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The Environmental Literacy Model

The Maryland Environmental Literacy Partnership (MELP) has served as a pilot for how field-based learning and community engagement can be integrated into curriculum and supported through teacher professional learning in ways that are both relevant and meaningful for individual school districts. 

One of the products of MELP has been the development of the Environmental Literacy Model (ELM). ELM is a method for integrating environmental issues investigations and civic engagement into academic curricular programs. The ELM approach for curriculum integration is intended for use at multiple scales: from curriculum writers and coordinators at the state or district level to school grade-level teams, to the individual classroom teacher. The model and corresponding curricular integration tools are intended to facilitate curriculum integration while simultaneously supporting sophisticated pedagogical understandings of ways that student achievement may be enhanced through environmental literacy. 

The Environmental Literacy Model features three primary components: a Curriculum Anchor in connections to academic standards are identified and life-relevant contexts for learning are established; Issues Investigations, in which students construct knowledge through field-based inquiry; and Civic Engagement, in which students apply the knowledge that they’ve constructed through investigation in authentic situations. 

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The Rationale

At the heart of the Environmental Literacy Model is the perspective that 21st century citizenship requires that individuals are able to be critical consumers of scientific information relevant to their daily lives. Find out more


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ELM - Curriculum AnchorCurriculum Anchor:
Serves to situate the issues investigations and civic engagement within the scope and sequence of a particular curriculum.

  • Learning Objectives: Provide a foundation and connection to standards, curriculum, and/or performance indicators. The learning objectives organize concepts and inform practices emphasized in investigations and civic engagement.
  • Driving Question: A broad, open-ended, life-relevant question that is based on the standards/learning objectives. The driving question guides inquiry for the investigation(s) and prompts the development of actionable claims through civic engagement.
  • Context: Establishes the local connections and life-relevancy of the content and core ideas in the learning objectives and driving question. Implementation might include using photographs, activities, discussions, articles, videos, data displays, explorations of interactive web-based resources, prior lessons or learning experiences.

ELM - Issues InvestigationIssues Investigation:
Provides the opportunity for students to construct knowledge and understandings about the content/core ideas of the learning objectives through the investigation of a life-relevant issue, problem, or phenomenon.

  • Define Issues & Ask Questions: Students and teachers work collaboratively to define the issue, problem, or phenomenon to be investigated and develop focused questions that are relevant for investigation.
  • Plan & Conduct Investigations: Students work collaboratively to develop plans for collecting, analyzing, and communicating information and/or data to help address questions and understand the problem. Students identify, evaluate and justify appropriate sources of information and/or data, and determine methodologies for the collection of information and/or data.
  • Analyze & Interpret Data: Students represent and share information and/or data to reveal patterns that indicate relationships. Students apply disciplinary concepts and science/engineering practices, such as mathematical modeling and computational thinking, as they analyze and interpret information and/or data to make sense of the issue or phenomenon.
  • Constructing, Communicating, & Refining Explanations: Students identify, synthesize, and apply evidence from their investigations (for example, measurements, observations, and patterns) to draw conclusions about the driving question.

ELM - Civic EngagementCivic Engagement:
Provides the opportunity for students to adapt and apply the knowledge they’ve constructed through investigation in order to develop skills necessary for active citizenship in the 21st century.

  • Develop a Claim & Identify Solutions: Students develop a claim based on conclusions drawn in the Issue Investigation. The claim should reflect a problem, challenge, or opportunity that warrants informed action. Students identify and explore solutions to address the problem, challenge, or opportunity reflected in their claim. 
  • Design a Plan & Take Informed Action: Students design a plan for implementing solutions through informed action in their classrooms, schools, and/or communities. The plans should include criteria for determining the extent to which the action successfully addresses the problem, challenge, or opportunity reflected in the claim. Students implement their plans.
  • Evaluate Action: Students reflect on the action and determine the extent to which it successfully addresses the problem, challenge, or opportunity reflected in the claim. Students share proposals for sustaining or extending the action.

1National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013)