A team of faculty from departments in the sciences and education at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) are working to revise, implement, and research three environmentally focused, pedagogically innovative undergraduate courses. These courses – one in biology, one in education, and one in geography – are part of a Minor in Science and Mathematics Education at UCSB and central to CalTeach, a UC-wide initiative to recruit and better prepare STEM undergraduates for careers as secondary science and mathematics teachers. The courses have been revised to highlight four core themes: sustainability and the environment; connections across science, technology, society, and education; evidence-based explanations and argumentation in science; and innovative pedagogical strategies effective in K-12 schooling. The courses’ collective purpose is to shape the scientific ideas and pedagogical practices of potential science teachers – to help create a cadre of undergraduate science students who will bring both holistic and critical thinking to their teacher education programs. As part of the Environmental Connections – Science, Technology, Society, and Education project, instructors and researchers are (1) redesigning three environmentally-focused courses along four core themes; (2) researching how these courses shape potential science teachers’ understanding of important environmental issues and connections across science, technology, society, and education; and (3) preparing additional CalTeach faculty to teach these courses in future years.
Environmental Connections is leveraged by a number of successful efforts already at UCSB. UCSB is a recognized leader in green technology innovation and environmental stewardship. Campus educational outreach efforts, including the Kids in Nature program hosted by the Cheadle Center, have been honored for their work in bringing much needed environmental programs to students in K-12 public schools. UCSB faculty are also involved in the CalTeach initiative – a partnership between the State of California and the UC System – to improve the teaching of science and mathematics to all students in California’s secondary schools. Over the past three years, CalTeach Santa Barbara has placed hundreds of UCSB undergraduates in 30 area schools, providing thousands of hours of classroom support under the supervision of master teachers. CalTeach Santa Barbara has strengthened and established new relationships across departments of education, science, mathematics, and engineering as well. Indeed, the majority of courses in the recently established Minor in Science and Mathematics Education are designed and taught by science and mathematics faculty.
The intellectual merit of Environmental Connections is demonstrated in three ways:
1) Close collaboration among education and science faculty will ensure that the challenges of educating science undergraduates to see science as multidisciplinary, relevant, and evidence-based are examined and addressed from multiple points of view and intellectual traditions.
2) The three proposed courses provide potential science teachers a continuous, coherent pathway for growth in science knowledge and pedagogical skills; a thorough grounding in integrated science content knowledge, evidence-based thinking, and effective instructional strategies will better prepare these undergraduates for careers in science teaching.
3) Research on these courses will generate actions and recommendations for best practices to ensure learning about sustainability and the environment, to promote critical and holistic thinking about science and STS issues, and to prepare exceptional science teachers for public schools.
Broader impact is ensured by producing science undergraduates with a thorough knowledge of green technology, environmental stewardship, and scientific reasoning, as well as of ways science can be productively used to inform some of our world’s most pressing issues. Participating undergraduates provide hands-on environmental science education to hundreds of K-12 students, by serving as class helpers, docents, and mentors. The project also serves to strengthen the relationship between science undergraduate education and secondary science teaching: We expect the broad appeal of these environmentally-focused courses to increase the recruitment of science undergraduates into CalTeach and thus help to address the national shortage of science teachers.