Topic 1: Foundations of ESS

Foundations of ESS

In the previous version of the ESS course many teachers left Topic 7 as it was then until the end of the course. This meant that students didn't have the fundamentals or foundations of ESS during their courses. I group Subtopics 1.1-1.3 together at the beginning of the course. There are a variety of options while teaching these topics to get to know your students and, for me, they are crucial for building my relationships with my students.

Combined with the activities in  An Introduction: What do I know? I use 1.1 Environmental Value Systems to set the context for the course and to start students along the journey of understanding why different individuals and societies may have developed different EVSs. This is combined with developing their own EVS.

1.2 Systems and Models is fundamental to understanding systems thinking and the science behind the course. It is where we start to think about models and system terminology. 1.3 Energy and Equilibria explores the science behind system thinking in more depth and introduces the important idea of tipping points. 

I teach  1.4 Sustainability when I start to explore resource use in a unit together with human population growth. I found  1.5 Humans and Pollution more difficult to place. I first taught it at the beginning of a unit on energy and climate change but it might sit better with the unit containing other parts of  Topic 8: Human systems and resource use. I do think all of Topic 1 needs to be covered fairly early in year one but I would split it into at least two units.

Significant Ideas:

  • Historical events, among other influences, affect the development of environmental value systems (EVSs) and environmental movements.
  • There is a wide spectrum of EVSs, each with its own premises and implications.
  • A systems approach can help in the study of complex environmental issues.
  • The use of systems and models simplifies interactions but may provide a more holistic view without reducing issues to single processes.
  • The laws of thermodynamics govern the flow of energy in a system and the ability to do work.
  • Systems can exist in alternative stable states or as equilibria between which there are tipping points.
  • Destabilizing positive feedback mechanisms will drive systems toward these tipping points, whereas stabilizing negative feedback mechanisms will resist such changes.
  • All systems can be viewed through the lens of sustainability.
  • Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 
  • Environmental indicators and ecological footprints can be used to assess sustainability. 
  • Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) play an important role in sustainable development.
  • Pollution is a highly diverse phenomenon of human disturbance in ecosystems.
  • Pollution management strategies can be applied at different levels.

Recommended Teaching Time (not including practicals): 16 hours

1.1 Environmental Value Systems

Environmental value systems are an excellent way to start the course and get to know your students. I like to start by asking students to explore what they know already, who they are (in the context of...

1.1 Environmental History

It's important to balance the amount of time that you could spend on this topic with the relative weight placed on the topic in the syllabus/guide. On the one hand, there is about 1.5 hours allocated...

1.2 Systems and Models

I know that a lot of teachers don't teach this subtopic as a standalone unit but I find it very useful to introduce students to these crucial ideas at the start of the course; after all this is the fundamental...

1.3 Energy and Equilibria

This really is one of the most crucial ideas in the course and has been extended from the 2008 subject guide. Students need to understand the difference between positive and negative feedback loops and...

1.4 Sustainability

Initially I combined this Sub-Topic with 8.1 as an introduction to Human Societies and resource use but due to forced circumstances (time pressures) it has moved to a separate small unit preceding sub-topic...

1.5 Humans and Pollution

I'm still not quite sure where is the best place to teach this content. Initially I thought I'd place it together with climate change but I've changed my mind and at the moment I think it may go nicely...

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