Online Professional Development with Teachers College: Columbia Environmental Education at a Distance (CEED) 

This set of online courses was developed to provide teachers and educators with opportunities to deeply understand and practice student-centered, inquiry-based techniques, while learning to develop and implement project-based units focused around topics in local ecology, and integrated across subjects.

Course Strategy and Activities 


  • Participants had access to examples of successful units--including specific activities, resources and worksheets--that they could modify or use as models as they created their own unit for use in their classrooms.
  • Through readings, online content presentation, mutual peer feedback, hands-on activities and guided planning sessions, the learned about the benefits and challenges of the IEC approach and gained practice to ensure successful implementation.
  • They were coached by experienced experts in specific techniques and methods; and learned to recognize and develop activities and materials that build higher cognitive skills, increase student motivation and participation, and increase intellectual curiosity and independence.
  • Practical guidance was provided via online examples and models; with expert facilitators leading weekly “real time” planning sessions, to support teachers as they created the fully implementable unit that served as the final assessment for the course.
  • The course aligned with the Common Core and with  LS1 & Crosscutting themes of the NRC Next Generation Science Standards 


The Foundation of the CEED Approach: Integrated Ecology Curriculum (IEC) 

The Integrated Ecology Curriculum (IEC) program developed by CEES is a unique approach to middle school education that uses topics in environmental science as a framework for problem-oriented, place-based learning. Ecology is used as the conceptual “hook” to place subject content in larger contexts, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaborations among teachers, and engaging teachers and students in experiential learning.

[click here to learn more about the IEC in detail]  

Benefits for Students 

CEES has an agenda to provide environmental education, but the benefits of IEC go beyond science, to strengthen academic outcomes across subjects. Field investigations provide a means to gain very specific skills: sustained observation, inference, developing testable questions, gathering, evaluating, and synthesizing information, and analysis and presentation. More generally, we want students to develop habits of mind, and to think meta-cognitively: to understand “how we know what we know.” These skills are critical in science but are transferable to any subject and indeed, to any profession.  Student mastery of these skills will serve them well in their academic and work careers and as private citizens facing a highly technical, quickly changing society. In addition, higher thinking skills work to reinforce content knowledge so that students are likely to better retain and apply what they’ve learned in their subject classes.


Integrated Projects Weeks

The key to working with the dedicated teachers of our pilot partner school lay in developing a “test run” that would provide proof of concept, build trust, and demonstrate how IEC would work in practice. This “test” was dubbed Integrated Projects Week (IPW), and later became a cornerstone of IEC, institutionalized in the school culture and still conducted today. During IPW, regular classes are suspended so that groups of students and teachers can work together on projects driven by an ecology framework. These projects are team-taught and call for knowledge across disciplines. Projects focus on a particular ecology concept, and feature guest speakers, field trips, experimentation and modeling, culminating in a final product or event.

The first IPW in 2005 was a resounding success. Projects included “Radio Red Hook” (examining the environmental and social isolation of Red Hook through the lens of island ecology, with a radio broadcast as the final product); “The Nature of Invention” (using models of flight in nature to design flying machines); and “The Survivor and the Poet” (exploring themes of competition and adaptation, expressed in a final poetry slam).

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