On Monday, June 11, I attended Project Exploration’s Chicago Cross Pollinator Project (CCPP). At this workshop, Project Exploration staff facilitated discussions among scientists, professors and youth about our experiences in environmental science. This event was hosted by Hive Chicago, who identify themselves as a Professional Learning Community and are involved in providing youth access to digital media. Hive realizes that disconnected experience and limited engagement are some of the biggest challenges youth face today. As Hive puts it, young people enjoy hanging out, messing around, and geeking out – so they aim to provide a connected learning ecology. This idea of connectedness perfectly ties into our discussions at the CCPP. I participated in this discussion to provide my own perspective and insight.
One of the goals for the day was to identify three challenges that environmental science faces today. The challenges we came up with focused on young people and they included getting youth to experience environmental science in action, demonstrating that the urban environment they live in is an ecosystem and to eliminate alienating language. The most important question of all: How do you get youth to care? After we identified what the youth needed, it was time to find out what the experts were going to do about it. Personally, I believe the key to getting young people to care about science is by helping them feel that they are making a difference. But more on that later.
At the panel conversation, I was joined by Dr. Akilah Martin from DePaul University and Laura Milkert from the Field Museum. Dr. Martin’s interests include environmental sustainability and engineering education and her research includes soil quality and global awareness. Laura Milkert works in Calumet to get community members and students to care about their environment. During our conversation we discussed how society and science are completely disconnected from each other right now, which causes young people to be at a serious disadvantage. Science is viewed as a completely foreign concept to a frightening majority of people, and we were gathered to change that notion.
When we ended our discussion we broke for lunch and quickly began work on our main goal, which was to come up with recommendations for environmental science programs. Each of us came to the event with our own specific lens on viewing things. There were perspectives from youth eager to learn, educators, and experts from the environmental science field. We were brought back to the questions that we began our day discussing: How do you get young people to care? How do you get kids hands-on experience? How do you connect the various areas of science to realize that environmental science is happening all around?
After a thousand meaty conversations and something akin to musical chairs, everyone who attended the event came to the overall consensus that the best environmental science program would aim to simply keep it local and make it real. The best environmental science program would focus on local ecosystems and environments, be complete with hands on learning so that students feel like a part of the process, change their perceptions and view themselves as experts in the field. I am positive the conversations we had will help Project Exploration develop a truly meaningful education experience that builds on and integrates all areas of science.