affecting the world today. Issues that once flew under a visitor’s radar may suddenly spark their interest once they become front-page news. Keep abreast of the global goings-on and you’ll be less likely to be caught unawares by a sudden upsurge of New York Times-inspired curiosity.
§  Movies/Books/TV: The entertainment industry can have a massive influence on national interests. A blockbuster about a modern-day ice age or a best-seller that vilifies grizzly bears is bound to get folks talking about touchy subjects. But educator beware: the movies, books and TV shows that shine a little light on environmental issues may be rife with misinformation. Be prepared to entertain debate and carefully address misconceptions when necessary.
§  Traveling Exhibitions: Temporary exhibitions can earn your institution some serious cash, so sticking to “safe” topics isn’t always a primary concern when shopping around for audience-attracting blockbusters. Controversy always draws a crowd. As an educator, you always have to work with what you’ve got, which may mean addressing environmental concerns even if they are not your traditional domain. For example, your art museum may bring in an exhibition of sculptures made entirely of recycled materials, thus opening the door for debates about sustainability. This is when doing your homework can really help: read up on subjects that may be unfamiliar, visit local museums that deal with these issues regularly and ask how previous host institutions handled the questions raised by the exhibition.
§  Institutional Events: Did your institution just complete its LEED certification? Has it successfully bred an endangered specie in captivity? Was it criticized in Newsweek for its massive carbon footprint? Events such as these will draw attention to your institution’s role in related environmental controversies. Whether that attention is positive or negative, be sure to familiarize yourself with your institution’s official response.

The issues discussed in this blog can be tough to deal with – don’t make things harder for yourself by being caught unawares. Pay attention to what’s happening inside and outside your institution and you’ll have a better idea of what’s on your visitors’ minds and how to engage them in meaningful discussion.

Conservation Messages

Well, I really like sea turtles but our pollution is killing all of them and there is nothing I can do about it.” – Conversation with a six year old at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

In the post “Honoring the Developmental Stages,” Sobel is cited saying that one of the first steps to protecting the environment is to foster a love of nature in children.  Ways to foster this love are through the development of animal friends, Imagination and free exploration and play.  So what do you do after you have succeeded in getting people to care about nature?  The next step is to give  people options or manageable tasks, or conservation messaged to complete.  

These conservation messages are so important because without them, museum guests are in danger of suffering from ecophobia.  The media tends to lean towards the doom and gloom approach when trying to probe people into environmental action.  This can cause adverse reactions, especially in children who have grown to love nature.  People are often left feeling like the problem is too big for them to have any effect, just like the six-year-old at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  

Disney’s Animal Programs has 7 Guidelines to Wildlife Conservation Action that their educators go to when having conversations with guests out in the park just for this reason.  These manageable tasks allow people of all ages, especially children, to feel like they have the ability to help and protect the things they love so they are not left feeling the effects of ecophobia.  
The guidelines are:

1.) Seek out information about conservation issues
2.) Spread the word to others about the value of wildlife
3.)Look for and purchase products that are friendly to the environment
4.) Create habitats for wildlife in your backyard
5.) Reduce, reuse, recycle and replenish
6.) Choose your pet wisely
7.) Support conservation organizations through contributions and volunteerism

These messages can be applied to every age group in almost every situation.  One great way to do this is to use the idea of Place-Based education that was mentioned in the last post.  Use the wildlife in your area to inspire conservation action.  Nature is every where and even in a city, you can find some great ways to connect museum visitors to their environment.

Here is an example using watersheds in Washington DC:
1.) Look up your local Watershed and learn more about it.
2.) Spread the word to your friends about what you discovered.
3.) Start using re-usable bags at the grocery store or purchase cleaning products that are environmentally friendly after realizing that your waste often ends up in the watershed.
4.) Plant a tree at a local park or pick up trash when you see it on the ground.  
5.) Reduce, reuse, recycle and replenish
6.) Did you know that outside cats are harmful to local animals, especially birds?
7.) Did you know D.C. has food co-ops?  Find one near you to see of you can join to help reduce emissions from food having to be transported into the city.  They are also often organic, meaning pesticides will not run off into your watershed.  You could also volunteer for a river clean-up or start your own organization to help spread the word about your local watershed.