24 November 2009

Our theme for this show is “Smart by Nature,” which is the title of a new book by our first guest, Michael K. Stone, from the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley. For twenty years the Center has been developing  sustainability education programs all over the country, and we talk with Michael about some of the principles of good environmental education.

We also talk with Chicoans Sherri Scott and Stephanie  Elliott, who conduct gardening programs for preschoolers in our area, helping them get a head start on being smart about nature.

Same Exemplars of Kid Ecoliteracy Projects

In an earlier edition of Ecotopia, we described some of the winners of the 2008 Presidential Environmental Youth Award. This has been a project of the Environmental Protection Agency, which each year identifies young people who as individuals, as part of school, or as part of camps or other organizations have done exemplary work on the environment. Here are several of the winners from 2007:

  • In Forest Hills, Long Island, Raphael Spiro created a Bedsidebooks program. While visiting his grandfather in a nursing home, he noticed that good reading materials for the residents were in short supply. Returning home to his neighborhood, Raphael observed bundles of books and magazines at the curb on recycling day. He realized that people were throwing away what appeared to him to be perfectly good books. He started collecting and donating books to schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and wounded soldiers to reduce the volume of books and magazines in garbage dumps and landfills in New York City. Over time, Raphael expanded his local project by creating a Web site to encourage other students to conduct similar programs in their own communities. To date, more than 200 students in 16 states have collected and distributed 44,000 books.
  • In Huntingdon, Tennessee, the Huntingdon Primary School, a small Title I school of 400 students in rural West Tennessee created the Wiser Misers Energy Team of third graders. The team posted an energy saving tip promoting “Change a Light, Change the World Day” on 16,000 Carroll County, Tennessee, electric bills. In return, the team received pledges from community members to change one light from an incandescent bulb to a compact fluorescent lamp. In addition, these third graders reached more than 12,000 people with an energy saving display at the Carroll County fair.  The team’s first annual “Walk to School Day” attracted 500 participants and generated interest by the Town of Huntington to apply for a $250,000 Safe Routes to School grant. The grant was received and will fund 11,000 linear feet of sidewalks, crossings, and ramps for the disabled.
  • Another Presidential Youth Environmental award in 2007 went to Reeds Spring, Missouri, High School, which formed a Stream Team. 11th and 12th grade students monitored water quality in streams each month after school and on weekends. They conducted tests at the streamside, including pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrates, phosphates, conductivity, turbidity, and Macroinvertebrate sampling. The data they gathered were analyzed and sent to the Department of Natural Resources to be included in a state-wide water quality database. The students also floated the James River to pick up litter, sample stream invertebrates, test water acidity, and take water samples back to the laboratory to measure fecal coliform counts. They prepared maps, graphs, and spreadsheets of data to illustrate the results of water testing. Stream Team members also gave presentations to school staff and organizations to inform the community about protecting its streams and how individuals can become involved in improving the quality of Missouri’s streams.
  • And the Redmond, Washington, High School received a Presidential Environmental Youth Award for a Cool School Campaign that challenges teachers to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide generated in the classroom through transportation, recycling, electricity, and heating. In its first year, the Cool School Campaign reduced 72 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). The students began the project by asking each teacher in the school to complete a pre-survey that introduced the “Cool School Campaign” and provided simple tips on how to reduce energy usage. The students asked teachers to sign a pledge to reduce 1,000 pounds of CO2 during the year in their classrooms.Once the teachers signed the pledge, the students provided a poster for the classroom and a ream of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. The posters added a competitive spirit to the challenge and encouraged other teachers to sign the pledge. The students educated and encouraged teachers to take simple steps to reduce energy usage. Small changes, like turning the temperature down a few degrees, using only two of the four sets of ceiling lights, car pooling, turning off DVD players at the power strip, and drinking coffee out of reusable mugs, meant a big reduction in the CO2 emissions. In the first year, the teachers’ actions saved the school district $7,500.

Cool schools and cool kids. You can learn more about the Presidential Environmental Youth Awards at www.epa.gov/PEYA/

Our Conversation with Michael K. Stone

Michael K. Stone is Director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley. He is author of a new book called  Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability that describes his and the Center’s work in establishing sustainable school and community programs all over the country.

  • Please tell us something of the history and work of the Center for Ecoliteracy.  When was it established, and what is the range of its work? Who funds the Center?  How many schools and districts have you worked with over the years?
  • Please describe one or two “favorite” or exemplar projects. (One of our favorites is the Howard Middle School, Belfast, ME, growing veggies at -10o.)
  • The projects described in the book are very much “hands on,” with kids greening up the cafeteria, creating recycling systems, monitoring the school’s electrical use.  What is the educational philosophy behind this kind of learning?
    • Please tell us about the “habitat hat” and what it represents.
  • You say that  school itself is an “ecosystem,” yet it is also one that is prestructured around classes, subject matters, bells, test scores, standards, and a general public perception that the purpose of education is to prepare students (rather narrowly) for higher education and jobs. How do you integrate or get around these limits and perceptions?
    • Is a sustainability curriculum sufficiently broad to cover, say, a basic knowledge of U.S. and world history, the periodic table, algebra, or skill in reading and writing?
    • Have you worked with schools that have replaced the entire traditional subject-matter curriculum with an integrated ecocurriculum?
  • Let’s close with a quotation that is found on the Barnes School in Vermont: “Sustainability is another word for justice, for what is just is sustainable, and what is unjust is not.”  This sounds like a formula for global social change. Ideally (or practically) how do you see Ecoliteracy helping to solve the greatest global issues such as hunger, poverty, war, decimation of the planet?

or if that question is impossibly broad

  • What are your highest opes for the Ecoliteracy movement in coming years?

Thank you, Michael Stone. The book is Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability.  It’s published by Watershed Media in Healdsburg and distributed by the University of California Press.  You can learn more about the Center for Ecoliteracy at www.ecoliteracy.org.

Our Conversation with Sherri Scott and Stephanie Elliott

In the studio with us now are Sherri Scott and Stephanie Elliot. They are members of GRUB (Growing Resources, Uniting Bellies), which is Chico’s intentionally planned community, living and growing things out on Dayton Road. As part of their work promoting sound and sustainabile environmental practices, they works in area pre-schools with gardening projects.  .

  • What is the green garden project?
  • How did it get started?
  • Who is involved?
  • What is your program or “curriculum”?
  • How do teachers, kids, parents, and staff react?
  • What are your future plans for the program?

How can people learn more about it or get involved?

Additional Resources for Ecoliteracy Education

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution  to put in place a United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), spanning from 2005 to 2014  The project is being led by UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and shows the potential of Sustainability to provide a curriculum focus for the 21st Century.

We are  especially impressed by the DESD’s educational philosophy, which is overtly designed to break down traditional education by promoting:

– Interdisciplinary and holistic learning rather than subject-based learning

– Values-based learning

– Critical thinking rather than memorizing

– Multi-method approaches: word, art, drama, debate, etc.

– Participatory decision-making

– Locally relevant information, rather than national

The UNESCO sustainability curriculum strands are equally progressive, covering:

Some of of the UNESCO sustainability education project’s recent activities include:

  • An international seminar on climate change at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. It brought together some 60 experts in climate change and education for sustainable development and curriculum creation.
  • Focusing International Youth Day – “Sustainability: Our Challenge. Our Future,” with workshops, cultural events, and meetings involving national and local government officials and youth organizations all around the world.
  • A workshop for sustainability education in Swaziland with educators and policy makers from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Aftica, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland.

  • Preparations of the June 2010 BrazilChildren and Youth International Conference in Brazil, with the theme  Let’ s Take Care of the Planet. The conference seeks to mobilize and engage youth (between 12 and 14 years) within the school community in research and debates about current sustainability  challenges.

The Decade of Education for Sustainability Development web site has links to all sorts of projects and curriculum materials. http://www.unesco.org/en/esd/

And please remember:
Ecotopia and Education are synonyms and are Smart by Nature

Playlist for Ecotopia #61: Smart By Nature

1. Glorious  5:19  MaMuse       All The Way

2. Mother Nature’s Son 2:48  The Beatles          The Beatles (White Album)

3. Supernova      4:42  Liquid Blue   Supernova

4. Teach Your Children 3:02  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young    Four Way Street

5. Wond’ring Again      4:16  Jethro Tull  Living In The Past

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. The Teacher   3:36  Paul Simon You’re The One

8. Slower Than Guns (LP Version)  3:50  Iron Butterfly    Metamorphosis