Reduce, Reuse, Reimagined: Rethinking Science Curricula

In the wake of the #FridaysForFuture climate strikes, many students and young people are energized about environmental conservation, but without a clear path forward. The strikes have been successful in expanding the conversation around climate change, but where they lack is in providing youth with appropriate channels through which their passion about the environment can be realized into tangible change through productive action.

 

Place-based curricula offer one solution to this stagnation, extending learning opportunities to students that are both timely and rooted in their whereabouts.

 

Participating in these programs allows students to deepen their understanding of specific environmental issues facing their local communities. The curricula provide avenues to combat them through hands-on applied research and skill building—tools that will prepare them for future careers in environmental science and policy.

 

The Island School in Cape Eleuthera, The Bahamas is a semester school that wholeheartedly embraces the philosophy of place-based scientific learning. All students participate in research internships alongside working professionals at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, a worldwide marine science hub, or the Center for Sustainable Design, a prominent thinktank for environmental engineering and design. Students are active participants in selecting their field of study from a breadth of local environmental topics.

 

The semester that I spent at CEIS, research classes covered a breadth of topics ranging from using microfragmentation in coral reef restoration efforts, to understanding the impact of Bahamian spiny lobster head discards in fisheries management, to improving aquaponic systems to increase food security on campus. All of these projects allowed students to get their hands dirty and actively participate in the process of researching and finding solutions to pressing environmental issues. 

 

The result of these hands-on, experiential education courses is immense in empowering, shaping and guiding the next generation of environmentalists. Consider two scenes: 

In the first, a young girl marches downtown with a hand-painted sign that reads “like the tide, we rise,'' she shouts, and in a collection of voices she is heard. At the conclusion of the march she returns home, feeling a mélange of emotion: proud, satisfied, but also forlorn and melancholic. She did what she could, but what else is there to do? 

 

In the second, the same girl is provided the opportunity to work on these environmental issues via a place-based curricular model. She digests scientific literature on coral bleaching, surveys the reef, and learns and applies emerging techniques for coral regrowth and regeneration. By the end of the term she has a project discussing her findings and recommendations for future reef management best practices. 

 

I am that girl. And I can tell you how much more confident I was in my passion for the environment, and how much more prepared I was to pursue a career in an environmental field having had the privilege of attending a program where the teaching ethos is steeped in place-based learning.

 

Moving forward, I think a two-pronged approach is the best option: students should consider participating in place-based educational opportunities, and educational models should incorporate more place-based learning into curricula.

 

This is possible in every corner of the globe; it just requires identifying relevant environmental challenges and political topics. By focusing on local issues, students can get outside the classroom and take action in their own communities.

 

Hopefully, this is a pathway forward that will appeal to both parties: educators, and students. Millennials have clearly shown their zeal, walking out of classrooms across the nation to demand reform. Also an MIT AgeLab nationwide survey has shown that Boomers and Gen X have more pro environmental attitudes now than ever before. Not only are they more concerned, but also their behaviors increasingly

 

reflect this shift. Place-based curriculums will give both groups an opportunity to channel their interests through the implementation and participation in these dynamic learning models.

 

The climate crisis will not be an issue that is solved in the short term. It will remain a top-priority and pressing issue when this generation of young people are the ones in charge, so let’s equip them with the tools they will need — understanding of scientific methodologies, field and research experience, exposure to policy and lawmaking — to the best of our abilities. We will need the brainpower, creativity, and temerity of today’s students to tackle our environmental challenges, and they will be better prepared to do so if they participate in place-based learning.

 

Claire Revere is a semester school alumnae, environmentalist, and writer.