GEA-China: Inventing the Future

November 1, 2003

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The Global Environmental Alliance – China is excited to announce its commitment to create a groundbreaking new course of study on sustainability and the environment for students across China called Inventing the Future . This new 9th/10th grade, one year, comprehensive course is designed to help students place China in the global context while connecting locally and regionally. Students will address the core question: Can we achieve a high quality of life for all within the means of nature without compromising future generations' ability to do the same? Students will have an opportunity to recognize the legacy they are receiving from their parents and grandparents, and to proactively determine what they would like their own legacy to their children to be.

This curriculum is the result of a truly unprecedented collaboration between three Chinese ministries: the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Education, and the State Environmental Protection Administration. It is being designed by the foremost U.S. and Chinese leaders in environmental and sustainability education, including staff of the Sustainability Education Center – www.sustainabilityed.org (which recently piloted a similar course developed for the New York City school system). They have conceived a cutting edge course curriculum that is global in its concepts and Chinese in its context. Many other nations are likely to be attracted to the unique and powerful curriculum and will be able to publish it with their own cultural, economic and environmental adaptations.

Executive Director James Elder, Co-Chairs Laura Utley and Wang Weizhong discuss plans for the new Decision-makers Program.

The curriculum is scheduled to be completed by September, 2004. A ceremony will be held in Beijing at that time to announce its creation and to launch the first teacher training program to pilot the course of study. With such high level endorsements and support, the course is expected to reach millions of Chinese students over its estimated useful life of ten years.

What makes this curriculum unique?

New environmental education textbooks and curricula are usually created by environmentalists who want to encourage learning about the environment in schools. As a result, these textbooks and curricula are often adopted only on the fringes of the educational system (e.g., by schools that are especially progressive or innovative, or as “supplementary” materials - meaning that only parts of the new curricula are used as part of a larger course), or they get inserted into science classes (which means that the social aspects of environmental education are ignored). This is a huge problem in the U.S., and is perhaps the single most strategic reason why there is not more environmental education in this country. China has the same problem.

Unlike any other effort, “Inventing the Future” is being designed for adoption by the mainstream Chinese educational system.

First, this project is not producing just a textbook that leaves a teacher to figure out how to incorporate into a class. It is creating a full curriculum, which focuses on providing specific units that enable a teacher structure their daily classes.

Second, it is being designed by leaders in the field of education as well as leaders in the field of the environment. Thus, new understandings about how students best learn are being incorporated as well as new understandings about the environment. For example, the curriculum is built on a progressive series of “guiding questions”, a technique recently developed to capture a student's interest and intellectually enlist them in a search for answers.

Third, it is being correlated to the standards of the new Comprehensive Practical Course (CPC) mandated by the Ministry of Education, so that mainstream teachers across China looking for ways to implement this new course have an easy-to-use solution to their problem. Environmental education traditionally has a very difficult time finding a way to insert itself into the very crowded daily schedule of students. The CPC requirements offer a remarkably serendipitous opportunity to conduct environmental education during the school day. The CPC mandates innovation in both content and educational process. For example, the CPC requires “authentic assessment” (a new form of testing), which we show teachers how to do in “Inventing The Future”.

And last but not least, it is designed to engage students in exploring what the concept of development - the principal value in today's Chinese society - really means. This is an unusual approach to environmental education, as it incorporates the social and economic aspects of the environment as well as the natural science aspects. Leading-edge topics such as social capital, ecological design and biomimicry, environmental risk, life cycle analysis, and eco-entrepreneurship are just now breaking into the cutting edge of higher education; few have tried to introduce these topics to high school students as of yet. Furthermore, the Comprehensive Practical Course requirements call for a course focused on the “big picture” and real world engagement. Thus, we have designed a curriculum that is much more than traditional environmental education: it is a truly “big picture” course that looks at social, natural, and political systems from a unified perspective, that of sustainable development.

Project Principals:

Project Director and Design Team Manager

New Textbook
GEA-China Executive Director Jim Elder and Curriculum Designer Jaimie Cloud during a recent visit to Beijing.

GEA-China Executive Director James Elder is a social entrepreneur with three decades of experience in founding and managing organizations that seek to advance positive environmental change. In 1980, he founded The School for Field Studies (SFS), now the country's leading international environmental studies field program for undergraduate students. Under his leadership, SFS grew to include a budget of $7 million and a fund balance of $6 million, six overseas subsidiaries, 24 resident faculty, and an enrollment of over 700 undergraduates/year. Curricula included wildlife and fisheries management, rainforest and wetlands issues, and sustainable development. To create new sources of support for environmental education, Dr. Elder conceived and successfully executed the world's first "debt-for-environ-mental education swap" with the government of Mexico in 1994. Dr. Elder was awarded an honorary doctorate for his pioneering social venture work, and is a former Watson Fellow. He has held long-standing appointments to numerous Boards including EPA's National Environmental Education Advisory Council and the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Writing Team Manager

Jaimie P. Cloud is the founder and President of the Sustainability Education Center in New York City. The mission of the Center is to promote the concept and process of sustainability in educational environments through collaborative programs, research, professional development and materials development, collection and dissemination. Recent publications include "Civil Society and Sustainable Communities," a six hour module for incoming executive directors and presidents of YWCAs nationally; two high school curriculum units entitled, "An Introduction to Ecological Economics" and "Sustainable Communities: A Unit for Civics Classrooms"; a Community Guide to the CD ROM entitled, "This Place Called Home: Tools for Sustainable Communities" and a two day community training module on "Ecological Economics"; "The Paper Trail: Connecting Economic and Natural Systems"; "From Global Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems." Ms. Cloud has a professional background in cross-cultural communication and organizational change and has spent the last seventeen years working with teachers and administrators to bring integrated curriculum and teaching with a global perspective to schools K-12 in the United States and many other countries.

Learning Methods and Curriculum Development Specialist

Dr. Giselle Martin-Kniep is a teacher educator, researcher, program evaluator, and writer. She is the President of Learner-Centered Initiatives, Ltd., an educational consulting organization specializing in comprehensive regional and school-based curriculum and assessment work. She is also the CEO of the Center for the Study of Expertise in Teaching and Learning, an organization committed to the discovery and dissemination of teacher expertise. Dr. Martin-Kniep has a strong background in organizational change and has graduate degrees in communication and development, social sciences in education, and educational evaluation from Stanford University. She has taught at Adelphi University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. In the last twelve years, she has worked with hundreds of schools and districts nationally and internationally in the areas of alternative assessment, standards-based design, school change, and action research. She has designed and directed five comprehensive, multi-year, regional and school-based professional development programs in the United States aimed at transforming curriculum and assessment practices among K-12 teachers. Her recent books are Why Am I Doing This: Purposeful Teaching with Portfolio Assessment , Capturing the Wisdom of Practice: Portfolios for Teachers and Administrators , and Becoming a Better Teacher: Eight Innovations that Work .

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