By George A. Newberry, Director, PreK-12 Science
Within the sets of skills and constructs of knowledge that we seek to instill in our children prior to their high school graduation are embedded the various types of literacies. If asked, you could probably name several—21st century literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, scientific literacy, mathematical literacy, computer literacy, visual literacy, linguistic literacy, economic literacy, media literacy, etc. Cultivated over a period of time, these literacies collaborate to promote achievement of personal goals, development of knowledge and potential, and full participation in local communities and the global economy.
Intertwined with these literacies is the new environmental literacy. Although many are unaware of environmental knowledge as a type of literacy, Maryland is one of the first states to recognize its importance and adopt a regulation aimed to infuse a fundamental understanding of the natural world and its adversaries into classroom activities. This statute, known as the Environmental Literacy Standards and Environmental Education By-law (13A.04.17.01§§2-205(h), Annotated Code of Maryland), requires that Maryland districts provide evidence that a developmentally appropriate, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary instructional program of environmental literacy that “advances students’ knowledge, confidence, skills and motivation to make decisions and take actions that create and maintain an optimal relationship between themselves and the environment, and preserves and protects the unique natural resources of Maryland, particularly those of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed” is in place by 2015.
In conjunction with this measure, students will investigate and analyze environmental issues and implement local action projects that protect, sustain, or enhance the natural environment. They will study:
- the interactions and flow of matter and energy through earth’s systems;
- the interdependence of humans and organisms in populations, communities, and ecosystems;
- the impact of humans and natural events on natural resources, environmental health, and society; and
- the correlation between personal and collective actions and their effect on the sustainability of interrelated systems.
Curriculum developers intermingle the environmental literacy standards via a variety of courses, service learning, and classroom and outdoor experiences from Grades Pre-K through 12. The standards will enhance existing courses in the sciences, government, economics, and health and provide a flexible structure that allows for more in-depth study of particular issues using critical thinking skills and issues investigation to foster long-term reasoning, research, and interpretation skills. An issues-based model in which teachers provide students with a variety of on-campus and community or regional experiences, as well as engage them in identifying, planning, and implementing authentic projects that result in a change to the environment, will address stewardship and action.
The learning experiences embraced by environmental literacy are rich and engaging. They prepare students for college and careers and are essential for responsible decision-making in a sustainable world.