David B. Zandvliet, Simon Fraser University
Sandra Birrell, Michael Caulkins, Simon Fraser University
The research program for the SFU portion of the Pacific Crystal project (funded by NSERC and SSHERC) has been attempting to address the question: “How can ecological literacy become a core educational standard in our schools?” Ecological literacy, or eco-literacy (Orr, 1992), embraces both a scientific understanding of living systems and a humanistic understanding of the interdependent relationship between human beings and the greater biotic and elemental (non-living) world around us. Presumed within this definition and our focal research question above, the goal we envision for our project is to determine how different ways of thinking about science in our classrooms can improve our social capacity for understanding and taking appropriate action upon our increasingly complex and convoluted social and environmental problems.
This project is studying the complex ecology of this intersection between scientific knowledge, pedagogy, student learning and curriculum. Through this research we will identify and develop innovative approaches for the teaching of scientific and interdisciplinary topics around ecological education framed within the context of eco-literacy. We plan to include socio-scientific discourse, problem-based constructivist approaches to learning, and inquiry-oriented teaching and learning as central elements with which to approach teaching and learning. The model we are using for the involvement of teachers in studying their own classroom environments follows an action research methodology, which allows teachers and students, as participants of the study, to be co-investigators and co-creators of knowledge with us in this research.
Among the multiple roles that the teachers and learners might adopt within the context of our research, three stand out for us as particularly important: (1) searching for information needed to widen and deepen knowledge about scientifically critical issues facing today’s society; (2) critically analyzing data and other raw evidence upon which positions about scientific matters are grounded; and (3) composing coherent, valid, and compelling presentations (e.g., reports, letters to editors, presentations to community groups, etc.) that express positions about controversial scientific matters in our world today. These three roles currently serve as our starting point for areas that we believe teachers and students may wish to implement eco-literacy elements into science learning.
We currently have three research sites serving as data sources, although we suspect more will be added as our research community grows. The first is a class of 37 pre-service teachers who are completing their Professional Development Program (PDP) at a middle-sized university based in a large Canadian city in a western province. This particular group of pre-service teachers is one that specifically emphasizes the inclusion of ecological elements in classroom activities, and requires the student teachers to think critically about how science and non-science materials can be integrated in their classrooms. The other two sites are elementary schools located within a one-hour drive of the university, both of which have codified (either in curriculum documents, policy documents, or both) their intention to pursue ecological education content and practices in their schools. These schools are intimately connected to the university, as the PDP students from the university will be doing their required in-class practicum at the two schools.