by Kristen Foringer
September 28, 2010
On September 21, the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously to incorporate environmental education (EE) into all K-12 school systems, but held off on making it a graduation requirement for high school students. Maryland is now one of only three states to formally incorporate EE into the classroom.
Since there is no graduation requirement, school systems are expected to incorporate EE into existing classes, such as biology, and complete one local project that helps to “protect, sustain or enhance the natural environment.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, one of the main reasons for not passing the graduation requirement was that some Board of Education members felt that it would reduce the amount of flexibility high school students had in crafting their schedule. Board member Donna Hill Staton thought that by adding a requirement, they would have “started to overwhelm the system.” Maryland would have been the first state to require EE for graduation.
Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I can only remember one instance that EE was incorporated into my lesson plans. This consisted of a 4th grade class trip to the Chesapeake Bay, where we used waders and a net to collect aquatic species for cataloguing and study. I remember being so excited that I was able to experience the outdoors and the Bay, and that trip has stuck in my memory for more than 14 years.
My other EE experiences came from classes that I chose to take during my high school years. I voluntarily took an Environmental Studies course and participated in the Montgomery County Area Science Fair for 3 years with a project that studied the ecological impairments of a local creek. Neither one of these was a graduation requirement, and if I hadn’t been interested in the environment already, I probably never would have been exposed to them.
Some critics may think that incorporating EE into already existing classes will be overwhelming and interfere with teaching key concepts. But teachers need to look no further than BayBackpack.com to see that that’s not the case. Launched in the spring of 2010, Bay Backpack was created to help teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed find lesson plans that include the Bay and the environment. Bay Backpack catalogues hundreds of EE lesson plans that span various subjects other than the sciences, including art, social studies, and language arts.
For instance, the “Wood, I’d like to get to know you” lesson from Pennsylvania State University incorporates learning tree anatomy and importance with sculpting and crafts. In another lesson titled “Who Killed SAV?”, provided by the Virginia Department of Education, students are asked to examine four major causes of bay grass decline, and then use their writing skills to “defend, compare, and discriminate between arguments for and against a given factor, while evaluating the level to which certain natural and human factors led to the decline of bay grasses.”
It may seem like a new EE requirement would add more pressure on teachers, but Bay Backpack shows that there are easy ways to use existing classes to teach EE. Incorporating EE into existing classes can also make some lessons more relatable and understandable by applying what students are already learning in the classroom toward a real life situation. Hands-on learning in the classroom can help students absorb more of their lessons while learning about the Bay and the environment at the same time.