Assessing Ecological Literacy: Dispelling the Hunch

June is often a stressful time at public schools throughout the world. Educators can be seen scrambling to finish their assessment of student growth, development, and transformation following ten months of intense and rigorous study. Coupled with this, learners are often placed in highly stressful situations whereby they are asked to empty their brains onto a piece of foolscap paper, sitting in cold gymnasiums.

More often now, learners are madly trying to finish up project work, hurriedly putting the final touches on public exhibitions, and/or wrapping up their intense internship experiences.

However a particular school is designed, June can be intense and chaotic. And all of this frantic activity has one goal in mind: to summatively assess the growth and development of learners in a meaningful and authentic way.

What is often not assessed, however, is the one skill that may be most important skill of our time — the ecological literacy of our learners.

While we place heavy emphasis on numeracy, language literacy, we seem unable to assess one’s ecological literacy — that is one’s ability to see the Earth as the very thing which sustains life combined with one’s desire and ability to take meaningful action. (See attached infographic.)

Matt Henderson

Assessing for an ecological literacy is a perplexingly difficult endeavour, and it’s one that I have struggled with for my entire career. But it is also an opportunity as a community of educators to think deeply about the skills and attitudes required to compete against  those who are hell-bent on destroying the planet.

Given our our seemingly insurmountable task of overcoming these destructive forces and to some degree a general societal malaise, how do we teach and assess for an ecological literacy? What are these skills and values we are attempting to impart, and when do we know when someone has indeed become ecologically literate?

For educators, whether teachers, parents, older siblings, homeschoolers, etc., these are exciting times!

David Orr, the American academic who coined the term Ecological Literacy, suggests that someone who is indeed ecologically literate needs to have an understanding of basic concepts such as the laws of thermodynamics, energetics, carrying capacities, environmental ethics, etc.

At a content level, we are able to assess whether someone has developed at least some sense of an ecological literacy. For instance, we can determine to what extent a student is aware that energy/matter cannot be created or destroyed. This has huge implications, as those who are aware of the first law of thermodynamics understand why burning fossil fuels has its limit and they begin to understand the notion of externalities. We can assess as to one’s understanding of carrying capacity and systems thinking. We can assess as to whether one can determine what is right and wrong when making decisions about our environment.

The change in behaviour comes with creating educative experiences which cause disequilibrium within the learner. The more learners are able to question their role within the universe, the greater questions can be elicited about human existence on this planet. This is a different type of assessment – one which involves a dialectic and democratic conversation between educator and learner and one that is authentic. We don’t have to look into a crystal ball to see if a learner has been impacted by a deep educative experience and a meaningful relationship within a learning community if the design is sound.

A few years ago, my friends Pauline Gerrard and Dean McLeod and I had the idea of creating an educative experience for young people at the IISD’s Experimental Lakes Area. This intense whole ecosystem field course for High School students has most certainly impacted the learners who have engaged with the ecosystem, the world-class scientists, and the quiet conversations around campfires or in the middle of a lake.

But the experiences don’t have to be as intense, so long as we are equipping learners with the tools they will need in order ask deep and powerful existential questions and as long as the experiences are designed with purpose. This type of learning arguably occurs outside of the confines of a traditional classroom and leads to curiosity, inquiry, and praxis.

To assess this questioning and praxis, we then need to create learning environments which allow for a horizontal conversation about our role on this rock hurtling through space. This is the heart of assessment and a pathway towards an ecological literacy and a better future for all species and systems.

DoNow: Canada 150

Welcome to our friends from Cape Breton! This week, the Maples Met School hosts our new friends from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia and then in June, our Metsters will be head to the East Coast.

We have some really exciting activities planned for the upcoming week, including experiences at the Manitoba Museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg Harvest, The Forks, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Upper Fort Garry, the Royal Aviation Museum, and much more!

One event will situate us at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. On Thursday, March 16th, the Walrus, a Canadian magazine which looks at current affairs, literature, and general interest articles, is hosting a discussion series called We Desire a Better Country. The event is sold out, but we have managed to secure a few tickets!

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Image from the Walrus Magazine

This is a really profound proposition and this week we would like you to contemplate a couple of things. First, in light of Canada 150, what has been the impact of Confederation on both Nova Scotia and Manitoba? What have been the causes and consequences of Confederation in both provinces and how has it impacted people, the land, the ecology, and how each province governs itself?

Secondly, looking at the continuity and change of each province, how might we construct a better Canada? What do we mean by better and for whom?

In your groups of four, you need to respond in the following ways:

  1. On Monday, begin to create a skit, song, or performance of any kind which answers the two questions above. (We will provide you time throughout the week to work on this.)
  2. Elect a person from your group to attend the Walrus talk on Thursday.
  3. Each group needs to respond to the questions using FlipGrid. Each member can provide a response, or all four members can create one.

On Friday, March 17th, groups will be able to present their performances at our potluck dinner at the Maples Met. If you are using social media throughout the week, please use the following hashtag: #DoNowCanada150.

We will be posting photos, tweets, and FlipGrid responses throughout the week, so be precise, be courteous, and be thoughtful. As you venture from place to place, be sure to collect evidence for your responses. (Hint: Take pictures, write notes, post photos, Tweet links, etc.)

You can follow the Maples Met on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

Does Democracy Work?

img_1508This is a special edition eNewsletter designed to help learners think about the upcoming Glassen Essay (Does democracy work?), the recent US President’s inauguration, and about how we can carve out an argument effectively. This task is for all Grade 9 and 10 learners at the Met.

On Friday, as many of us watched at school, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America. The following day, Saturday, people across the world protested — including in Winnipeg as evidenced by the above photo.

Both events speak to the state of democracy in both the United States and throughout the world. Our friends at KQED, a National Public Radio station in California, have asked students around the world to participate in a larger conversation about democracy. The Met School is part of a special pilot this week to try a new form of technology. We will be joining about ten other schools in the US.

This week’s KQED DoNow asks students to respond to the following question:

can_protest_and_dissent_accompany_a_peaceful_transition____kqed_learning___kqed

We will be using FlipGrid as a means of responding to the question and to engage in a conversation with other students. This week’s FlipGrip Code is 71bfcc.Parents and guardians are encouraged to become involved in the conversation as well. Have fun, think hard, and be precise in your response.Sara’s advisory sent a bunch of questions related to democracy to Matt to see what he thought. Here is his response to those questions in podcast form:

DoNow: Does Democracy Work?

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All Grade 9 learners at the Maples Met are being asked to consider the following question: Does democracy work?

This question arises from current affairs, namely the recent US election and the rise of Russia’s global power and influence. It also arises from the annual Glassen Essay Contest facilitated by the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.

Recently, Canada has gone through a federal election and we have witnessed a provincial election here in Manitoba. Both of these elections offered points of discussion related to electoral reform and concepts such as first-past-the-post.

These recent events beg the question as to whether or not democracy actually works in 2016. What do you think? Does Democracy work?

To begin, we need to conduct some research and answer some guiding questions (and perhaps Crash Course can help begin the discussion):

What is democracy? What is the difference between democracy and liberal democracy? Is democracy just voting, or more? Here is a great opinion piece from Al Jazeera which looks at the state of democracy and also touches on some key concepts.

When and why democracy? Democracy has not and is not the norm. What is the history of the evolution of democracy? Here is a great BBC timeline of the continuity and change of democracy. Similarly, the Nobel Prize has a great map  will help us ground our thinking in history.

Here is a great article for the New York Times which looks at the stability and longevity of democracies. Also here is a fantastic interview conducted by Michael Enright of CBC’s The Sunday Edition with renowned political philosopher Michael Sandel. In this interview, Sandel speaks to the state of democracy.

Your final product will of course be a submission to the Glassen Essay Contest. In the meantime please comment below or via Twitter (using #DoNowDemocracy) to further our discussion and/or share resources.

You can add resources to the Padlet located here.

Project-Based Learning Book: RFP

Project-Based Learning Book: Request for Proposals

Are you an educator who uses the passion and experience of students and projects for learning? Are you obsessed with assessment? Do you foster learning environments of inquiry and rigour? Want to share your journey and action research with other educators?

If so, consider sharing your work by contributing a chapter to a book of exemplary ideas from schools, colleges, and homes throughout the world. The purpose of this book is to share exemplars of project-based learning and how it makes a difference in the lives of our learners, families, and communities.

This is a why and how book, with emphasis on the how. Please provide examples of challenges and successes. Here are some ideas of themes:

  • How has your thinking about assessment changed?
  • How has your practice changed?
  • How has learning changed?
  • How has PBL informed your understanding of place?
  • How have you managed the tension between projects and outcomes?
  • How has PBL opened up the world to your students and opened your school up to the community?
  • Who has benefited most from PBL?
  • Who has benefited least?
  • Or – how do the benefits get distributed?
  • What has your classroom gained?
  • What has your classroom lost?
  • Does it change the power structure of the classroom (for the teacher and among students)?
  • How has PBL changed the dynamic between educators?
  • Has ‘time’ changed in your classroom?
  • Has collaboration altered how teaching and learning occur?
  • Are any ‘new voices’ heard in your classroom?
  • How has PBL influenced pedagogy at the post-secondary level?

Proposal:

Due date:  February 10, 2017 (note – this date is for the proposal only!)

Please send a short (500 word maximum) double spaced paper (a Google Doc and share it with mhenderson@maplesmet.org so that I can provide comments) with a description of your proposed chapter.  Please ensure that you chapter proposal has a clear research question and thesis.

Include your name, school, and grade level(s). Note: collaborative pieces are also accepted!

Submit your proposal via email to mhenderson@maplesmet.org

Guidelines:

Authors of successful proposals will then be asked to develop a chapter for inclusion in the book. As mentioned earlier, the chapter should include a reflective section that examines some of the ‘big ideas’ posed.

You are encouraged to include diagrams, photos, video, and links.  Ensure that copyright is followed and that the work is entirely your own.

In-text citations and reference lists should follow APA guidelines.  Use a 12 point Times New Roman font and double space your submission. Word count should not exceed 5000 words.

Any questions?

Contact Matt Henderson at mhenderson@maplesmet.org

Editor:

Matt Henderson, B.A., B.Ed, M.E

Principal, Maples Met School

1330 Jefferson Ave

Winnipeg, Manitoba

R2P 1L3

@henderson204

www.mrhenderson.ca

All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Seven Oaks School Division Foundation. The Foundation supports post-secondary opportunities for learners.

This RFP was designed based on an original one created by Mike Nantais from Brandon University and Renny Redekopp from the University of Manitoba.