This week more than 500 educators will convene in Ocean City for the largest state environmental education conference in the nation. They will stay in local hotels, eat and drink at local establishments, enjoy local nature and discuss the challenges, complexities and successes of environmental education.
"Fulfilling Environmental Education's Promise: Authentic Learning and Real World Impact," is the 27th annual conference of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.
It is an exciting time for environmental education. During the last session, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation citing environmental literacy as a requirement for high school graduation, the first requirement of its kind in the nation. Now, school districts across Maryland are working to implement Environmental Literacy Plans.
For example, in Worcester County, Board of Education officials have enlisted local nonprofit organizations, museums and parks to assist with identifying and delivering age-appropriate, curriculum-based outdoor learning experiences for every child, every year.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is pleased to lend staff expertise to this endeavor.
The MAEOE conference will provide a variety of opportunities for both school-based, or formal educators and non-formal educators to increase knowledge, gain new skills, access newly developed resources and network with other education professionals.
It is important to note that effective environmental education doesn't just take place in science class. It is "transdisciplinary," which requires teams of teachers to work together to facilitate student learning in a way that addresses relevant topics throughout a variety of subject areas.
That's how life is. Once out of school, one's day is not divided up neatly into math, reading and science. In environmental education, the environment provides meaningful context which lends itself to a more integrated approach to learning.
As an example, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, with other partners, is beginning a new Climate Change Issues Investigation program with students this month. Students will conduct research, which will include reading primary source documents, to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of climate science. They will learn from multiple stakeholders about varying viewpoints regarding climate change.
Some students will delve deeper to study potential impacts on different things, including infrastructure, wildlife populations, tourism and the economy. The interrelatedness of it all is quickly apparent.
All of their inquiry will require the use of reading, writing, math and science skills. Additionally, as students prepare action plans and presentations to be made at the culmination of the program, they will necessarily employ creative and social skills in art, critical thinking and argument, persuasion and public speaking.
Tackling real-world issues requires this kind of holistic approach. Addressing locally relevant issues, in and outside of the classroom, provides a meaningful context for learning that engages and energizes students as they begin to see personal connections to the issues examined.
As we meet with continued challenges regarding issues such as sustainable energy, healthy food production, development and resource management, educators must strive to teach students critical thinking and problem-solving skills to equip them for addressing the complicated decisions with which, as citizens, they will be faced in the future.
True to their efforts to teach environmental education and model best practices, MAEOE conference attendees are carpooling, room-sharing, recycling and reusing. A portion of each registration fee was used to purchase carbon offsets and participants were encouraged to bring their own bags, water bottles and coffee mugs to minimize the environmental impact of the conference.
Additionally, a book swap was organized, as well as collection stations for old eyeglasses and cell phones, which will be donated to charity organizations.
Thursday and Friday offer full-day and half-day professional development workshops facilitated by leading scientists and experts from organizations such as NOAA, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Maryland Sea Grant, National Geographic and more. Representatives from the Maryland Partnership for Children and Nature, the Maryland Green Schools program, Maryland Master Naturalists, and the Urban EE Collective will also be on hand conducting concurrent sessions Saturday, and networking and exhibiting throughout the conference.
For more information about MAEOE and the annual conference, visit www.maeoe.org.
If you miss the MAEOE Conference, the Delaware Association for Environmental Education is holding its third annual conference at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes later this month.
The one-day event, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25, will feature a keynote address by local author and journalist Tom Horton. Visit www.daeeonline.org for details and registration information.