Time To Clear-cut Paper Mache Rainforest

Time To Clear-cut Paper Mache Rainforest

What comes to mind when you hear Earth Day and education? Do you see endangered species posters? Or perhaps a paper mache rainforest? Such projects can be fun. But focusing on exotic animals and ‘wild’ places sends the message that the environment is a place both far away and without people. That keeps kids from understanding a vital fact: humans are part of the environment. Understanding this starts with learning about one’s own place. Can the student who draws a rainforest toucan identify a bird that’s native to the local ecosystem? Can the student who made a cardboard tree name an indigenous tribe that inhabits the forest? I wonder.  Is it time to clear-cut the paper mache rainforest? Not necessarily. But let’s raise the bar. Environmental literacy is an essential 21st century skill that will determine life in the 22nd century. Our kids deserve the best we can give them.   Looking for ideas? Contact me for inspiring examples or helpful...
The Economics Curriculum To Kids: Crime Pays

The Economics Curriculum To Kids: Crime Pays

Crime is good. So are accidents, lawsuits, illness and divorce. Sound crazy? This is the logic of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—and the message kids are getting from most economics curriculum. The GDP is the total market value of goods and services produced and consumed. The GDP rises every time money is spent, regardless of the social or environmental impacts. For example, in 2014, prostitution added about £4.3billion to the United Kingdom’s economy, while illegal drugs added £6.7billion. The GDP is revered as perhaps the indicator of progress. Economic growth means things are getting better . . . right? Not quite. That’s because the GPD also ignores the value of non-monetized activities such as volunteering or parenting. The GDP also ignore the value of the vital services provided by the environment, including pollination by bees or the production of oxygen by plants. Granted, the GDP was never designed to measure overall wellbeing. But that means we need to stop blindly worshipping growth. We need to prioritize more holistic indicators that consider society and the environment. The good news is that world leaders are doing just that. Consider the European Union’s Beyond GDP initiative, or the Gross National Happiness Index. These measures give a clearer picture of ‘progress’ and challenge the assumption that economic growth is unequivocally beneficial. We need a new generation of citizens and leaders who can shift the economic narrative. And this takes committed educators who can shift the economics curriculum. When we teach kids that increasing GPD is the priority, we’re saying that what it measures (even crime) is valuable. Instead, we need to focus on...
The Worth of the Earth: Does Your Economics Curriculum Know?

The Worth of the Earth: Does Your Economics Curriculum Know?

Earth Day is around the corner, and environmental lessons will take center stage in many science courses. But what about economics? You might be wondering what economics has to do with Earth Day. After all, isn’t consumption—a driver of the economy– harming the environment? That’s the conventional narrative. And it’s often true. But ironically, the economics curriculum itself can help change that. All it has to do is acknowledge and account for the worth of the earth. You might not have thought about it, but nature provides multiple life-sustaining functions.  Plants produce oxygen and absorb carbon, wetlands filter water, and bees pollinate food crops. Together, theses functions are called “ecosystem services.” Ecosystem services are inherently invaluable. But have you ever wondered what they would be worth in monetary terms? The global value of ecosystem services is estimated at $145 trillion per year. That’s almost double the total global economic output of $75.59 trillion. The ecosystem services figure comes from research led by economist Robert Costanza. The purpose of his work is not to commodify nature, but to ensure the true worth of the environment is counted in economic and policy decisions. This is a key principle of the field of ecological economics. Here’s an example: In ‘mainstream’ economics, a forest has no worth until it is cut down and the timber is sold. The services provided by the forest—providing habitats and oxygen, and preventing erosion, just to name a few—don’t figure into accounting systems.  Environmental damage is written off as an “externality” (an outside cost). But what if the value of these services was counted in business decisions? What...
The Curriculum Makeover Inside Our Community

The Curriculum Makeover Inside Our Community

“When am I ever going to use this?” We’ve probably all heard that from students. To engage today’s tech-savvy kids, many schools are reaching for the latest technologies. While potentially valuable, technology-based “innovation” overlooks something much more basic: the content of the curriculum Creating a “curriculum makeover” does not depend on gadgets or gimmicks. Rather, it is based on one powerful idea: that students’ lives and communities should serve as the basis for inquiry. I’m not talking about one-time service projects or feel-good lessons assessed by the size of the group hug. I’m talking about the rigorous, culturally relevant learning experiences that all students need and deserve. Let’s take a look at the elements of a possible unit. You’ll see that these basic ideas can be adapted for a variety of ages, and that opportunities for meeting standards are (in the words of one superintendent) “jumping off the page.” Consider these guiding questions to drive the inquiry: What social and ecological communities am I a part of? What makes a safe and healthy community? Who makes decisions in our community? Why factors shaped our community’s demographics? What I can do to ensure the story of my community’s future is positive??  These big ideas define content-rich learning outcomes: Cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity contribute to community resilience. Changes in a community can be driven by economic, cultural, and environmental changes. Zoning and land use policies have environmental and social justice implications. Here are just a few sample activities for different disciplines: Social studies: Mapping students’ origins and languages; researching historic settlement patterns in the community; engaging local leaders to shape...
Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

This post builds on earlier articles about the curriculum I believe students need to thrive into the future. There is simply not enough room here to describe the stunning units teacher colleagues are designing, so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this inspiring work and the achievement results. Or, check out our case studies.   To thrive in the 21st (and 22nd) Century, students will need to solve many “grand challenges” ranging from global climate change to local food security. Turning these complex topics into effective learning experiences is daunting at best. How can educators design units and courses that make content accessible and relevant–while also meeting standards? Creative Change has developed a method that uses the concept of story as a powerful metaphor for designing instruction. In this approach (which we call “Inquiry as Narrative”), learning unfolds as a story about real world issues. In the narrative, learners (and other stakeholders) are characters, communities are the setting, and interdisciplinary topics form multiple plot lines. Learners move through the story through a process of engagement, inquiry, decision-making, and action. Through this process, students discover what’s at stake and gain the skills to become “authors” of positive solutions. Here’s how an upper elementary unit on food and health might unfold: Stage 1: The story begins Opening lessons situate learners in the plot and setting. Sample lessons: Through interviews and journaling, students identify foods they eat, like, and have access to. (This opens up questions about food security and social justice.) Students assess the foods they eat based on health and nutritional value. Students use poetry and creative writing to express the food traditions important to their families and cultures. The writing, discussion,...
Collaboration, communication, creativity: Timeless ’21st century skills’ that will shape the 22nd century

Collaboration, communication, creativity: Timeless ’21st century skills’ that will shape the 22nd century

For over a decade we’ve been hearing about so-called “21st century skills,” including collaboration, communication, and creativity. These are all wonderful, but they’re nothing new; they’re timeless abilities that have propelled culture and civilization over many millennia.   Just as we find these skills in the past, so must we bring them to the future. A child born today may live into the 22nd century. Isn’t it time to start thinking about how we’ll get there? We live in an era of global upheaval with environmental, economic and social challenges that will follow our children and grandchildren beyond the year 2100. Will schools sidestep this, or will education create a hopeful future: one where communities thrive, the environment is healthy, history matters, and the economy provides opportunities for all. The good news is that the seeds of change are taking root. The change is nourished by transdisciplinary thinking that emphasizes (wait for it . . . ) collaboration, communication, and creativity—all in the service of solving shared 21st and 22nd century problems. Each student’s life is a story yet to be written, and we must give each child not only knowledge and skills, but also hope. Curriculum has the power to help youth become the authors of success for themselves, their families and communities. This solution-oriented learning is especially crucial for students of color and those in poverty—students too often impacted by environmental and social problems, while also receiving the low-quality education that reproduces these inequalities. I’m passionate about improving the quality of education as a way to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, near and far....