Earth and Sustainability Science Within Spokane Public Schools

Kendra Robinson-Harding, Spokane Public Schools

As a teacher with an undergraduate degree in Outdoor Environmental Education, I have always found my teaching focused on environmental science and sustainability. My current role is as a K-6 science specialist at Franklin Elementary in SPS (Spokane Public Schools.) Students come to me as they would any other specialist, such as PE or music. However, in the last year I have taken on additional responsibilities as a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) with elementary science and am working to support sustainability education within SPS K-12. Our district has historically struggled to meet the Washington State Environmental and Sustainability Standards, and my work is to make sure all teachers are incorporating these standards into their teaching.

In SPS, the only required secondary Earth science students receive is 6th grade Earth Science. This curriculum is a year-long course, the first of a three-year science sequence (6th - Earth Science, 7th - Life Science, and 8th - Physical Science) to give all students a basic foundation in scientific literacy. We have actually heard from local community colleges that few students choose to focus in Earth science subjects such as geology because of the limited Earth science choices available at the high school level. We need to find a way to help students experience more Earth science and sustainability education throughout their secondary career.

In High School, the curriculum includes biology, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry. There are two courses that do include environmental science, although not all students are required to take them: Environmental Chemistry and AP Environmental Science. Environmental Chemistry continues the learning of prior years of chemistry with a focus on the environment; students learn about chemistry of the water, food, human body, air, natural resources, and radioactive substances. Relatively little sustainability education is included with this course and my goal is to help include more.

Various outside organizations have worked to support Earth and sustainability education in SPS. For example, APPLE, a parent participation option program within SPS chose Project Wet and Project Wild as two themes in consecutive years for their choice programming. Additionally, schools have partnered with both the Spokane County Conservation District as well as the Spokane Riverkeepers for various programs, including 6th grade outdoor environmental education programs at Dishman Hills Natural Area and Trout in the Classroom. We are also hoping to create a year-long 5th grade program that has a final outdoor culminating event, but that is still in the planning stages.

With the implementation of the NGSS, our district has been in the process of adopting new curriculum and until then, teachers are left to use the old curriculum in a way that meets current standards. A variety of supplements have been adopted to help but ultimately our district will not be fully NGSS aligned until new science curriculum is adopted. We are currently in the middle of an elementary science adoption process, with test piloting occurring this year and full adoption a goal for the 2019 school year. Fully-aligned secondary science curriculum is harder to find as publishers are still creating curriculum to meet the standards, and although we hope to adopt new secondary curriculum soon, the date is up in the air.

The current goal is for all SPS 6th grade students to move up to the middle schools, but currently SPS houses 6th grade at the elementary schools. That means that I teach Earth science to my 6th graders. The current curriculum is not NGSS aligned and also has many challenges. There is a wide variance in how the curriculum is being taught across the district and so this needs to be corrected and we need to make sure that sustainability education is being included in every Earth science classroom.

Downloadable version of this essay

Earth and Sustainability Science Within Spokane Public Schools (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Jul9 18)