Environmental Principles and Concepts (EPCs) and the NGSS

You might’ve heard about California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EPCs)—but what are they, actually? And how do they affect teaching the NGSS? 

The EPCs were developed in 2004 by over 100 scientists and technical experts, with the purpose of highlighting the strong link between human societies and the natural world. The EPCs consist of five overarching environmental principles and 15 supporting concepts, which are meant to influence the topics that are taught in K–12 schools. In science teaching, they are additional standards that should be covered, in addition to the NGSS standards described by the California Framework.

For Twig Science, we have taken great care to cover all of the EPCs across all grades, so that you don’t need to worry about them. You can simply teach lesson by lesson, safe in the knowledge that you will be covering all NGSS standards and all EPCs. 

Let’s break down the EPCs to see what’s going on—and take a look at some examples of how they work in the context of Twig Science.

Principle 1: People Depend on Natural Systems

The first EPC highlights that humans rely on the natural world for food and other goods and services. As a result, the health of the planet directly affects the health of human life and the future of our societies and communities. 

An example of how we implement this is in Grade 5, Module 3: H2O Response Team. Here, students become hydrologists, investigating the growing problem of water scarcity. They investigate why humans rely so heavily on freshwater and what can threaten our supply of it. Finally, they come up with a campaign to save water.  

Principle 2: People Influence Natural Systems

The life and health of wildlife, marine life, trees and plants are all affected by human behavior, especially with growing populations and increased consumption. This principle stresses that everything from politics and economics to agriculture has a noticeable effect on natural systems.

In The Red List (Grade 6, Module 3) students take on the roles of ecologists on a mission to save endangered species from extinction. They research the threats these species face and what conservationists do to protect them, before coming up with their own conservation plan. 

Principle 3: Natural Systems Change in Ways that People Benefit From and Can Influence

Natural systems depend on cycles and processes—such as the changing seasons. This principle highlights how these natural cycles are also crucial to human life, and how human activity can change them—both in harmful and in positive ways.

As an example, students examine the way that landforms change, in Save the Island (Grade 2, Module 4). They research ways that landforms change and discover how humans have come up with engineering solutions to, for example, hold back floods or slow down erosions. Using what they’ve learned, they come up with a plan to save the island of Tangier, which is at risk of disappearing because of coastal erosion. 

Principle 4: There are no Permanent or Impermeable Boundaries that Prevent Matter from Flowing Between Systems

Principle 4 emphasizes that anything created by humans can easily end up in natural systems—and vice versa. Some things, like plastic waste and oil spills can be very damaging, whereas other things may have a neutral (or sometimes even a beneficial) effect. 

To apply this, students become science journalists in Sparks Energy, Inc. (Grade 4, Module 2), and investigate the consequences of how we get energy: from coal, oil and nuclear, to renewable sources like air and wind. In teams, students carry out research, investigations and interviews, and write an exclusive article from their findings.  

Principle 5: Decisions Affecting Resources and Natural Systems are Complex and Involve Many Factors

This principle considers how politicians and other people in power must take into account social, economic, political and environmental factors when making decisions about the use of natural resources—and how these factors are changing over time. 

In Cities of the Future (Grade 6, Module 4), students become decision-makers as they design an environmentally friendly city of the future. After investigating the impact of human activities on the environment—using case studies, real-life examples, and data—they must balance the needs of a population with the protection of the natural environment, as they plan their cities. 

It is becoming increasingly obvious that human activities can have a detrimental effect on the natural world, and individuals are becoming increasingly aware of these issues, as last week’s global climate march demonstrated.

Your students are growing up in a tumultuous time. Given the right guidance, they may become future scientists, making groundbreaking discoveries and creating revolutionary inventions. Through incorporating the EPCs, Twig Science ensures that students get a thorough understanding of current issues and the chance to think of ways to create solutions.