Monday, August 1, 2011

Education and the Environment: The same, but different

We've talked a little about students and teachers and environmental science. As the vet on the net, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on being the guide on the side, so to speak, with respect to curriculum before we dive into content-specific labs. And be it known that I think our students desperately need to hear a sage on the stage from time to time. It’s just that what we more experienced folk ought to tell/show is different in this post-information revolution age. We are living in 'interesting times' indeed…

Anyone reading this blog is likely familiar with OERs (Open Educational Resources); HippoCampus is a great example of a rich environment that is keeping up with both new technologies and new directions for education. Being in higher education (and highly skeptical of this sort of significant change), I felt it was my duty to see how/if these new OERs might be useful. Having been an online learner as well, I am especially sensitive to maintaining a reasonable balance between my expectations for students and what all I could deliver via distance and face-to-face courses. I was happy to find that the licensed resources in the NROC Environmental Science course enabled the efficient development of and supported the effective delivery of an online Integrated Earth Science for Teachers course that I designed and taught. Visualize your own favorite teaching activities and supplements as you review the Balancing Acts activity.

Balancing Acts banner
Balancing Acts is a formative activity that helps students operationally define the center of mass. That’s how you might integrate it into a constructivist Physics classroom. In an Environmental Science class, imagine how the bigger picture of an intricately related system, like a local habitat, an ecosystem, our planet, and perhaps even this universe ultimately, is easily transferred to the model. Think about the implications for your teaching practice! That’s the power of experiential learning as we all know. Click here to explore various representations of this activity as it was presented in a professional development program.

Focusing its resources on several key issues where it believes it can have significant impact (Community Juggling), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been a strong proponent of OER development. Its focus on education and environment programs provides another powerful application of Balancing Acts. Pay particular attention to the many aspects of the CLES scales introduced earlier with the Rope Trick activity and reinforced in this brief clip.

Today's educators are challenged to provide hands-on experiences, inquiry-based activities, and problem-based labs with direct application to real world situations. Combining that with mobile learning technologies and social networking capabilities, the trendy pedagogical approach has been tagged as 'connectivist'. Like the many standards revisions underway, this re-focusing of educational priorities makes the role of the teacher even more critical. Innovative models for education are being designed with the intention of, as explained by James Zull (2002) in The Art of Changing the Brain, "creating conditions that lead to change in a learner's brain. We can't get inside and rewire a brain, but we can arrange things so that it gets rewired. If we are skilled, we can set up conditions that favor this rewiring, and we can create an environment that nurtures it" (p. 5).

The great news is that the reasons great teachers teach will not likely change in spite of the fact that the tools and techniques of the profession will transition continually. The exciting business of these 'interesting times' is that we can realize the goal of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) by "re-defining the very idea of a course, creating an open network of learners with emergent and shared content and interactions" right now. The field of Environmental Science not only offers a personally relevant context for education, but also a practical preparation for 21st century leaders when one considers the opportunities for differentiating instruction based on the MOOC principles of content aggregation, remixing, re-purposing, and feeding forward. What is it that drives your practice? How are you managing such rapid change to maintain balance in your classroom? What advice would you give to new teachers?