About the Curriculum Designer Lisa M. Algee
Purpose: To provide teachers and students with an opportunity to collaborate and learn about current environmental and social justice issues. The lessons promote deep, conceptual knowledge about scientific phenomena, while the activities evoke dynamic interactions with peers, teachers, parents, science educators, and scientists to actively co-construct knowledge and engage in scientific inquiry projects. Since the lessons and activities are flexible, students can make choices based on their interests. This makes the learning experience personally meaningful and relevant to each student. All lessons and activities are both Common Core and Next Generation Standard aligned.
Rationale: To empower teachers and students to engage in Real-World Learning. This teaching and learning platform not only inculcates students’ intellectual growth through the development of critical thinking, analytical reasoning skills, and scientific literacy, but also fosters an informed citizenry where students feel empowered to mobilize themselves for positive, productive change about the challenging issues we face in the 21st century.
I. Unit 3rd-5th Grade (upper elementary)
The overarching theory for the unit has four guiding principles:
1. Student centered: engages all students to explore real world issues by tapping into their prior knowledge and experiences
2. Dynamic instruction and assessment: interdisciplinary lessons and activities which draw from multiple perspectives (biological, social, economic, political, and technological) for a balanced teaching and learning approach
3. Fosters a community of inquirers: thought provoking and intellectually challenging content which not only develops students’ scientific literacy and inquiry skills, but also evokes critical thinking and creativity through collaborative interactions with peers, teachers, parents, scientists (local and abroad), and community members
4. Promotes life-long learners and stewards: students feel inspired to learn more and make a difference on an issue of interest to them. Through this difference, students organize their efforts for effective change on a local and/or global scale. Such topics include but are not limited to: consumerism, deforestation, mining, agriculture, cattle-ranching, pollution, poaching, pet-trade, and current forms of energy consumption versus alternative forms of energy (weighing the pros and cons and exploring new ideas)
The approach for the lessons is researched based and informed by sociocultural theory with an emphasis on co-constructing knowledge and negotiating meaning using Wells (1999, 2002, 2010) model, ‘Spiral of learning and teaching through inquiry’. This model has four components:
1. Tapping into students’ prior knowledge and experiences
2. Gathering information from multiple sources
3. Co-constructing knowledge together
4. Reaching new and improved understandings through collaborative discussions and mutual negotiations
Note: The lessons are sequenced to build a foundation of strong conceptual knowledge. For example, Lessons 1 & 2 (Water cycle & Photosynthesis) are designed to build content knowledge about water processes and photosynthesis, whereas Lessons 3 & 4 (Exploring ecosystems & Doing scientific inquiry in local ecosystems) apply the content learned in Lessons 1 & 2 to construct ecosystem books and engage in scientific inquiry within a local ecosystem.
• The approach for activities is to provide an opportunity for teachers and students to experience the content in the lessons through action in the activities. For example, students have the potential to develop higher order thinking skills through activities which involve (a) formulating and understanding causal relationships, (b) comparing and contrasting ecosystems, (c) categorizing animals and plants, and (d) classifying biotic and abiotic things. Students also have an opportunity to Take Action to curb destruction of rainforests and other ecosystems around the world, including those in their own backyard.
• This real-world learning platform fosters relevant and personally meaningful learning and teaching which builds awareness for an informed citizenry to be more mindful of their everyday actions and consumer choices. From this, students can make choices which are more balanced and harmoniously aligned with the environment and its inhabitants (both people and animals).