Can EcoJustice, Citizen Science and Youth Activism Inspire New Ways of Teaching Science?

EcoJustice, Citizen Science and Youth Activism  (Library Copy) is the title of a new book edited by Michael P. Mueller, University of Alaska, and Deborah J. Tippins, University of Georgia.  It’s the first in the new Springer Book Series Environmental Discourses in Science Education in trying to bridge environmental education with science education.

ecojustice bookI received my copy of the book in the mail today, and was very happy for Mike and Deborah who have worked for several years to bring together the research and writing of science educators from various parts of the globe.  One of the aspects of their work that is represented here is their remarkable dedication to challenging traditions, especially an ideology of human domination over nature, and not the deep ecological perspectives that were signaled by Rachel Carson and Arne Naess.

In my view, their book, a cornucopia of fresh, abundant and grounded ideas based on case studies, research reports, and theoretical perspectives, offers a vital alternative to the Next Generation of Science Standards.  One of the themes that overflows in this book is a repositioning of teaching and learning into contextual situations, rather than a collection of sterile, barren, and garden variety behavioral goals or, as the NGSS puts it, “performance expectations.”

The ideas of ecoJustice, citizen science and youth activism are largely ignored in the NGSS, and as a result the ideas that are presented in this book will require activism centered on the belief that youth of all ages and all cultures are quite capable of engaging in real issues in their neighborhoods, as well as expanding their horizons to take part in challenging opportunities to collaborate with others, and seek solutions to problems that face humankind.

We need to question the purposes of teaching science, history, mathematics, and language arts beyond the content specific goals of the Common Core State Standards, as well as the science standards that I mentioned before.  Ed Johnson has said in letters and reports, if fundamental questions about the purposes of schooling are not addressed, and if we can not agree on these purposes, very little will change the system.

The so-called education reformers (corporatism neoliberal) cut learning to performances that can be easily measured on standardized tests, which now are becoming more complex, and numbing, especially after the U.S. Department of Education provided more than $300 million in funding to groups who’ve developed standardized tests that measure academic learning in math and language arts, and science in near future.

  • What do these tests tell us about student growth in areas that will have more meaning to their lives than a score on a test?  Zero.
  • What do these tests really tell us about what students know in math, language arts, and science? Not very much.
  • How does the student’s love of music, art or the humanities play a role in fostering their interest in math, language arts, and science?  It isn’t very much, and indeed these areas of student life are not really considered important to policy makers.  And that’s too bad.

In contrast to the research reported in EcoJustice, Citizen Science and Youth Activism, the current approach to education created by the CCSS is a “neoliberal ecosystem,” mapped by Morna McDermott, Professor at Towson University, and co-founder of United Opt Out National.  McDermott visualizes a web of connections among  corporations and organization and the Common Core.  The map exposes the influence peddling that shadows and casts a pall over public education.

On the other hand, the work that Mueller and Tippins have put together their book shows how education for youth can be quite different from a more traditional perspective.  In the closing chapter of the book,  Angela Calabrese Barton explains why the current purpose of teaching science which is based on a scientific literacy that focuses on knowledge and skill development is simply not enough.  She writes:

Indeed, as I noted in my introduction, many hold the view that if simply teach students “enough” science (whether it be content or practice) then they will have what it takes to engage in civic society.  However, this functional view of science literacy attends to participation in the world as it is now, without attention to what could be.  It ignores the integrated knowledge and practice that may support young people in working with and in science to bring about a more just world for individuals or communities while also, themselves, being transformed by broader and more diverse participation.

Why are ideas such as ecoJustice, citizen science, and youth activism important when we consider the curriculum of the school, and lives of our students?

In the last chapter of the book, Angela Calabrese Barton titles her chapter: Taking Action with and in Science, and in particular suggests that we need to take seriously the work of students who take civic action with and in science.

In the view of the authors’ of this book, the curriculum should be reconsidered in light of the themes of ecojustice, citizen science, and youth activism.

Very little of the curriculum enables or indeed allows students to take action of civil, cultural, social, or environmental issues.  Most of school is learning stuff that will be on the standardized tests which are used in every state to rate and rank students.  And the data from these tests is now being used to rank, rate and judge teachers, putting at risk their careers based on the unremarkable algorithm (Value Added Model).

Are the Ferguson demonstrations that taking place around the country important in the lives of students in school?  Of course they are.  But are students’ concerns or ideas explored or discussed?  What role does school play in exploring the injustices that are being protested?

When a very powerful organization like the National Football League (NFL), and its partner teams decide to build a new stadium, do they really take in consideration where they build their bigger and more monstrous stadiums, who it affects, or what small businesses are affected.  In the end, who benefits from the construction of these humongous edifices?  Are their ecological and human injustices when a team such as the Atlanta Falcons uses its reserves of green to convince historical churches to move so that they play football?  If students were engaged to consider the ramifications of such an ecological project, what would they learn?  How would they convey their findings to the community?  And would their conclusions be of value to the community?

 Higher Ground

There are 27 chapters in the EcoJustice, Citizen Science, and Youth Activism book, and each is based on projects and activities that take place in real schools around the world.  These are not wild-eyed ideas that have been dreamed up by élite groups of folks.  Instead they have designed serious projects and programs that focus on a triumvirate of trends:

  • Ecojustice–evaluating the holistic connections between cultural and natural systems, environmentalism, sustainability and Earth-friendly marketing trends.
  • Citizen Science–a pedagogy of ways to enact ecojustice, especially engaging students in monitoring locally to uncover issues and problems in their own communities.
  • Youth Activism–another approach in which youth can come together to offer a platform for the community to consider.

Although some of the authors might not agree with my assessment of the Common Core or the Next Generation Science Standards, we do agree that we need to move to “higher ground,” an idea narrated by Mike Dias and Brenden Callahan.  They ask why is it so rare that students during the school day are involved in citizen science and youth activism projects.

Disclaimer: I am author of the chapter entitled Citizen Diplomacy to Youth Activism: The Story of the Global Thinking Project.



Inspiration in the Rockies


The Rocky Mountains as seen from the YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Colorado, August 19, 2012

This is a view from the YMCA of the Rockies, which I first visited in August, 1975 to attend my first conference of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP). Since then I’ve been here about 15 times.

But it was my attendance at the (AHP) conference that changed my outlook as a teacher at Georgia State University.

Continue reading “Inspiration in the Rockies”

3 Inquiry Lessons to Begin Your Science Course This Year

Do you have your plans worked out for the first days of the courses you will teach beginning this month or in September?  Here are three ideas you might consider, especially if you want to begin the year engaging your students in a science inquiry activity.

I introduced these projects in the last post as Web 2.0 technology projects.  You can do these projects with your students either with or without using the Internet.  However, there are websites for each project, and you are free to use the Website, activities, and forms you will find at each site.

Three science inquiry projects are described here that engage your students in hands on activities, and would be great to use at the beginning of the year.  It would give you an opportunity to observe your students doing inquiry, and also help them learn to work together in small collaborative teams.

Project Green Classroom

The Project Green Classroom Web site. Use the site to organize your students as they investigate the environmental quality of your classroom.

How green is your classroom?  Your school? How would rate the environmental quality in your classroom?

In this project your class is divided into six teams, each responsible for investigating one aspect of your science classroom—yes the actual physical space of your classroom.

As you can see from the screen shot of Project Green Classroom website, there are links for each team (Weather, Air quality, etc), and links for your students share their data, and access data from other classrooms.

The materials you need are listed on the website under each of the tabs (weather, air quality, dimensions, population, microorganisms, trash).

Project Ozone

Project Ozone web site.

Advanced Planning: To do this project, it is advised that you order in advance Eco-Badge Kit that your students will use to measure the ground-level ozone in the air either around their school, or at their home.

In this project, you students will not only learn about ozone (stratospheric and ground-level), but will also monitor ground level ozone using the Eco-Badge system.  The Eco-Badge is a chemically treated piece paper.  Using a colormetric chart (included with the Eco-Badge Kit), students can compare the color change on the paper strips with the chart to determine the ozone level in part per billion.

Late summer is a good time to do this project because of the high temperatures in Northern Hemisphere schools.  Southern Hemisphere schools can participate and provide interesting comparative data.

Project River Watch

Project River Watch Website

Advanced Planning:  Dissolved oxygen kits from Chemetrics are recommended to be used in this project to measure the dissolved oxygen level in the water. Other materials you will need include: pH paper, meter stick, stop watch, thermometer, rubber boots, gloves, safety goggles, collection devices (jars, pails), pencil, paper, crayons, smart phone (for digital images and movies).

In this project, your students will monitor various attributes of a local stream, or river, or another body of water.

As with the first two projects, all of the data forms that you will need are available at the project wesite.

Special note:  Some teachers have brought the stream into the classroom by making a video tape of the stream and area of data collection.  By bringing in samples of water, and soil, students can complete most of the activities in class.

Three Web 2.0 Science Projects for Your Science Courses

The Web 2.0 science projects described in this post will enable your students to interact with students around the globe.

Web 2.0 refers to using the Web in a more interactive, and social way where students can create, share, publish and work together in collaborative groups.  Over the years, science teachers have created a variety of Web 2.0 projects for K-12 students.

This post is to announce the availability of three Web 2.0 projects that you can use with your students.  The projects are geared to students in grades 4 – 12, and they can be used in a variety of situations.  They could be used as an interesting way to begin the year (especially Project Green Classroom), individual or small teams of students could use any of the projects as a starting place for a project or a science fair investigation.  You could use any of these as part of your ongoing curriculum.

The Projects

  • Project Green Classroom—you and your students try and answer the question: How green in our classroom?  Off to the project.
  • Project Ozone–students explore the quality of the air they breathe, and also investigate two aspects of ozone: the good and the bad.  Read more…
  • Project River Watch–students learn to monitor a local stream or river, and use the data collected to make an evaluation of the quality of the stream’s water.  Further information…


Each project has its own website from which you can work with your students, and connect with students and teachers in other schools.

Access and Further Information

Please go to Web 2.0.  Here you will find details, and links to each of the project websites.

Ozone: An Inquiry into Air Quality

Atlanta leads the nation today in air quality—that is to say that it’s ozone forecast for today exceeds all other cities in the nation.  As shown in the AirNow map below, most of the Eastern part of the nation is in the moderate to USG ozone levels.  Moderate AQI (Air quality index) is 51 – 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.

UGS (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) AQI is 101 – 150. Although general public is not likely to be affected at this AQI range, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, whereas persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air.

Several years ago, Gary Short, founder and owner of Vistanomics, worked out a way to measure ground level ozone.  He invented a chemical strip which changes color in the presence of ozone, and named the device the EcoBadge.  EcoBadge because he devised a clip on badge in which you could insert an ozone paper strip, and then could clip it on to your shirt or blouse, and be a walking ozone monitor.  I’ve included a picture of the ecobadge, and picture of the ozone monitoring strip.

The Ecobadge: A device used to measure the amount of ground-level ozone in the air. A chemically sensitive strip is inserted into the badge, and then exposed to the air for 1 hour (the pink area), and 8 hours (the brown area).

At the same time I was working with American and Russian science educators on a global environmental project in which students monitored and researched local environmental problems, and then shared their findings on the Internet at a website that we had designed.  The project was known as the Global Thinking Project.

As part of my current work, and in conjunction with the release of my new book, Science as Inquiry, several environmental projects have been developed, published in the book, and also available on the Internet.  One of the projects is Project Ozone.  Project ozone uses the tools developed by Gary Short at Vistanomics, as well as other meteorology instruments to measure other parameters important when studying ozone.

If you are working this summer with middle or high school students, or students at the college level, you might be interested taking a look at Project Ozone to see if the it might be a project you might want to include in your course or program.

Screen shot of Project Ozone Homepage. Links for activities, data sharing and retrieval.