Shuswap school takes the lead on environmental sustainability

Vision of a teacher and a systems ecologist, BC Tomorrow provides path to sustainable development

What began with a new environmental science/civics course six years ago, is about to go viral.

BC Tomorrow is a planning tool that uses cutting-edge geographical information systems (GIS) technology and satellite imagery. It features sustainable land-use decision-making processes that consider cumulative effects within watersheds, allowing students to engage in real land-use issues within their communities.

In May 2012 Salmon Arm Secondary science teacher Dave Ramsay received school board approval for an environmental science curriculum he created as part of his masters program. The multi-layered curriculum was designed in components so teachers of other subjects could easily integrate relevant material in their classes.

The course, designed to engage students, combined Grade 11 environmental science with civics, and provided hands-on learning opportunities based on the Shuswap Watershed.

An initial article in the Salmon Arm Observer alerted an equally excited systems ecologist Barry Wilson, who collaborated with Ramsay, to form the non-profit BC Tomorrow Society, whose mandate is to help students and teachers better understand sustainable planning.

“Without the original story, Barry and I might not have ever met; therefore BC Tomorrow might not have started. The story brought us together; we shared our presentations and realized we had to work together,” says Ramsay, noting Wilson was trying to figure out a way to bring land-use decision processes that consider cumulative effects into schools while he was implementing curriculum that focused on watersheds. “In large part it’s because of the story in the Salmon Arm Observer that BC Tomorrow is now on the cusp of making an important contribution to sustainable land-use understanding in the province of B.C.”

Related: Students to study watershed in new course

In 2015, the men presented their ideas and enthusiasm to the Salmon Arm community in an effort to make the audience aware that the future of the planet is in the hands of the people.

Wilson described systems ecology and explained the importance of making decisions to better balance human activity such as settlement, development, use of natural resources and tourism with a view of all – humans, animals and the environment.

Ramsay noted changes to the B.C. school curriculum provide students with the opportunity to explore subject matter within the context of bigger ideas in a combined perspective.

“In a watershed, it’s even more important because that’s how watersheds function; they’re linked, they’re complex, they’re messy, multidisciplinary, like the real world,” he said, noting the program will be free to everyone. “Education is going this way, the watershed functions this way and BC Tomorrow is the tool that can meet the needs of both.”

Related: Helping to create B.C.’s tomorrows

And now, based on a simulator designed by Alberta Tomorrow, BC Tomorrow’s first version of its own simulator will be piloted in School District #83 this fall, with the hope of an official province-wide launch early in 2019.

Initially, videos based on B.C. data show how human land use impacts economy, environment and society. After watching the videos, enthusiastic students Alexandra Johnson, Evan Smith, Maya Belway, Austin Crocker, Grace Fulton, Dax Defelice and Saro Stevens, applied their knowledge using Alberta’s simulator and were excited by the results.

“The amount of ground we’ve covered is incredible; the videos are standalone lessons on their own and are free for the viewing at bctomorrow.ca – click on ‘Explore BC,’” says Wilson, who is president of the society. “The second element is the simulator, which the software team that was hired built over the summer. It allows students to examine land use in their watersheds and create, test and share their own scenarios for the future, aiming for sustainability we hope.”

The third element is the field aspect where students collect data in the real world and store it in a data base in their class to use in class projects or share with others.

“All Dave’s experience about teaching is in this program and it’s unbelievable what it (BC Tomorrow) can do; all of a sudden, students are talking about real stuff with real data,” he says, noting thousands of hours of work have been devoted to the project. “We’ve got science, social studies, math, English, critical thinking, decision-making, balance, communications skills, tradeoffs, innovation, entrepreneurship.”

“Water connects all the communities and water is the resource, all living things depend on it and it’s the one that moves,” Ramsay says. “We anticipate this learning tool is going to increase society’s engagement within their own watersheds. We’re not just building a teaching tool, but getting something that will allow people to take action in their own watersheds.”

Visibly excited, Ramsay says interest in BC Tomorrow and the simulator has been growing, not just in B.C. but across the world, with support coming from local politicians to the Green Party’s Elizabeth May and more.

“All our other funders (Telus, Rotary, IEG, RBC, Shuswap Naturalists, CE Analytic, MacQuarrie Institute) have had a huge role supporting our organization: the development of lessons, videos and banners, and administrative costs,” raves Ramsay, who notes getting sufficient funding has been an issue. “However, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, ALCES Landuse and Landscape ltd, BlueGeo Simulation and VanCity and Alberta Tomorrow have contributed directly to the development of the simulator.”


@SalmonArm
barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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