Practice Brief 87 -- Topics: Equity Instruction Culture

Identifying local environmental justice phenomena for science and engineering investigations

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Why it Matters to You
  • Teachers should engage students in local, personally relevant environmental justice science learning to develop more holistic understandings of current issues, possible solutions, and activisms to participate in.
  • District Staff & PD Providers should help educators connect with EJ contexts and organizations to focus investigations on the everyday, interdisciplinary work of supporting frontline communities.
  • School Leaders should support community-based EJ investigations, support the involvement of EJ organizations in classroom activities, and honor the expertise of students and community partners.

What is the Issue?

Making sense of phenomena that are based on pressing environmental justice (EJ) issues allows students to explore locally relevant concerns, to engage in meaningful science and engineering learning, and to engage in civic reasoning and action. Investigating local EJ issues that are personally meaningful provides crucial opportunities for students to understand the causes, implications, and various perspectives related to real issues in their communities and cultivate individual and collective agency. This type of learning adds relevance and supports youth in understanding, advocating for, and making change.

Image via Kiana Bosman,


By Jennifer Pinney, Michal Robinson, Tina Miller-Way & Philip Bell
Edited by Rae Jing Han, Christina Guevara, Philip Bell, Abby Rhinehart & Deb L. Morrison

Reflection Questions

  • What environmental justice issues are in your community? How is science illuminating an injustice—or how is science implicated in it? What designs are causing injustice—or how is justice promoted through design? What does meaningful EJ learning look like from community, student, and teacher perspectives?
  • Whose interests are being served in EJ efforts? Is the focus on tech-as-savior, individual responsibility, degrowth, collective action, or systemic transformation?

Things to Consider

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take

Supplemental Material: What is environmental justice? Why we should connect our science and engineering investigations to local environmental justice phenomena


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Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. Others may adapt with attribution. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.