Putting ecology back in school

This post contributed by Lina Oliveros, ESA Urban Education Programs Coordinator

Currently, U.S. students can graduate high school without taking a course that covers ecological science or that encourages ecological literacy—the ability to understand the interconnectedness of life on Earth. By not being exposed to this material, students’ career paths can be dramatically impacted. On a basic level,  they may not consider the advantages of exploring ecology as an option for post-secondary education. But sometimes, they may never understand the complex dynamics of natural and built environments, including the role of humans in an ecosystem.

Although schools are increasingly  incorporating ecological literacy in their curricula, there is still room for improvement in a society that values science and technology. Each year, the Ecological Society America offers High School Educators’ Ecological Literacy and Research Day as a way for educators to come together and advance the field, exchange notes and present lesson plans. The goal is, not only encourage educators to include ecological science and to support ecological literacy in their curricula, but to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to do so.

This year’s Ecological Literacy and Research Day was on August 2 at ESA’s 95th Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh. The event facilitated interactions between teachers and ecologists in small group discussions, symposia and a poster session. It was offered free of charge to educators and jointly funded by ESA and the Nature Conservancy.

Melissa Kjelvik presents “You’re not you when you are hungry: introverts and extroverts on the presence or absence of food” in the above video.

Educators like Adam Schwartz from the Academy of Urban Planning in New York City found the workshops—such as, “You’re not you when you are hungry: introverts and extroverts on the presence or absence of food” by Melissa Kjelvik and “Carbon Cycling: connecting knowledge and practice” by Jennifer Doherty—to be helpful in lesson planning. “The ESA Educator Session created a useful bridge between ecological theory and real classroom practice,” he said.

Other educators found the lesson plans to be informative, incorporating fun activities for students that would be easy and affordable for educators to replicate and adapt for their classrooms. For example, Steve Gruber from City High Charter School in downtown Pittsburgh found the lesson plans to be helpful: “I have gotten enough labs and activities to fill up twenty percent of my first [semester] ecology labs,” he said.

In addition, attendees took home a teacher packet book full of useful educational resources and tools, as well as educational CDs. High school educators shared ideas about science education and engagement throughout the event, which also included the ESA Science Plenary Talk, “Innocence lost: Will ecologists become the future global carbon cops?” by Steve Running from the University of Montana.

Throughout the year, ESA plans to continue efforts in bringing together high school educators and ecological scientists for the exchange of best practices in ecological literacy. Specifically, the third annual High School Educators’ Ecological Literacy and Research Day should integrate ESA members with local Austin, Texas educators. Hopefully, these opportunities can directly impact the education of our younger generations by providing a necessary change in their education, a change that should prepare them for a workforce that increasingly demands a higher knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Photo and Video Credit: Charlee Glenn

Urban Education Programs Coordinator