There are many types of literacy—language, culture and digital to name a few. But what about “environmental literacy”? It’s a language unto itself—with important implications for Earth’s natural environment and our future. Teaching environmental literacy helps ensure that the next generation will be aware of the issues facing our planet and can act as its steward.
So, how do we go about teaching the language of the land?
That’s the focus of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new Environmental Leadership Collaborative (formerly the Science Learning Leaders Institute). The program is designed to help teachers meet the California’s new science and environmental literacy standards, and help ensure their students are equipped to address the burgeoning environmental challenges facing future generations.
What can you find in a one-by-one-foot patch of ground? An entire world of information. Just ask Kim Cornfield’s fourth graders. This tiny “quadrat” marked off with sections of PVC pipe, serves as a microcosm of the local environment throughout the year. It’s a great tool for teaching young people about the land, and can even propel students toward bigger things, like devising a campus cleanup initiative—or pursuing a career in the sciences.
Kim, who’s been teaching at the International School of Monterey for seven years, learned about quadrats at a free, week-long Teacher Professional Development Program offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s one in a range of programs the Aquarium created to serve teachers from the Monterey Bay region—and beyond. More than 140 instructors participate each year—almost 2,700 since the program’s inception.
For educators, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards can be invigorating and inspirational. It’s also a lot of hard work. Many teachers say the Aquarium has helped them re-engage and reconnect with students in ways they hadn’t imagined. They return to their classrooms with a new sense of energy and purpose.