Soil ecology and environmental literacy in your neighborhood
The global and local environmental challenges that society faces from climate change, food production and security, to energy development call for human action on an unprecedented scale. Responding to these issues in democratic societies calls for science literacy among all its participants at a level supportive of informed decision-making and action. These sentiments are echoed in the 2011 The National Research Council published a report calling for A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas wherein the importance of and the threats to biodiversity were explicitly addressed. What is needed is an integrated understanding of the evolutionary and ecological effects of human-caused disturbance on ecological systems. Given the central role of soils to ecosystem services, the public’s understanding of soils, soil organisms and soil processes must figure into the calculus. To this end, we advocate the development of an environmental science literacy framework for an Integrative Soil Ecology.
We define environmental science literacy as the capacity to participate in and make decisions through evidence-based discussions of socio-ecological systems. A literacy framework identifies the principles, content, and practices and describes the learning transitions needed to achieve desired proficiency and the associated teaching strategies that help students get there. Our work builds on the learning progression - descriptions of increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking about or understanding a topic – that we developed for the carbon cycle, water cycle, biodiversity, and systems thinking. Our learning progressions describe the transitions from “force-dynamic” descriptions that frame events in terms of actors trying to achieve purposes, through “phenomenological” explanations involve naming and describing events and processes to “model-based reasoning” where students use hierarchical and mechanistic reasoning at multiple scales. Most MS and HS students give force-dynamic accounts, some use phenomenological reasoning and a few give scientific model-based accounts. Undergraduates start with phenomenological accounts and transition to scientific model-based accounts, which in our context will require the development of complex adaptive systems (CAS) reasoning.
The soil ecology framework will focus on: 1) an understanding of the key concepts (structures and functions) and the underlying principles, 2) the ability to apply hierarchical reasoning that connects these concepts and principles in a systems context across multiple temporal and spatial scales, and 3) the capacity to participate in and make decisions through evidence-based discussions of socio-ecological issues. The soil ecology framework incorporates these ideas in a comprehensive manner using resources in your neighborhood.