S2 Ep10: Environmental Education - Citizens of Earth with Katie Isaak Ginsberg



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Katie Isaak Ginsberg is a parent and advocate for environmental literacy, which led her to found the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation(CELF). She saw the need to educate students about the links between human health, poverty, consumption, conflict and the environment and used her experiences in design and management marketing and business development to create a foundation that brings the best practices in sustainability education to K-12 educators and schools. Ms. Ginsberg has a BA in Psychology from Northwestern University, and has served as Chair of the County Executive's Westchester Climate Change Task Force for the education sector, which helped develop a blueprint to integrate sustainability across the campuses, curriculum and communities of Westchester, NY. Ms. Ginsberg speaks and provides seminars and conferences on sustainability and re-orienting education through place-based and project-based education and as part of her work, was a featured presenter at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting.


Katie shares how CELF came about back in 2003, when sustainability was a pretty new concept, particularly in the K-12 education environment. CELF is a non-profit organization that focuses on helping teachers (primarily) that are passionate about bringing sustainability into core curriculum, regardless of what subject area they teach. The goal is to help students and really think about how they are connected to the environment, how we are connected to each other, and what they can do as earth-citizens and how things work in the world. Katie goes on to explain how our cultural habits and societies and behaviors can connect to or dismantle our ecosystems.


Her journey to founding CELF started as a child, sitting around the table and discussing pedagogy with her two educator parents. These conversations about different ways to teach and learn, developed her appreciation for teachers and education, particularly those educators that stepped out of the box and focused on learning through real-world explorations and connections. Her marketing background and work with Unilever sparked questions about products and chemistry of those products that impacted the environment and why ingredients in US markets might be different than European. Her own son’s learning experiences on Earth Day, where students were allowed to go out into the world and explore, made her question why students don’t learn about the environment and sustainability for more than just the one designated ‘Earth Day’. She wanted this empowerment that her son felt on that single day to be something that was experienced by students on a daily basis, to make sure all students were educated on these ideas around sustainability, environment, and our impact on the world around us.


After 18 months of research into what schools and others were doing, she realized that sustainability and environmental literacy really needed a strategic approach, that wove the concepts and ideas throughout all content areas, not just the sciences. Katie shares a specific story to exemplify how CELF supports bringing this systems change to a school. The sustainability certificate program that she shares really shows how the approach is a team effort, with a multi-disciplinary approach, that involves collaboration and project-based learning. It’s an interesting example, exploring how each discipline approaches the broad topic of ‘Green Architecture’, and demonstrates how each content area can bring a different aspect to the overarching sustainability theme, but incorporate their specific content-standards as well.


There is discussion about how CELF helps schools and districts maintain their sustainability topics. Katie talks about the Summer Institutes, training, and supports that are offered through their foundation. The goal is to offer experiences with experts, but also collaboration and developing learning communities that develop peer-to-peer support systems that sustain changes for the long haul. A key to success is working with educators and their own curriculum and learning how to integrate and ‘meet-them-where-they are’ environmental ideas, topics, projects that enhance the learning while still fitting into standards and curriculum. The goal is to help teachers reflect on what they are currently teaching and see how that might work with/fit into the big ideas of environmental sustainability.


Katie discusses the difficulties for getting environmental sustainability into state standards and curriculum, and how important partnerships, outreach, and policy really are so important in helping get the message across about the importance of environmental literacy. The importance of community and what makes communities functional is a huge part of sustainability, and she talks about how these parts of our society, if we don’t change, will collapse. It’s about understanding what will help our societies get back on track. She shares the three main pedagogical foci for CELF’s work with educators, which includes: project-based learning, place-based learning, and problem-based learning (the P3 framework).


There’s so much more in the episode, including examples of topics like air-quality, and how they are connected to sustainability, community, products, equity and inequities in a community, so be sure to listen to the whole thing!


Themes/topics explored in the episode:

  • What is CELF (Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation)?

  • What is environmental literacy?

  • How is sustainability different from environmental education?

  • Why don’t we have ‘Earth Day’ every day in education?

  • What does “Education for Sustainability” look like in a classroom?

  • What does it mean to integrate environmental literacy with an existing curriculum?

  • What are the big ideas of sustainability?

  • How do you continue to support sustainability programs when the creators/instigators of the programs leave a school or district?

  • What does it mean to work with a ‘pedagogical piece’ when working with educators?

  • What is the P3 framework for instruction?

  • Who has more flexibility - public schools, charter schools and/or independent schools?

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

  1. Katie Isaak Ginsberg

  2. Katie Isaak Ginsberg LinkedIn

  3. Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation

  4. Unilever

  5. An Inconvenient Truth

  6. United Nations Conferences on Climate Change

  7. Case Studies

  8. Warwick Central School District Report/Research

  9. 2021 CELF Annual Summer Institutes in Sustainability & Civic Science for K-12 Educators

  10. Professional Learning Programs for Public Schools and Districts and Independent and Charter Schools

  11. CELF Offerings

  12. Summer Institutes

  13. Sustainability Topics (the Big Ideas)

  14. Ten Strands

  15. Project-Based Learning

  16. Place-Based Learning

  17. Problem-Based Learning

  18. Clean-Air Act

  19. Greta Thunberg

  20. Texas Environmental Literacy

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