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STEAMing Ahead with New Standards at OMS

Monday, September 24, 2018

Recognized in 2018 as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, the staff at Oregon Middle School (OMS) continue to work toward the award’s pillars of reduced environmental impact and costs, improved health and wellness, and increased environmental and sustainability literacy. Teachers are supporting these goals in the classroom by integrating Wisconsin’s newly revised Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability (ELS) into coursework.

There are seven ELS standards arranged in three strands: Connect, Explore, and Engage. Ecological principles and systems thinking serve as a foundation, with skills explicitly woven throughout the standards and performance indicators within each strand.

This year, OMS added a STEAM elective to their course offerings for their seventh- and eighth-grade students which filled immediately. While he may be new to the Oregon School District, teacher, Craig Fischer, is not new to increasing environmental literacy. Fischer has a rich background in environmental education, was the school forest coordinator in his district, and welcomed the challenge to integrate the standards through STEAM education.

According to Fischer, the curriculum framework will be centered around science and engineering, and use technology, art, and math to accomplish learning goals. “I am striving to create learning opportunities for students that are issue and problem-based and am relying heavily on the ELS standards to accomplish this. I hope to create authentic learning experiences that utilize science and engineering practices and allow students to connect to their place in the community, explore the systems within, and engage with their ideas and solutions,” Fischer explained.

Darren Hartberg, OMS seventh- and eighth-grade health teacher, was a member of the ELS standards writing committee. He shared several examples of how he helps students connect, explore, and engage with health in natural and cultural systems.

“Environmental education connects in so many ways with health. I help students develop a sense of place by connecting with both themselves and their community-- both critical environments that students work to understand at a young age. One of the ways they do this is through creating their S.T.O.R.Y. [Strengths, Topics of interest, Optimal conditions, Relationships, YES moments they thrive off of],” Hartberg explained. “Students then explore systems-thinking concepts through examining disease and how organisms create outcomes that are beneficial or disadvantageous for members of their communities.”

Hartberg collaborates with teachers Cheryl Stout and Nate Mahr to provide hands-on engagement opportunities for students. Students experience the food cycle from "seed to compost" as they organize, grow, care for, harvest, consume the salad greens for the lunchroom salad bar and then compost available food scraps. Students are able to grow these greens nearly 10 months out of the year in the school’s greenhouse and hoop house.

OMS hoop house
OMS hoop house

The salad greens are the nutritional part of a larger health curriculum focused on health equity and the diverse needs of students, along with assessments related to students’ mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, academic health.

Darren in greenhouse
Darren Hartberg in the greenhouse

While schools are recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School just one time, the green ribbon culture in recognized schools runs deep. A student Green Team, supported by a team of OMS teachers, including Fischer, Hartberg, and Stout, provides a way for students to get involved on the ground floor with policy, action, and finding ways to connect, explore, and engage in local communities.

To learn more about Oregon Middle School’s sustainability initiatives, visit their EE in Wisconsin profile.

To learn more about the new standards, visit Wisconsin’s Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability.

To learn how your school can become a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, visit the Green Ribbon Schools page. Applications are due December 1st.

Subscriber Submission: Victoria Rydberg, Environmental Literacy & Sustainability Consultant, Department of Public Instruction