Monday, October 4, 2010

Educate the Educators - Sustainability Education and Community Outreach

Replacing light bulbs is great. Switching to toilets and showerheads to conserve water is fantastic. Reducing the carbon foot print at DePaul University is extraordinary. Minimizing DePaul’s impact on the resources of the environment is important, but when it comes to sustainability reducing the negative impact is only one piece of the puzzle. It is not enough to simply address how DePaul can reduce negative impacts on the environment, how can DePaul act to positively impact the environment? DePaul has the resources and opportunity to become an important community resource by developing a strong commitment to sustainability education in the Chicago area.

DePaul University’s Mission and dedication to Vincentian values reflect a philosophy of sustainability and as Scott Kelley points out in the White Paper on Sustainability at DePaul University, addressing the issue of sustainability by preparing students through education not only falls squarely in the Vincentian mission of the school but is also supported by the strategic plan, VISION twenty 12.

Balancing sustainability and development is not a short term problem. Each generation will grapple with new issues of sustainability and development. Each generation needs to be armed with the tools to assess and address the problems that will arise. DePaul University is in the position to help prepare the next generation for these challenges through education and community outreach.

DePaul can help by educating the educators, especially elementary school teachers. The importance of a positive and playful experience with the sciences at an early age and a teacher’s comfort level directly influences their ability to integrate issues into their curriculum. In Mizrap and Jarrett’s January 2010 article,
Developing an Interest in Science: Background Experiences of Preschool Elementary Teachers. The authors explore the importance of an enjoyable and positive early science education on students and as a significant influence later on a teacher’s ability to teach science. In Julie Kennelly, Neil Taylor and T. W. Maxwell’s 2008 article Addressing the Challenge of Preparing Australian Pre-service Primary Teachers in Environmental Education: An Evaluation of a Dedicated Unit, the authors address the role of a teachers’ comfort level with science and environmental issues on a teacher’s ability to integrate the subject material. The authors suggest coursework for teachers which focus on practical ideas in order to increase the educator’s comfort level and grasp of the subject matter.

The United Nations recognized the importance of Sustainable Development Education in 2002 when they adopted r
esolution 57/254 and designated 2005 – 2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. DePaul has the opportunity to play a leadership role in the Chicago area to advance education about sustainable development.

DePaul should adopt the goal of becoming a strong community resource for Chicago Schools in Sustainable Development Education by engaging DePaul students and initiating outreach to Chicago Elementary School Teachers.

Engage DePaul Students:
  • Integrate sustainability issues into the coursework throughout DePaul University.
  • Sponsor an Environmental Education Grants Fair for students at DePaul. With the goal of developing inexpensive environmental projects for urban elementary classrooms designed to foster a connection between the young student and the environment. Including, but not limited to: recycling, conservation, food sources and ecology.
  • Offer the winning projects at workshops for elementary school teachers.
  • Encourage the DePaul School of Education to require coursework in science and sustainability at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Every graduate of the School of Education at DePaul University should be comfortable with scientific concepts and have the tools to integrate sustainability, environmental and ecological issues into a curriculum.
  • Develop enrichment coursework which focuses on teaching natural science and environmental issues to young, urban, elementary school students
Outreach to Chicago Elementary School Teachers:
  • Sponsor workshops for elementary teachers in the Chicago area to increase their knowledge in environmental and sustainability issues. The workshops should focus on practical suggestions and hands on activities for the classroom.

Some interesting sites!
EPA Environmental Kids Club
ProTeacher Environment!
UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development for The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014

Photo credit
Charity Guide
~Terri Williams

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