Criteria of Experience for an Ecological Literacy

Over the paMatt Hendersonst few years, I have been in the process of creating a Criteria of Experience for an Ecological Literacy to help guide my design process. I have borrowed from the Centre for Ecoliteracy, Dewey, and Freire to help me reflect on how I design educative experiences for learners. Please feel free to share, modify, or disregard altogether.

As educators, how do we equip our learners with the skills, abilities, and literacy necessary to close these two gaps? My inquiry has led me to two hypotheses. First, learners need to be immersed in educative experiences which reveal how they are interconnected and interrelated with all systems on Earth. Second, These experiences need to lead towards learner-driven action, transformation, and a new ecological literacy. 

By ecological literacy, I offer this definition: To understand one’s connectedness to all systems, to appreciate the finite carrying capacity of the Earth, to predict consequences of human activity, and to ultimately create sustainable communities through action. Literacy refers to the skills and abilities to create new knowledge and ecological literacy relies on not only knowledge of the natural world, but also the drive to take meaningful and informed action — namely the notion of praxis.

Given the need to foster this ecological literacy in order to close the knowledge and the knowledge-action gaps, I set out on a journey to try and design experiences which might lead to this goal. With my hypothesis in mind about closing these gaps, I needed to seek out other people, schools, and programmes which had already traveled down this path. Some of the schools I visited, some people I have connected with on Twitter, and others I have simply known about through the literature. Some of the schools are public, some are independent, and some are charter schools. But all have a commitment to learning and fostering this sense of ecological literacy through the design of educative experiences. Here is a sampling of some of the schools I explored:

The Met

Eagle Rock

Soundings

Forest Schools

Hobsonville Point

Riverpoint Academy

High Tech High

Northwest Passage School

Punahou School

 

Ecological Literacy: Reflections

In January, our Global Issues class looked heavily at the concept of ecological literacy. Here are some refections from our collective and individual experiences. These reflections consisted of “mini” PechaKucha presentations, whereby learners created 10 slides which moved every 20 seconds (10×20) in order to present their arguments.

Ecological Literacy from nic calen on Vimeo.

Eco Lit from Riley Chard on Vimeo.

MIni PechaKucha from Adeyemi Fatoye on Vimeo.

Ecological Literacy R from Riley Chard on Vimeo.

Eco Lit (C) from Riley Chard on Vimeo.

Sustainability & the Environment

eco-literacy-tube-map-3-1-no-districts

Image taken from Eco-Labs.org

For those folks in the Post Baccalaureate programme at the University of Winnipeg or for those teachers thinking of heading back, here is a preview of a course I will be facilitating in the Winter term.

The course is officially titled Sustainability and the Environment and it is a requisite for the Sustainability stream in the Post Bac programme. The course can also be used as an elective in other courses.

The course is a hybrid course, meaning that much our interaction will be online using Edmodo while we will also meet on three Saturdays between January and March. We will meet on the following days:

January 16th – 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

February 20th – 8:30 AM  – 4:30 PM

March 19 – 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

If you wish to join the Edmodo group now, simply enter this code: nxmw6d.

Here is the official description of the course: This course is designed to expose educators to the concepts of sustainability, ecological literacy, and systems thinking within the context of teaching and learning. As such, our learning community will explore the ecological crisis that confronts our age, the reasons why we are often paralyzed to engage in meaningful solutions, and how education, be it in its present form or other, may act as a catalyst for changes in our individual and collective attitudes and behaviour.

Course participants will be asked to engage in scholarly research and writing, virtual discussions, curriculum design, resource review and creation, and application of learning pertaining to how we help develop an ecologically literate society.

This is an intensive course and will require full engagement from all participants within the learning community.

Here are the texts we will be using:

Denton, P. (2012). Gift ecology: Reimagining a sustainable world. Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC (Those who took the Global Citizenship course with me will already have a copy of this.)

Orr, D. (1992). Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.

Callenbach, E. (1975). Ecotopia. Bantam Books, New York.

I would also heavily recommend the following texts for the course and for our teaching and learning in general:

http://www.amazon.ca/Beyond-Learning-Doing-Theoretical-Experiential/dp/0415882087

http://www.amazon.ca/Beyond-Learning-Doing-Theoretical-Experiential/dp/0415882087

To advance our thinking within our learning community, there will be weekly assignments, tasks, and subsequent readings to help us focus on how and why we teach and learn and how, as educators, we might play a massive role in creating sustainable communities.

As a learning community, we will be creating two ebooks in our time together. The first will be a review of resources currently “out there” which focus on systems thinking and ecological literacy. The second ebook will be a collection of learning experiences we have created and applied in our teaching.

You can check out the rest of the assignments and University policies on the official course outline. Please note, if you take the course, you will need to be active on Twitter, Edmodo, Google Hangout and other platforms which will enable us to connect and share ideas. The course, ultimately, is what you make of it. I am looking forward to it, as I love learning from master teachers.

If you have any questions, please email me at mhenderson at sjr.mb.ca

Climate Change Staring us in the Face

image

Photo from Globe and Mail. Photo by John Raedle.

Well, it happened. Following 70 years or so of scientists (I generally think of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring as a beginning point in this conversation in the West) telling us that human activity is inflicting catastrophic damage on all systems on this planet, mainstream media, whether consciously or unconsciously, has started to report regularly our relationship with our home.

On Friday June 17th and Saturday, June 18th, the Globe and Mail, perhaps because the earth is in revolt and stories of destruction are so prevalent and ubiquitous, seemed to devote most of its reporting to ecological issues. Here is a sampling:

Earthquakes Shake Alberta Town’s Faith in Fracking

Come Hell or High Water: The Disaster Scenario that is South Florida

Preparing Cities for Changing Climate – Before it’s too Late

There was also an interactive game included on the web version of the Globe and Mail on how to prevent a city from succumbing to the effects of climate change: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/can-you-future-proof-a-city-play-game/article25560486/?from=25552300

Crop Expert Norm Hall on how Drought is Hurting Prairie Farmers

Saskatchewan Wildfire Evacuees Anxious for All-clear to Return Home

All of these articles and associated catastrophes came at the same time that Canada’s Premiers, government leaders of our ten provinces, wrapped up meetings concerning energy and the environment. While there was some recognition that externalities, like greenhouse gases, need to be regulated, accounted, and diminished, most of the talk was about how to export Canada’s nonrenewable energy and generate revenue.

The House on CBC had extensive interviews with various premiers: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thehouse/premiers-clash-leads-to-unprecedented-energy-agreement-1.3154480/rachel-notley-seeks-balance-between-economy-environment-1.3154493

And then a pipeline, owned by Chinese-owned Nexen, spilled 31, 500 barrels of bitumen essentially into a tributary of the Athabasca River on Treaty land: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/nexen-says-crews-working-around-the-clock-at-spill-site/article25549619/


And yet the conversation we have at the school level, the school board level, and perhaps in wider educational circles, rarely reflects the need for ecologically literate citizens. in 2015, we are still confounded and confined by discussions advocating for 21st Century skills, better math skills to keep up with Singapore, and/or fictitious notions of “grit.”

Ecological literacy will become the new pedagogical push in the 21st century, it’s just a matter of when. It is comforting that both the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg faculties of education offer courses in sustainability to future and current teachers, and it is further encouraging that more and more students are volunteering to take these courses. 

Despite this flicker of light, the conversations, literature, and practice in the classroom does not focus on sustaining and protecting the very thing that sustains all life — the biosphere. At what point to we, as educators, begin to shift our focus from outcomes of the past to outcomes of survival, justice, and equity? On what side of history do educators want to be on?

My hope is that this latest publication of the Globe and Mail will push public discussion, both within and outside of the realm of education. I hope it pushes us to understand that short-sighted mission statements, empty five-year plans, and our propensity to give lip-service to forces like ecological literacy are tiresome and destructive. Action is required, now. As teachers, let’s make ecological literacy the new imperative in 21st century learning and stand up to those who would roll their eyes or scoff.