PESTLE project: Reflections

Rather than adminsiter a final exam, I challenged the students to write a paper addressing air quality and economic issues in Birmingham, Alabama. It proved to be a good teaching strategy.

The students articulated the purpose of their final document better than I could. They said, “The purpose of this document is two-fold: to discuss Birmingham’s historical and current activities and their consequences on Birmingham’s current air quality and economic status, and to introduce a policy that would help alleviate Birmingham’s air quality problems and stimulate economic development.” Please take some time over the next day or two to read their entire document. It can be found on our class blog https://asfaenvironmentalscience.wordpress.com . Look for the page entitled “PESTLE Project: Final Document. 15Dec09”.

This paper is the result of two weeks of student work, and it was guided by my professional development experiences. In 2008 and 2009, I accompanied ASFA Math/Science students to the Keystone Science School’s National Youth Policy Summit (YPS). Students involved in YPS draft consensus policy on big issues like climate change, nutrition, transportation, violence, and energy resources by incorporating ideas from the social sciences and natural sciences. Keystone calls this the “PESTLE approach”, which stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technical/Scientific, Legal, and Environmental.

The group’s final paper, the individual student research papers that supported the final paper, and the curricular framework for the paper are noteworthy. The group paper showcases all the students’ ability to appreciate the nuances of 21st century challenges. It also showcases their ability to work together, and their ability to take an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems. The students’ individual papers are grounded in real data from EPA, NIH, US DOE, US DOT, regional and local Chambers of Commerce, historical documents, and current news reports. Thorough research papers on Federal and state Air Quality legislation, Alabama’s 1907 State Constitution, and the nuances of local municipal governments complement these data-driven papers. This project shows what is possible within the AP Environmental Science curriculum when you have dedicated, smart, and articulate students coupled with a creative instructor. I’m sure other APES instructors across the country are trying similar approaches in their classrooms. It is also likely other AP instructors at ASFA are trying equally creative approaches within their curriculum.

It goes without saying that teaching at ASFA is gratifying, but some days are, “more equal than others.” Tangible artifacts like this document result from your efforts in the classroom. Please take a moment to look at our blog and read what these young people wrote. You had a hand in making it possible.

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