YOUTH ENGAGING WITH COMPLEX SOCIAL-ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS
studying nature alone on a pedestal, treating humans,
plants, and animals as one social-ecological
system (SES) can be valuable for meaningful learning about
environmental stewardship and science. Our research shows that
using YCCS as a way to engage young people in thinking about
complex interactions between human and nature can promote
sophisticated reasoning, access to student’s funds of knowledge,
and connection to place. In the case studies below, read more
about how educators encourage young people to grapple with the
world around them.
TIPS FOR IMPLEMENTING
1. Environmental science questions can be studied in urban areas.
Many projects bring students face to face with the ways in which
animal and plant life are intertwined with human activity.
Prepare a strategy for facilitating discussion of tough issues
like homelessness and dumping. Create a shortlist of ideas for
taking action (rather than leaving it entirely open-ended),
resources for further investigation, or groups that are working
on social and environmental issues.
2. Attend to unexpected events.
Whether by natural or human causes, discuss how such events are
linked to other parts of the system.
3. Listen for and draw out students’ existing knowledge of a
Start with simple questions:
Who comes to the place?
Where does the water (or air, or trash) come from?
Where do they go?
4. Research the history of places you will investigate,especially
where human activity is less obvious.
What might the landscape have looked like 100 years ago? What
plants and animals would have been there? What signs of past
human use are still visible? What policies or agencies influence
the site? Students can create a web or chain to visualize these
connections, or search for maps that show land-use change over
5. Talk with people who impact, or are impacted by, the place you
These might include local government, neighbors, conservation
professionals or volunteers, or local schools. Present findings
to them, invite students to interview neighbors, or survey
community members about their impressions of the place, or what
kinds of activities they do there.
6. Encourage students to “tune in” their senses when
Human senses are still some of the most powerful instruments for
the collection of scientific data. How does what students know
and sense about a place add to, or contrast with, other sources