.|  Baltimore Ecosystem Study
Learning progressions for students’ environmental science literacy
  • Alan R. Berkowitz, BES Education Team Leader and Head of Education, Cary Institute
  • Bess Caplan, BES Education Program Leader, Cary Institute
  • Tobias Irish, BES Education Postdoctoral Associate, Cary Institute
  • Eric Keeling, SUNY New Paltz (formerly BES Education Postdoctoral Associate, Cary Institute)
  • Andy Anderson, Michigan State University
  • John Moore, Colorado State University
  • Allison Whitmer, Georgetown University
  • LaTisha Hammond, George Washington University
  • Cornelia Harris, Cary Institute
  • Molly Charnes, BES Teacher in Residence
  • Natalie Crabbs Mollett, BES Graduate Student Fellow
  • Molly Van Appledorn, BES Graduate Student Fellow
  • Tammy Newcomer, BES Graduate Student Fellow
  • Terry Grant, BES Teacher in Residence
  • Richard Foot, BES Teacher in Residence

The Baltimore Ecosystem Study Education Team has been collaborating with educators across the nation in the Pathways to Environmental Literacy Project (http://www.pathwaysproject.kbs.msu.edu, and see Figure 1) to develop learning progressions for middle and high school students’ environmental science literacy. Learning progressions (LPs) are the pathways of increasingly sophisticated understandings students demonstrate for particular concepts. We hypothesize that LPs can provide powerful insights and tools for both students and teachers to set challenging yet appropriate learning goals and to support student engagement and learning. While our current research focuses on five topics – carbon cycling, water quality and flows, biodiversity and evolution, quantitative reasoning, and using science in citizenship – we think that the insights and tools can be applied to a broad range of topics across the environmental science curriculum. The core question driving this work is: How can learning progressions support the development of theory and practice in teaching and learning to help more students achieve sophisticated model-based reasoning in environmental science?
The Pathways Project is describing patterns of student reasoning and learning, and associated instructional practices and tools, across a broad range of students, environmental science topics and contexts. This has included work with over 60 middle and high school teachers and their student in Baltimore City and County public and private schools since 2009, with similar work taking place at LTER sites in Michigan, Colorado and California (see Figure 1). For information about current BES education programs and resources, go to: http://beslter.org/frame5-stuff.html.

Figure 1.The individuals and institutions involved in the Pathways to Environmental Science Literacy Project in 2014. The PI of the project is John Moore at Colorado State University. The project involves 4 LTER sites highlights by the ovals: Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), Kellogg Biological Station (KBS), Short Grass Steppe (SGS) and Santa Barbara Coastal (SBC). Not shown are the dozens of graduate students, Teachers in Residents and Research Experiences for Teachers Fellows involved in the project.
A general picture of student learning in environmental science has emerged (see Figure 2). The project’s LPs describe changes in discourse as students and teachers write or talk about environmental science ideas, ranging from “force dynamic” reasoning (Levels 1 and 2) – quite common in everyday conversation and among most middle and many high school students - to more scientific discourse. Level 3 discourse involves the use of scientific terms, simple or direct relationships, and some causal reasoning. We describe this as "phenomenological" reasoning, where structures and processes are named and described. Level 4 discourse, on the other hand, involves hierarchical reasoning, where mechanisms are linked to phenomena, evidence supports explanations and systems are nested in larger systems. We describe this as “scientific principle and evidence based” reasoning. The levels are apparent across the topics of environmental literacy – carbon cycling, water movement and quality, biodiversity and evolution – and across the age span we are studying, from middle to high school students and their teachers. Most middle and high school students give force-dynamic accounts, some use phenomenological reasoning and only a few give scientific model-based accounts, whereas teachers start with phenomenological accounts and many transition to scientific model-based accounts. The project’s LPs for carbon and water have been published (e.g., Jin et al. 2013, Gunckel et al. 2012), and data analysis underway currently is on the other topics. We also are probing connections between students’ environmental literacy and their citizenship practices (critiquing and evaluating claims, supporting arguments about important issues with evidence and model-based reasoning, using knowledge to guide environmental decisions). Finally, BES research is exploring students’ understanding of urban ecosystems and adaptive processes in the face of climate change and shifting societal interest in sustainability.
References in text:
Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., Salinas, I., & Anderson, C. W. 2012. A Learning Progression for Water in Socio-Ecological Systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(7), 843-868
Jin, H., L. Zhan & C.W. Anderson. 2013. Developing a Fine-Grained Learning Progression Framework for Carbon-Transforming Processes. International Journal of Science Education. 35:1663-1697.

Figure 2.A simplified summary of the levels of student reasoning or accounts in the Pathways to Environmental Science Literacy project’s learning progression framework.

  1. Products
    1. Papers
      1. Caplan, Bess, Kristin L. Gunckel, Andrew Warnock, Aubrey, Cano. 2012. Investigating Water Pathways in Schoolyards. Green Teacher. 98:28-33.
      2. Harris, C., A. Berkowitz, J. Doherty, and L. Hartley. 2013. Exploring biodiversity's big ideas in your school yard. Science Scope, April/May, 2013, 20-27.
      3. Covitt, B., Harris, C. & A. Anderson. November 2013. Evaluating Scientific Arguments with Slow Thinking. Science Scope, 37(3):44-52.
    2. Recent Presentations and Abstracts
      1. Caplan, Bess and Alan R. Berkowitz. Baltimore Ecosystem Study III: Education, Engagement and Outreach. Poster Presentation to the National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Network All Scientist Meeting; September 2012, Estes Park, CO
      2. Berkowitz, Alan, J. Moore, A. Anderson, R. Tschillard and A. Whitmer. Culturally Relevant Ecology, Learning Progressions and Environmental Science Literacy. Lead Presenter. LTER All Scientists’ Meeting, Education Representatives Meeting. Estes Park, CO. September 9, 2013.
      3. Berkowitz, Alan and many others. Development and Implementation of Learning Progression-based Teaching Practices (LPTPs) for Environmental Science Literacy. Association of Science Teacher Education. Northeastern Regional Conference. Black Rock Forest, NY. October 26, 2012
      4. Hartley, Laurel, Jennifer Doherty, Cornelia Harris, Andy Anderson, John Moore and Alan R. Berkowitz. Using scenario-based assessments to build a learning progression framework for reasoning about ecosystems. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. April 6-9, 2013.
      5. Berkowitz, Alan R. What is the role of environmental education in the sustainability of the Baltimore urban ecosystem? Invited Seminar, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. April 26, 2013.
      6. Doherty, J.H. L.M. Hartley, C. Harris, C.W. Anderson, A.R. Berkowitz and J.C. Moore. 2013. Using learning progressions to describe how students develop increasingly sophisticated understandings of biodiversity. Symposium presentation. Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting. August 7, 2013. Minneapolis, MN. Abstract available at: http://eco.confex.com/eco/2013/webprogram/Paper40073.html
      7. Berkowitz, A.R. 2014. Learning progressions for environmental science teaching. Webinar presentation. With Pathways Project co-authors. LTER Education Committee Conference Call. December 3, 2014.
      8. Harris, C., L. Hartley, J. Doherty and A.R. Berkowitz. 2013. Teaching biodiversity using a learning profession framework and LEAF packs. Contributed hands-on session North American Association for Environmental Education Annual Meeting. Baltimore, MD. October 10, 2013.
      9. Moore, J.C., L. Hartley, J.H. Doherty, C. Harris, A.R. Berkowitz and C.W. Anderson. 2014. Ecological Systems and Learning Progressions: Applications of Basic Principles across Multiple Scales of Organization. Contributed paper. National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Meeting. Pittsburgh, PA. April 1, 2014.
      10. Hartley, L., Moore, J.C., J.H. Doherty, C. Harris, A.R. Berkowitz and C.W. Anderson. Learning Progression Framework and Assessments for Community Ecology. Contributed paper. National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Meeting. Pittsburgh, PA. April 1, 2014.
      11. Berkowitz, A.R, and C. Harris. 2014. Teaching and Learning about Carbon. Interactive presentation. Professional Development Day for Red Hook Schools Science Faculty. Cary Institute. Millbrook, NY. April 22, 2014