Day 4

THURSDAY, MAY 26 – Educational Implementations of Environmental Issues

8:45 a.m. – Continental breakfast (Laminan Lounge, Olin Center)

Unless otherwise noted, the following events will be held in Barnum 114.

9:00 a.m. – Discussion about educational implementation

9:45 a.m. – Civic engagement, environmental issues and education (Peter Levine, Shirley Mark, Tisch College)

  • What does civic engagement really mean?  How/why is it an important component of education?
  • Civic engagement, youth and environmental issues – Training the “Communications Core”
  • How do faculty find community partners and vice versa?
  • How community engagement can help us in grant writing/broader impact

11:00 a.m. – Experiential learning and environmental literacy (Colin Orians & Julie Dobrow)

  • Learning mediums for today’s students
  • Visual learners, making movies
  • Group work, the pros and the cons
  • How can you make experiential components in large classes?  Small classes?
  • Group exercise:  influential and inspirational teachers

12:00 Lunch break (Laminan Lounge, Olin Center)

1:00 p.m.  – Reflective field trip (TBA)


How can you begin to bake environmental issues into the classes you teach?  Considering all that we’ve discussed so far in TELI, come up with a few thoughts to share on how you would infuse a class you already teach with some aspect of environmental literacy, or come up with an idea for a new class you might like to teach. Post your responses below. You might want to think about the following:

  • What topic(s) would you want to cover?
  • How is or might this topic be covered in an interdisciplinary fashion, including whether it might benefit from being team-taught, and what are the opportunities and the challenges of doing so?
  • What kinds of materials could be used in this class?  Think of both primary and secondary source materials, scientific, literary, media, historical and other types of sources.
  • Are there ways in which civic engagement opportunities might enhance this class?  What would you need to know/do to include them?

9 Responses to Day 4

  1. Colleen Butler says:

    In Bio14 lab, we do a lab on plant hormones, specifically auxin (causes cells to elongate). In addition to hands-on lab activities, I also like to mention Agent Orange. What does Agent Orange have to do with auxin, you ask? Well, it’s actually a really interesting story. I will preface this by saying I haven’t really done much research into it beyond Wikipedia—I might not have the details right.

    It begins in 1943, with a plant biology grad student, Arthur Galston. He was working on ways to make soybeans flower and fruit earlier. He discovered a synthetic auxin, the chemical that became Agent Orange. The US government got hold of it and used it as an herbicide during the Vietnam War. The synthetic auxin killed the plants and a dioxin contaminant in Agent Orange killed people and caused lots of birth defects. Arthur Galston then fought to prevent the use of Agent Orange. Also, Colin’s dad, Dr. Gordon Orians got involved and wrote this paper: Gordon H. Orians and E. W. Pfeiffer. 1970. “Ecological effects of the war in Vietnam,” Science 168: 544-554.

    Ways to apply this in class-Students could research different aspects of the story based on their interests. The chemistry students could learn about the chemistry of synthetic auxins and how many are toxic at high concentrations. The social science students could learn about the people aspects of the story – Arthur Galston’s actions, public response, effect of defoliation on current Vietnam life. The pre-med students could learn about the mechanisms for the birth defects. The environmental science students could learn about how these chemicals stay in the environment (or if they degrade). Finally, the non pre-med biology students could focus on the plant biology – mechanisms of auxins in plants or long-term effects on plant communities. Students could read historical and current literature from a variety of disciplines. Students could also look at relevant legal documents, news coverage, and publications by advocacy groups. Then, each group would present what they learned to the others. Then the group has a thought-provoking discussion. Ta da!

  2. Michael Reed says:

    Every course I teach is already centered completely on the environment. My major’s course, however, is very discipline-oriented. What I would like to do in this class next spring is introduce some problem solving exercises that directly demonstrate the interrelatedness of environmental problems with human ‘health’ (that is, physical and mental health, quality of life, etc.). Typically I talk about humans as causers-of-problems – based on our conversations this week, there clearly are ways that I might capture students by showing integration with positive human outcomes. I think the first places I will really tie this in is in conservation of exploited wildlife, emerging disease, and a better exploration and development of sustainability concepts.

  3. Regina Raboin says:

    Being a librarian I would be concerned with how best to support my faculty and student in courses, course assignments and research. So if Colleen contacts me and asks me to provide a library session for her class and this assignment, it would be very important for me to meet with Colleen to discuss the assignment and her goals. A research guide would most likely be developed to organize the materials needed by the students to successfully complete the assignment. Although Wikipedia has certainly become more reliable over the past few years, you have to know how to use it and be willing to check the information in the entry if you suspect there might be inaccuracies. Like an established reference source, such as the Encyclopedia of Life Science (electronic, online), a Wikipedia entry might offer a good overview of the topic and some useful web links or bibliography.

    Also, an assignment like this would lend itself to topic and developing research (thesis) questions exercises that are helpful when students are just given a broad topic to research. While Agent Orange seems straightforward, there are actually numerous ways in which to approach researching this topic. Even a simple and quick who, what, where when, how and why exercise can be successful.

    While the course research guide will organize the sources for easy access it’s also important to know how to use the resources to get the best, most relevant results. So this leads to a conundrum for the librarian…do I teach ALL of the ins and outs of the databases? or how to use Boolean searching (logical searching) techniques? The latter is preferable for several reasons: it would be really boring to go through all of the databases, there really isn’t enough time (library sessions average 1 hour), and learning Boolean searching is a life-long, transferable skill.

    Since Colleen’s assignment is multidisciplinary the research guide will span many have a variety of resources from different disciplines, social sciences, history, science, medicine, ethics. Access to older/historical newspapers, government and legal documents and data sources would be important too, along with good web sites that have been evaluated for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, purpose/objectivity. And depending on the focus, access to archival material could also be arranged for the class.

    One exercise I really like to use is taking one article, like Prof. Gordon Orians’ above, and see who has cited this paper, locating current scholarship and then use the article’s references to discover previous scholarship on the topic. Teaching students to use what they have as a research starting point is a very important strategy.

    Many decisions are made before having a library research session, but making sure the students get plenty of “hands-on” time to model the techniques, discover important resources and know that they can meet with me to get further assistance are the most important goals.

  4. Lai Ying Yu says:

    TELI has really inspired me to think about the environment and ecosystems in much more structured and thought-provoking ways that I would love to teach an english composition class (what I’ve been teaching so far) with a focus on the environment.
    I’d love to use the first articles we read about terminology and what is meant by “environmental sustainability” and pair that with Eric Chivian and Ari Bernstein’s chapter on Biodiversity. Integrate personal narratives, including Carson’s Silent Spring and others that focus on the one-to-one connection between an individual and her env’t. I would then open it up to students with an assignment that asks them to think about their own interests and thoughts about env’t.

    I’d also love to have a unit on health and disease, and mirror a lesson that reflects what we did at TELI this week that analyzes how health and disease and health threats are presented in the media.

    I could also envision a following unit that would examine how health and disease and testing of drugs affect communities and countries disproportionately.

    And another unit I’d have is on global climate change and I would love to have more information about the Global North and Global South disparities that have been talked about in the sessions.

    For increasing active participation, I’d be interested learning more about the time and other resources it might take to create a semester-long project that mirrors something like the Bio7 films — and this semester-long project might work with Tufts’s archives on the Love Canal with a focus on the lang. and visual presentation of the newsletters. This might be an inspiring research project to encourage future activism because of Lois’s success. For community-outreach and activism, I would be interested in learning more about the kinds of partnerships that might be available through Tisch, but as a first step, I would encourage students to attend events related to environmental activism and write on what they learned. Finally, it would be great to have teaching materials we can look up from TIE for ideas or direct incorporation.

  5. Anne Cantu says:

    The courses I design must be given in Spanish about Hispanic peoples and generally focus on culture. Despite my personal limitations in the realm of science, I can envision two applications of what I have learned at TELI this week:

    1. In a course I give on Mexican culture, I would like to include a unit on environmental problems. There are many issues to choose from: fishing and the protection of the coastlines, almost-extinct giant marine turtles, sustainable agriculture, ecoturism, deforestation, air and noise contamination in Mexico City, pollutants in industrial areas, water, etc. One serious problem in Mexico is the unclean water used for irrigation and the resulting illnesses caused by ingesting uncooked fruits and vegetables. Students could research online sources–articles and podcasts–as well as consult the Mexican National Institute of Geography and Statistics to find out what the issues are and what is being done about them. I would want them to compare the official government version of these issues with the popular press’ conception of the ‘truth’ and with sources such as international environmental organizations.

    2. I can envision designing a language/culture course that deals exclusively with environmental topics on Latin America as the subject of our readings (as we have commented, the challenge would be to find appropriate readings). I would spend some time at the outset defining terms in the target language (could be problematic if I don’t first have a clear definition in English–as per our discussion of ‘sustainable’!) . One of the topics I would include is the question of the use of indigenous lands. For example, there is a case study and a documentary film about a dam that a transnational company built on tribal lands belonging to the Mapuches in Chile; the dam was beneficial to many but had a negative social and cultural impact on the Mapuches. There is also the issue of preserving natural and cultural environments such as the rainforests and Machu Picchu. I would make ample use of role-playing and debates in class, run the class as an on-going dialogue, and probably require a video production as a final project. To make the class more interdisciplinary, I would invite a guest speaker or two to address the more scientific aspects of the topics under consideration.

    I don’t know how useful this is to anyone else, but it has been helpful to me to flush out ideas and see a concrete application of this week’s work. When dealing with science topics, I am like a fish out of water. Is that an environmental issue?

  6. Diego Millan says:

    I think I showed some of my cards on this one with yesterday’s post, but after today I think I would add some key components to an advocacy writing assignment. Firstly, I would want my students to look into local CSAs and agricultural concerns particular to Massachusetts. This focus would create enough boundaries without being too limiting. Possible avenues could be looking into issues as they relate to what local farmers are able to do in terms of “sustainable” solutions to growing–students of policy could look into local laws with which small farms contend, biology students could look at questions of biodiversity as they either help or hinder farming techniques (pests might be part of an ecosystem, but they sure will do a number on your crop). Students interested in nutrition could present an argument for or against the benefits of eating locally. Engineering students could tackle engineering solutions used by farmers as solutions and look into the math behind it. All of their work could be used as either fodder for making a political statement to local city councils about the necessity of small farms and CSA programs, or to consumers about participating in CSA, or to community developers about the gains to be had by allowing for local farms (this might be more sociological in scope). In any case, the various possible people that need convincing on so many issues let students choose their audience. Since I am only evaluating how well they argue and not necessarily what they argue, it also allows them to come to their own conclusions and make a case for them. Whether or not it takes the shape of advocacy, then, is up to them; but the general idea of a taking a strong position is certainly facilitated by an active interaction with questions of the environment in ways that are geared towards their own interests.
    Again, the course does not allow for much flexibility/innovation as far as field trips or team-teaching, but perhaps putting students in touch with local farms so they can conduct interviews, or with some of the literature we have used this week might help. As a rule of thumb, any sort of communication with businesses and people would need to be facilitated by me or run by me ahead of time so that community partners/members do not feel annoyed or over taxed. Fortunately, with a class of 10 students, this seems much more manageable.
    A really creative component to the section of the class might be bringing in some produce and if they are willing, tasting and discussing the differences. This could then lead to a discussion of how to take their experience tasting the produce and turning into the lead-in for their paper (emphasizing the importance of a strong hook, etc). I would actually consider using the article I found on the heirloom tomato farmer as an example of compelling writing to tell a story–it is accessible, short, and with its images and narrative style allows for extensive analysis of the craft of writing that kind of essay.

  7. James Mulder says:

    As I’ll be teaching the same expository writing class, I must say I whole-heartedly agree with everything Diego already posted. I’ve been planning a specific paper assignment intended to get students engaged with some of the environmental issues we’ve discussed. I think it might be a good idea to begin the unit by asking them the same thing Julie and Colin asked us on the first day: What are the top three most important environmental issues we face today? After talking about the answers to this question that different small groups have come up with, I think we could then talk about organizations and publications from which they might find relevant information pertaining to those issues. I’d like to write the paper assignment based on the issues they bring up in discussion so that the class as a whole has contributed to determining the direction of the course. Interdisciplinarity would be key in formulating this paper, as I would ask students to find and incorporate source material from science, political science, narrative, and various other areas of study.

  8. Sara Hasselbach says:

    Since the parameters and goals of Expository Writing are somewhat formulaic—for instance, we have to assign essays, rather than other forms of media—the inclusion of environmental literacy in this class will most easily be accomplished through the assigned readings. Like Lai Ying, I’m interested in making environmental literacy a class theme, or at least a thread that weaves through and bears upon what we’re thinking about in class.

    Most declared majors at Tufts are in political science, and one idea I’m considering is to take advantage of this common bent and design a course on general global awareness. I might begin by asking students to consider what they perceive the major problems in the world to be right now. (I’ll pray that someone mentions the environment on his/her own; if not, I’ll do it.) The main idea would be to end the discussion—and eventually, the course—by demonstrating how these issues are interconnected. Economists, environmentalists, and scientists cannot agree on a singular definition of a foundational and seemingly basic concept, sustainability, because they all inflect the concept with their own agendas. As a result, analysis and action get bogged down in rhetorical pitfalls.

    I hope that students will learn to use reading, analysis, and writing to navigate and surmount rhetorical pitfalls. Allowing students to identify and explore their own ideas about what the world is facing will both give them a taste for agency and provide them with the freedom to investigate these issues in ways that appeal to them: whether they latch onto science, ethics, politics, culture, or any other key value that underpins our world.

    I don’t expect that the students who take Expository Writing, college freshmen, are going to be savvy about the resources available to them. Listening to Shirley Mark talk today about Tisch College gave me the idea to discuss this and other resources with students. For handy reference, I might even include a link to the Tisch College website on the syllabus. I hope that this will both encourage students who might be interested in pursuing community outreach work, and, more basically, introduce new students to the idea that these resources/opportunities are available to them—they just take a bit of research to find.

  9. Matt Panzer says:

    One of the courses I teach (thermodynamics, required for sophomore ChBE majors) could certainly benefit from inclusion of more real world examples/case studies. Perhaps a case study on global temperatre rise asking the students to do an energy balance on the Earth? I once asked them to give short self-researched presentations on a topic of their choosing… maybe we should do this again, but require that the topics encompass some aspect of an environmental issue.

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