The National Science Foundation awarded CSU $12.5 million earlier this month for its development of improved science and math-based middle school and high school curricula and advanced teacher education.
Partnering with 11 other universities and K-12 school districts including Poudre School District and the University of Northern Colorado and Long-Term Ecological Research sites across the country, CSU will lead a 5-year collaborative effort to incorporate new environmental science research into current curricula to increase students’ environmental awareness.
Officials said there is a recently elevated need for an environmentally aware public as politicians ask the public to make decisions about issues related to carbon emissions, the ozone, global warming and water.
“There’s a need that we are elevating,” said John Moore, director of CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology laboratory, the lead research institution on the grant.
“There are many complex issues, climate change to more of that sort, which the public are being asked to make decisions on. the best way to have the public make these choices is education, raising awareness of the issues and educating them on these issues.”
Over the years, Moore said that research has found that students are not adequately learning science, technology, engineering and mathematical concepts and educators recognized a need for an improved progressive learning curricula emphasizing current field research results.
He said the idea is to connect the new research being done in the fields of science and math with what students are learning in the classroom. This is to be done using what Moore described as a “longitudinal” curriculum that presents the material in a sequence and requires a certain level of mastery before progressing to the next level.
Moore said the curriculum centers on four core areas: biodiversity, the carbon cycle, the water cycle and environmental citizenship or people’s relationship to, understanding and stewardship of the land.
The new curriculum material about the carbon-cycle includes everything from the role of carbon compounds in the Earth to the flow of carbon through eco-systems and the importance of fossil fuels, which Moore said will help students become more educated and better able to vote on related issues in the future.
The grant project is based on an educational initiative started by the Long-Term Ecological Research network about 10 years ago.
For this project, four LTER sites, situated across the U.S. and each representing a different ecosystem, are committed to contributing ecological research findings to the more than 1,000 participating teachers and their connected educational institutions to develop the new curriculum.
Moore said that the money was allocated to fund a myriad of programs from field research to teacher development classes to help teachers incorporate the new findings into their current curriculums.
Participating teachers will have the opportunity to take time to research in the field, receive an advanced degree in math or science, or work on a master’s degree in their pertinent field at a teacher in-residence program established at CSU as part of the program.
Throughout the five years, CSU has planned to send graduate students in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology to the participating K-12 school districts to incorporate new methods of teaching and information into the preexisting curriculums and provide teachers with progressive resources.
And while officials said they believe the program is more efficient and better designed than the current scientific and mathematical curriculums, the new material will be implemented incrementally as the information is discovered and the schools adopt the new standards.
“This will be implemented by school districts as they please,” said Bill Hoyt, a participating professor of oceanography at University of Northern Colorado. “We can’t enforce this.”
“We are trying to take the important issues of humanity and trying to implement that into a curriculum,” Hoyt said, adding that he hopes to maintain a long-term relationship between the partnering scientists and school districts over time to develop the best teaching model.
Moore said the need for an improved scientific and mathematical curriculum is emphasized by the growing environmental issues Americans are faced with in the future.
“This curriculum builds on what’s been done in the past and came from this need for greater environmental literacy as a whole across the country,” Moore said.
“The issues across the country are going to require us to deal with things we’ve never seen before; proposals will require human reaction that we’ve never had to deal with before; carbon-trading systems, reducing carbon-emissions. It’s better to have people making people making decisions from a position of strength – we have to look at things from a global context, that’s the real driver of this.”
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