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ECP Assistant Professor Won Jung Kim Leads Environmental Justice Workshop for Korean Science Educators at SCU

Won Jung Kim - Teacher Education

ECP Assistant Professor Won Jung Kim welcomed educators from South Korea to campus to engage in a workshop around integrating environmental and climate justice into K-12 science classrooms.

Dr. Won Jung Kim welcomes educators from Korea to campus for a science education workshop.

While you may remember learning about Newton’s Laws or creating a clever tune to memorize the elements in your K-12 science studies, discussions around global warming and environmental justice issues may prove to be a little more elusive to recall. With the state of our climate evolving rapidly and the effects of global warming directly impacting the futures of today’s youth, one would assume that these topics are a pillar in today’s science curriculums. But according to ECP’s Assistant Professor in Education Dr. Won Jung Kim, these topics continue to only be covered at a surface level.

The science standards, such as Next Generation Science Standards, present the topic of climate change, but it is presented as one of many topics covered, instead of integrating it with different disciplinary ideas that can be directly related to climate change science and problems associated with environmental injustices,” says Kim. Driven by her devotion to teaching and research on justice-centered K-12 science education in formal and informal learning contexts, Dr. Kim recently conducted a workshop on-campus to engage educators in discussions around integrating environmental and climate justice into K-12 science classrooms. 

On November 1st, Dr. Kim welcomed six science teachers, three Education Board Officers, and one translator from South Korea to campus to learn more about the U.S. education system in the Northern California area, focusing specifically on environmental sustainability and climate justice teaching. The teachers and officers also showcased individual projects they had developed through previous workshop sessions with Dr. Kim about the integration of environmental and climate justice into K-12 science classrooms. SCU was one of the stops on a larger Northern California trip, and made the list not only because of Dr. Kim’s connection with one of the education board officials, but also due to their knowledge of the school’s commitment to values tied to these topics. 

“It’s difficult to inspire students, parents, and administrators in South Korea to embrace this kind of action-oriented science education because test grades are often deemed as most important. My goal is to make this form of education more appealing, so students are willing to dedicate time to this subject and administrators fully realize its importance,” says teacher Woo-min Lee.

Dr. Kim kicked off the day by leading the educators on a campus tour.

Dr. Kim kicked off the day by leading the educators on a campus tour.

Having conducted two internal research grants focused on this area and achieved recognition as both an emerging scholar of the International Society of Learning Sciences (2023), and as a research fellow at Science Communication Identity Project, Dr. Kim has centered her life’s work on this topic because youth are growing up in a world where they are having to deal with global warming and environmental issues more frequently. 

“While such a disproportionate environmental burden across generations is already inevitable evidence of injustice, another layer of injustice is that youth from low income and underrepresented communities are at higher risk of suffering than their affluent and privileged counterparts,” says Kim. “Science classrooms in particular can and should be a place where teachers support their students to take ownership in learning science knowledge and practices that can be applied to real world tasks that matter to them, including environmental issues.” 

Incorporating climate justice learning into classrooms is one thing, but inspiring students to take action outside of the classroom is another challenge entirely. Traditionally, major trends in science education research and practices, despite their emphasis on scientific knowledge and methods, have not necessarily addressed the importance of the “action” part.

Teachers at Dr. Kim’s workshop also examined this piece of the conversation. “My question going into the workshop was how to ensure students’ learning is reflected in their behaviors. The workshop expanded my understanding of behavior from individual to community and more broadly at ‘societal’ level,” says teacher Mi-jeong Son. “For example, I want my students to understand that reducing plastic consumption on an individual level is good, but we can also spur change at the systemic level, potentially by changing the plastic production system so that companies generate bio-degradable and actually recyclable products.”

Dr. Won Jung Kim welcomes educators from Korea to campus for a science education workshop.

Dr. Kim agrees that framing action as something that can be executed at an individual and at an community or institutional level is key to helping students overcome the feelings of helplessness often experienced when absorbing the magnitude of the environmental and climate justice issues we’re dealing with. “Science teachers should be prepared with pedagogical content that acknowledges the importance of science-informed action, to effectively teach and encourage students’ civic participation that can bring actual change whether the scale is big or small.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure students are leaving K-12 science classrooms feeling fully informed and motivated to join the fight against global warming and environmental injustices, so Dr. Kim is glad that she was able to engage with other educators dedicated to the cause through this workshop.

“Some may skeptically ask what impact I hold as an individual. I do not consider my research/teaching practices as the lone solution to all the challenges we face in this field, but do believe that better preparing our science teachers to change the way we teach our youth about these topics is a solid step forward in the right direction.”

Faculty, ECP
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