Defining Ecological Thinking
I have continued to work on defining ecological literacy, both as it relates to the broader topic of environmental literacy or citizenship (e.g., see ESA Bulletin article: Berkowitz et al. 1997) and in helping identify some of the topics we can address in initiatives such as schoolyard ecology (e.g., see ESA Bulletin article: Feinsinger et al. 1997). More recently, I have been developing the idea of "ecological thinking" as an alternative and potentially powerful framework for our work in education. This was the subject of the Vice President's Symposium I organized at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting in 2000 with Carol Brewer. In it, we asked, "What are the foundational 'ways of thinking' that are the essential tools of the ecologically literate person?"
The current structure of the curriculum usually concerns the "what?" of ecological inquiry. We divide the field and our education standards by concept (population, community, ecosystem, etc.), by organism (plant, animal, etc.), by habitat (terrestrial, aquatic, etc.) or by application (conservation, agricultural, etc.). However, I am interested in identifying and elaborating upon a set of foundational "ways of thinking", i.e., defining the "how?" for thinking about ecological phenomena that runs perpendicular to the "what?" of ecology.
My current frameworks includes eight different but clearly overlapping kinds of thinking:
- scientific thinking (evidence-based and critical thinking)
- systems and hierarchy thinking
- temporal thinking (short-term, historical and evolutionary thinking)
- spatial thinking (geographical, place-based and contextual thinking)
- trans-disciplinary thinking
- ethical thinking
- creative thinking
- empathic thinking
These ideas are elaborated in a chapter on ecological literacy and environmental citizenship (Berkowitz et al. 2007).
Work on National Education Standards
Starting in the early 1990's, I had the opportunity to coordinate the work of the Ecological Society of America Education Committee to review the National Research Council's National Science Standards and AAAS's Project 2061 Benchmarks. In both instances, much of our emphasis was on assuring the accuracy and currency of the concepts being included. We argued for the importance of being able to apply ecology concepts in the real world and on developing in students the inquiry skills and ecology knowledge needed to investigate the local environment. More recently, our group within ESA provided extensive input to the North American Association for Environmental Education as they developed guidelines and standards for environmental education. We worked working hard to modernize the ecology included in these versus earlier environmental education standards, I also championed the importance of science process and inquiry skills as essential parts of environmental literacy.
Developing Goals for Urban Ecosystem Education
In 1996, I joined a group of natural and social scientists and educators to plan and, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research program, develop the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES). To complement my work in BES as the Education Team Leader, I have been doing conceptual work in defining the goals and intended outcomes for urban ecosystem education. This theme was one of the central ones addressed in the Cary Conference I organized at the Cary Institute in 1999 with Charles Nilon and Karen Hollweg. Many chapters in the book building on the conference, Understanding Urban Ecosystems: A New Frontier for Science and Education, explore this topic.