Environmental Education in the New Science Standards
by John C. Olson, MN Dept. of Education
The 2009 revision of the Minnesota Academic Standards in Science includes several changes that could affect teachers and other environmental educators that work with K-12 students. Some concepts have been moved to different grades, there is more inclusion of environmental concepts and there is an increased emphasis on applied science and engineering approaches.
A big change for many schools is that the standards in grades K-8 must be implemented at the grade level indicated in the standards. Previously schools could move standards between grades within bands of K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. This requirement will give a more consistent delivery of concepts among schools, which will benefit students who move between schools and also make it easier to plan instruction by informal education providers. It will also give students a well planed sequence of concepts that will lead to better concept development.
The standards represent an effort to consolidate concepts for a topic into fewer grades so that more complete units can be built around them and students can gain deeper understanding. For example, many concepts of weather and water cycle are brought together in 4th grade rather than spread over several grades. However it also means that those concepts must be taught well since they may not appear for several grades. For example, weather is next taught in 8th grade.
Each of the content strands of the standards (physical science, earth science and life science) now has a substrand on “human interactions”. These substrands have standards on human interactions with the environment. These are closely tied to the content concepts in that grade.
The new standards have added concepts and skills on the nature of engineering. While science is an approach that seeks understanding about world (especially the natural world), the engineering approach seeks to solve specific problems or need by applying mathematics and science. Since environmental education focuses on the human interaction with the environment, there are many opportunities in the EE realm to apply engineering approaches. Natural resource management involves engineering design as it seeks to accomplish particular goals, such as recreation, harvesting, conservation or preservation.
The new science standards are to be implemented by the 2011-12 school year, when the MCA assessments will change to reflect the new standards. Many schools are already making changes at certain grade levels. Since the MCA exams are given at grades 5, 8 and high school, many schools made changes in 3rd and 6th grade last year and will make changes in 4th and 7th grade this school year.