The K-12 Environmental Literacy Movement in California

This week’s newsletter looks at the K-12 environmental literacy movement in California. Environmental literacy involves understanding a wide range of concepts and issues so one may act as an environmentally responsible person.

“There’s a demand, there’s an interest, and I encourage all teachers to explore and look for ways they can help their students live in the world as adults by improving their environmental literacy.” 

– Dr. Gerald Lieberman 

This week’s newsletter looks at the K-12 environmental literacy movement in California. Environmental literacy involves understanding a wide range of concepts and issues so one may act as an environmentally responsible person. The growing environmental challenges facing California, and indeed the world, require an educated citizenry with the skills to understand, analyze, and take part in complex decision-making leading to a sustainable planet.

California is a pioneer in advancing environmental literacy in the K-12 education context. Its environmental literacy rollout for K-12 education is groundbreaking in three major respects. First, the state has placed environmental literacy squarely on the K-12 education agenda. Second, environmental literacy has been introduced not as a siloed individual subject but as a “horizontal” domain ideal for an interdisciplinary teaching approach. Third, environmental literacy has been promoted as a hands-on, activity-based subject centered around classroom projects, community partner programs, and outdoor learning opportunities that emphasize student leadership and choice.

As a 21st century entrant to the K-12 education agenda, environmental literacy promises to establish a paradigm for 21st century student-led, multi-disciplinary, project-based learning.

To learn more about the integration of environmental literacy in the California K-12 curriculum, we met with Dr. Gerald Lieberman, a leader in this area. Dr. Lieberman is the Director of the State Education and Environment Roundtable (SEER) and a member of the California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI). He has been instrumental in developing California’s most important initiatives around environment-based education and played a leading role in designing the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) and the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) Curriculum. Also, in partnership with California nonprofit Ten Strands, Dr. Lieberman led an effort to integrate California’s EP&Cs into the state’s frameworks for science, history-social science, health, and the arts. He is currently working on the mathematics framework.

Hear more from Dr. Lieberman.

According to Dr. Lieberman, in his book Education and the Environment (2014), “The major educational and environmental challenges that our society is currently facing are inextricably connected to the ways humans interact with the world around them… changing the way teachers teach and students learn is the only way to develop an educated citizenry capable of resolving these challenges.”

Set out below is a summary of significant events…

Relevant Links

State Education and Environment Roundtable (SEER)

Have a look at the work Dr. Lieberman is doing with SEER in advancing environmental literacy and promoting their EIC Model ™ (Environment as an Integrating Context for improving student learning).

Ten Strands

Learn more about the leader of CAELI and one of the most influential organizations for promoting environmental literacy in California for K-12.

History and Development of the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) Curriculum

What was the process of developing the EEI curriculum? Who were the key supporters? What are the concepts? This document answers these questions and more.

California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI)

CAELI works with school districts and county offices of education throughout California, building the capacity for all K-12 students to become environmentally literate.

State Seal of Civic Engagement (SSCE)

California students can now earn a State Seal of Civic Engagement. The award, announced by the State Board of Education on Sept. 10, is aimed at encouraging active and ongoing citizenship.

Environmental Education and NGSS in an Era of Uncertainty

The idea of using the environment to drive science instruction is a daunting task at the classroom level but once you get started you pick up strong tailwinds from students, who tend to be passionate about environmental causes. Get tips from these leading teachers.

California Environmental Literacy Project

The Environmental Education Grant Program (EEGP) is awarding grants up to $120,000 each to support programs that will result in long-term educational benefits to California educators and students. Learn more and apply before February 12, 2021.

News and Events

7th Annual Environmental Education Symposium: Justice, Literacy, Wellness
Feb. 25-28, 2021

Attend a multi-day event filled with networking and skill-building as you interact with environmental educators throughout Riverside and San Bernardino.

Cal Water H2O Challenge’s Classroom Challenge
Jan. 31, 2021

Classroom Challenge is a project-based, environmentally-focused competition for classrooms, grades 4-6. It offers a unique opportunity for upper elementary teachers to facilitate their students’ learning of standards-based content, while developing the core understanding of environmental principles necessary to becoming science-literate citizens.

Can California’s cap and trade address environmental justice?
Dec. 16, 2020 GreenBiz

Growing up in North Richmond, California, Denny Khamphanthong didn’t think much of the siren that wailed once a month at 11 a.m. every first Wednesday…

2020: a truly unimaginable year for biodiversity
Dec. 22, 2020 The Guardian

The Guardian’s biodiversity editor looks back on a year that put the state of the planet on the agenda in ways no one could have foreseen…

Changes caused by worsening wildfires in California forests will last centuries
Dec. 22
, 2020 Los Angeles Times

California’s worst wildfire season on record has already altered the state’s iconic forests in ways that will be seen for centuries to come.

Landmark Climate Policy Faces Growing Claims of Environmental Racism
Dec. 23
, 2020 The Pew Charitable Trusts

When California passed its landmark cap-and-trade law in 2006, supporters were hopeful that the program would provide the template for other states—and eventually the federal government—to solve the climate crisis…

Schools Turned to Outdoor Learning for Safe, Equitable Instruction in 2020. They Don‘t Have to Go Back
Jan. 4, 2021 EdSurge

Schools are adapting to address the challenges presented by COVID-19. Learn about the benefits of outdoor learning and how it can ease some of the inequities COVID has exacerbated.

Can the Environment Be Racist?
Jan. 4, 2021 Ten Strands

Take a moment to go outside and inhale a whopping breath of air. Do you take in a breath of fresh air or do you in fact take in a breath of fresh pollution? The answer to this question lies in where you are taking in this precious air.

3 critical lessons California offers to improve restoration of land on a global scale
Jan. 13
, 2021 CalMatters

Scientists say the world has the next decade or so to avoid the most dire environmental scenarios, so we must invest in land restoration.