Sustainability. Systems. Ecology.
These are words you will not find in the Big Ideas of the Science and Social Studies Curriculum Drafts shared by the BC Ministry of Education. Several environmental organizations have shared criticisms that the Draft Curriculum does not embed principles of ecological thinking, particularly in the scope and sequence of big ideas.
For example, the Sierra Club of BC writes in a letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender, “It seems that opportunities to integrate environmental education and environmental learning principles have not been explicitly recognised in the new draft. In addition, the assigned grade level for some subject matter (for example, weather) reduces the opportunities for learners in older grades to fully engage with complex issues such as climate and biodiversity.” The Sierra Club of BC has even created a petition to encourage the Ministry to, “to revise the proposed K to 9 curriculum to include environmental education “Big Ideas” in science and social studies for each grade level.”
Members of the Environmental Educators’ Provincial Specialist Association of BC (EEPSA) share among several concerns with the Draft Curriculum that, “Complexity and systems thinking need to be addressed more fully through a focus on ecology. A complexity/systems continuum should include age-appropriate, focused inquiry into such key concepts as habitat and communities in late primary, ecological principles in intermediate and ecosystems in upper intermediate.”
EEPSA members also note, however, that the Draft Curriculum “gets it right” in encouraging greater emphasis on place-based education and connection to First Nations, as well as greater opportunities for teacher autonomy.
In my view, the inclusion of big ideas in the Draft Curriculum is the most exciting change I have seen in my ten years as an educator and my time as a learner in public education. I am excited by the opportunities educators have to facilitate students connecting their learning across subjects and grades. Opportunities to connect transferable concepts facilitates a systems thinking view of topics that recognizes the multi-dimensional complexities of issues that should not be viewed in isolation. In the Goals & Rationale for Science, the Curriculum Draft notes, “We continually revise and refine our knowledge as we acquire new evidence. While maintaining our respect for evidence, we are aware that our scientific knowledge is provisional and is influenced by our culture, values, and ethics.” Therefore, while the big ideas may not focus enough on key aspects of ecological education such as biodiversity, cycles, nested systems, and so on, the opportunities for teachers and students to connect learning across subjects and grades to create a network of learning that teaches learners about the world and who they are in it, is a marvellous opportunity to promote ecological thinking. Even if the “what” is taught could be strengthened to promote environmental education, the structures are in place for “how” concepts are taught to support ecological thinking.
David Orr has noted however, that, “All education is environmental education,” meaning what is included in education teaches students as to whether they feel they are part of or apart from nature, as to what our society considers important and unimportant. Therefore, it would be hard for any educator who is hoping to help students become caring stewards of the planet to not incorporate core ecological principles into what they teach as well as how they teach. The very nature of big ideas, defined by the Ministry as “broad and abstract,”generally timeless and transferable,” and that are, “central to an area of learning or across disciplines that links numerous understandings into a coherent whole,” suggests the development of big ideas, seemingly ecological or not, would be supported by and would support, core ecological principles, which are also timeless and transferable.
I think many of the Core Ecological Concepts shared by the Center for Ecoliteracy are inherent in some of the big ideas of the Draft Curriculum, and if they are not, connections can be made to them. These principles include learning about networks, nested systems, cycles, flows, development and dynamic balance. While these concepts could be embedded more explicitly in the curriculum, perhaps as big ideas themselves, educators have the autonomy, and great opportunity with the organization of the Draft Curriculum, to promote ecological education and thinking.
Feedback can be given on BC’s Draft Curriculum here.
Resources sharing design principles for ecological education:
Environmental Learning and Experience: An Interdisciplinary Guide, BC Ministry of Education
A Systems Perspective, Center for Ecoliteracy
Our Approach, Sea to Sky Outdoor School
Design Principles for Expeditionary Learning, Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound