Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5025
Environmental education refers to the integrated study of the natural, living, and physical environment and humans' interactions with it. Environmental education programs in U.S. K–12 public schools increased as a result of the environmental movement of the 1960s–1970s era. There are many differences in philosophy and approach and continual disagreements about the composition and social purpose of environmental education. Research has found that the implementation of environmental education in schools is problematic and not very successful, and there is a large gap between intent and performance in teaching students about environmental issues.
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Keywords Affective Development; Bioethics; Cross-Curricular; Environmental Education; Environmental Ethic; Environmental Learning; Environmental Literacy; Experiential Education; Integrative Learning; Interdisciplinary; Outdoor Education; Place-Based Education; Service Learning
Alternative Education: Environmental Education
Environmental or environment-based education is a relatively new, innovative and dynamic form of cross-curricular education that is focused on the study of the environment.
Because environmental education involves the study of changes in earth systems and environmental systems over time, it is an important context in which to learn about science. Environmental education curricula are directed at increasing students' environmental knowledge, awareness, and literacy. The history of environmental education is linked to that of outdoor and experiential education. Environmental education began to take concrete form as a discipline in the late 1960s and became a pedagogical field in the 1970s.
The practice of environmental education in U.S. schools is adaptable to all age, grade, ability, and achievement levels. Although experiential education can take place in a variety of settings, outdoor-learning settings have many advantages over classroom settings. Environmental education curricula are interdisciplinary, integrated, and thematic and require contributions from multiple subject areas. Environmental learning attends to students' variant learning styles and accents their diverse learning needs in the area of multiple intelligences.
Environmental education is an important context in which to learn about the environment, as well as science—biology, geology, nature—and numerous interdisciplinary, or hybrid fields. Environmental education involves the broad study of changes in earth systems and environmental systems over time. Among environmental education's primary goals are to deepen students' engagement with issues in environment and science such as global warming, biodiversity, sustainability, and sustainable development. Related school curricula are directed at increasing students' environmental knowledge and awareness and their overall environmental literacy—knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors—related to the environment.
Environmental education can be traced to outdoor education, and its history is intimately intertwined with that of outdoor and experiential education. The roots of environmental education can also be traced to recreational camping, which began to be practiced during the period from 1861–1880, the nature study movement. Environmental education, as outdoor education, was influenced by the traditions of camping education and nature study. Environmental education grew out of the juxtaposition of the philosophies of the two separate movements: the school camping/outdoor education movement and the conservation/nature study movement. Environmental education draws on the combined educational practices of experiential and outdoor education (Adkins & Simmons, 2002; Carlson, 2000; Chase, 1985; Kirk, 1980). According to Carlson (2000), the beginning of outdoor education as a "learning method" began in 1930.
Direct observation and experience with one's natural surroundings was considered to be a worthwhile endeavor until about the 1940s (Pyle, 2001). A significant purveyor of this type of direct observation and first-hand study was Rand Aldo Leopold (1886–1948). Leopold was a forester, ecologist, philosopher, educator, and writer. Leopold was a fervent campaigner for wilderness areas and the preservation of wildlife. He was a founder of the Wilderness Society in 1935 and a director of the Audubon Society, also from 1935. His experiential learning on the land led to his development of a "pedagogy of place" or "place-based education, " which involved quality environmental learning experiences in local settings (Knapp, 2005; Merriam-Webster Inc., 1988). In addition to place-based education, the field of environmental ethics also originated near the end of the 1940s, but did not make great progress until the 1970s (Huiying, 2004).
The 1960s Environmental Movement
Environmental education began to take concrete form as a discipline in the late 1960s. The goals of environmental education since their emergence have been strongly evident in science curricula. Developing environmentally literate citizens who have the knowledge and skills to take responsible action with regard to the natural environment have been the aims of environmental education since its inception. Many well-known events and people contributed to the movement, including:
• The introduction of the term “environmental literacy” in 1969.
• Rachel Carson's concept of “ecological interdependence,” introduced in her book Silent Spring published in 1962.
• The Russian scientist D. L. Armand's works of the 1960s contributing to establishing the concept of “sustainable development.”
• The first journal of environmental education published in the late 1960s.
• The involvement of the Peace Corps with environmental education in the 1960s, sponsoring programs in schools, youth centers, parks, and zoos.
(Adkins & Simmons, 2002; Bennett & Bennett, 2004; Braus, 1993; Di Chiro, 2006; Kasimov, Malkhazova, & Romanova, 2005; Roth, 1992).
Environmental education programs in U.S. public schools increased as a result of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a "pedagogical field" in the 1970s. The first international conferences on environmental education were also held in the 1970s. The United Nations conferences on the environment played an instrumental role in developing the basic premises and guiding principles for environmental education curriculum development. The first Earth Day celebration took place on April 22, 1970 (Baird, 1991; Covert, 1986; Gonzalez-Gaudiano, 2007; Papadimitriou, 2001).
From 1990–1994, the National Science Foundation embarked on a nationwide program to infuse earth systems concepts throughout the K–12 science curriculum across the country (Fortner & Boyd, 1995). The National Environmental Education Act (NEAA) of 1990 established a federal comprehensive education program to support state and local efforts (U.S. Congress, 1996). The NEAA established the Office of Environmental Education (OEE) within the Environmental Protection Agency. The NEAA supports the development of materials and education efforts so that environmental problems are characterized factually and objectively, are scientifically sound, and are balanced. The National Environmental Education Amendments Act of 1996 made the NEEA programs operate more efficiently and effectively and extended authorization for NEEA programs (U.S. Congress, 1996).
As the focus of environmental problems and government policy in the U.S. has shifted from water supply in the 1960s to solid waste management in the 1970s to hazardous waste management in the 1980s, to air quality in the 1990s and to global warming and climate change in the 2000s, the role and importance of environmental education has continued to expand (Lankard, 1996).
Experiential environmental education and environmental learning can take place in a variety of settings and venues. These include diverse traditional and nontraditional settings for teaching and learning. Besides school-based/in-school/classroom environmental learning settings, there are many different, alternative, non-school/out-of-school/outside-the-classroom settings. Natural, local, cross-cultural, community-based, outdoor learning settings have many advantages over classroom settings. Informal learning can occur in nature or nature education settings. Students can address environmental issues and problems in the community and local areas. Outdoor settings include wilderness and urban adventures, rope courses or camp-based extensions of the classroom. Parry (1998) describes one program—resident outdoor environmental education (ROEE)—in which students live in the outdoor environment and take part in a camping experience for two to five days.
Most environmental education activities are undertaken in school or under the guidance of the school. Lab-based biological studies and environmental education in the school classroom have replaced nature study in outdoor environments, reducing possibilities for students to establish personal connections to the earth (Pyle, 2001; Rickinson, 2001). Most work in schools is done indoors. Schools sit isolated on large chunks of land surrounded by areas of grass and parking lots and consume many resources. Moore (1996) and Pope (1998) suggest that instead, schools could design and develop two perfect environmental education laboratories: one indoor and one outdoor. There exist a variety of options for designing the school grounds for environmental learning and creating optimal outdoor learning environments to foster students' intimate contact with nature. In doing so, schools need to give consideration to such features as pathways, ground covers, landforms and topography, trees and vegetation, gardens and animal habitats (Moore, 1996; Pope, 1998).
Environmental education curricula are student-centered, theme-oriented, integrated, and interdisciplinary units of study. Thematic units of hybrid topics are interwoven throughout the K–12 curriculum. Environmental education and environmental learning are cross-curricular, cross-disciplinary, and require contributions from numerous disciplines or subject areas. Environmental curricula use the description and operation of the biological/ecological and physical environment, and related social issues, as the focus of integrative learning for all other subject areas (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000; Papadimitriou, 2001). The environment-related aspects of environmental education, including examples of the fields, subjects, concepts, topics/issues, and programs/projects, are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1: Environment-Related Aspects of Environmental Education
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE):
Note: Some of these projects/programs are taken from Irwin, 2007, & from Kushmerick, Young & Stein, 2007.
Practical theses supporting the merging of environmental education and science education have previously been proposed (Papadimitriou, 2001). Science curriculum content includes concepts not only from environmental science, environmental conservation, life science, and biology but also from all the sciences—life, physical, natural, and social. Thus, environmental education includes bioethics and social ethics—the study of values and related bioethical topics—in polemical engagement with specific local and global environmental issues and resource-based environmental learning (Gifford, 2002; Jennings, 1982).
Cross-curricular, activities-based, environmental education projects integrate interdisciplinary, thematic topics from subjects such as mathematics, social studies, history, art, and the language arts across the sciences and social sciences. Curricula and teaching materials can be developed that integrate literature on the environment from authors such as Leopold, Carson, Thoreau, Orwell, Hemingway, Camus, and Sophocles (Hage & Daniels, 1996; McAllister, Hildebrand, & Ericson, 2000).
A wealth of curriculum resources and environmental education–related teaching materials can be obtained from various environmental organizations, scientific agencies, and educational associations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological and Biological Survey, and the International Technology Education Association. In addition, the Internet and online courseware are also vital repositories of environmental information, data, and analysis tools (Vaglia, 1998).
A variety of instructional strategies and experiential approaches can be used in environmental education and environmental learning. These include practical, active learning and creative design projects. Teachers can use innovative methods with increased emphasis on collaborative teaching and increased attention to students' variant learning styles. The education-related aspects of environmental education include:
• Examples of the philosophical foundations,
• Instructional strategies,
Actual strategies employed can vary, but a few examples are:
Outdoor adventures and overnight experiences:
• Educational camping,
• Field trips,
• Wilderness hikes and nature walks.
Inquiry-based learning, activities, and laboratories provide students with opportunities to collect, analyze, interpret ,and present data. Students can also identify and prioritize factors, make predictions and test hypotheses, and construct graphs and charts (Stone, 2007).
Additional instructional strategies that can be adapted for environmental education include:
• Valuing exercises,
• Case studies
• Benefit and risk analyses
• Classroom debates
• Group presentations,
• Simulation games,
• Scavenger hunts (Gifford, 2002; Heyman, 1982; Proulx, 2004).
The use of drama and role playing, particularly with students aged 7 to 11, can be used as a strategy to develop students' understanding of basic environmental and ecological concepts. Various types of creative writing—essays, discursive writing, experiential narrative writing, and poetry—can be used to raise environmental awareness. Students can prepare and distribute environment-related informational brochures, newspaper articles, and editorials. Teachers can facilitate the publication of students' work related to environmental issues (Bailey & Watson, 1998; Gifford, 2002; Li, 2006; Stone, 2007; Whitty, 2003).
Table 2: Education-Related Aspects of Environmental Education (Chu et al., 2007)
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE):
Environmental education can develop students' skills and knowledge to deal with current environmental issues. Environmental learning can increase students' critical ecological awareness of both local and global environments. Environmental education can also increase environmental literacy, foster and encourage responsible citizenship, develop and teach personal, civic, and global responsibilities, and generally help to prepare students for life success. Environmental education encourages individual activism and emphasizes local ideas in the context of project-based learning that is tied to purposeful activity and action in support of the environment (Hage & Daniels, 1996; Proulx, 2004; Tal, 2004; Whitty, 2003).
Environmental education models school-community collaboration and can involve parents and community members, as it typically incorporates a service-learning component—community service and community work—that build students' community-action skills. Environmental education often develops environment-related school-community partnerships and youth programs outside formal education (Tal, 2004).
Although environmental education includes both indoor and outdoor activities, it allows students to get out of the classroom, and into natural outdoor settings. As such, environmental education can build on real-world knowledge that students already have.
It is a good way to integrate scientific method and to make science more relevant to students. Environmental learning can involve students in science activities that mirror real-life issues and expose students to environmental science as a potentially desirable career (Langsford, Meredith, & Munday, 2002; Proulx, 2004).
Environmental education can provide students with a variety of transferable skills such as basic classification skills. In addition, students can build their collaborative problem-solving skills. Since environmental education emphasizes cooperative versus competitive learning, students can increase their group cooperation skills. Environmental learning can focus on students' independent thinking, critical thinking, and critical inquiry skills (Gifford, 2002; Proulx, 2004).
Among the limitations of environmental education are that there are differences in philosophy and approach and it is typically delivered poorly. According to some researchers, teachers may lack environmental knowledge, environmental literacy, and a commitment to environmental education. If teachers lack environmental literacy themselves, they cannot be expected to develop environmentally literate students who grow up to become environmentally-literate adult citizens. Teachers at all levels may also slant their work and deliver a biased, unbalanced, and highly politicized form of environmental education (Cutter, 2002; Disinger, 1981; Graves, 1981; Papadimitriou, 2001).
Environmental education is a widely discussed area of study and there are continual disagreements about its composition and social purpose. The teaching and general handling of values, ethical issues, bioethical topics, social decision-making, and responsible environmental behavior modeling are sometimes controversial in public classrooms. Many parents and students disagree with the incorporation of concepts and discussions relating to unequal access of the world's population to environmental resources, the unequal distribution of environmental harm, and environmental justice in grade 6–12 environmental education curricula, let alone in grade PreK–5 curricula (Baird, 1991; Graves, 1981; Kushmerick, Young, & Stein, 2007; Marsden, 1997; Papadimitriou, 2001).
Environmental Education in Primary Schools
Research has found that the implementation of environmental education in elementary and primary schools is not only problematic but is also not very successful (Cutter, 2002; Cutter-Mackenzie & Smith, 2003), because there is a large gap separating intent and performance in teaching students about environmental issues (Sanera, 1998). Elementary and primary teachers may have little knowledge of environmental education concepts, theories, and teaching approaches (Cutter, 2002). There exists little empirical research on primary school teachers' knowledge of the environment and the degree to which teachers' knowledge inhibits environmental education practice (Cutter-Mackenzie & Smith, 2003). Elementary teachers generally prefer to focus on students attitudes and values in teaching environmental education (Cutter, 2002). However, research shows that teachers benefit from school-based partnerships with environmental educators and natural resource professionals (Bainer, Cantrell & Barron, 1997).
Environmental Education in Secondary Schools
Research has determined that secondary school girls have more environmental knowledge and are more environmentally active than boys, but secondary school boys do better than girls in environmental problem-solving exercises (Manjengwa, 1998). Research demonstrates that students learn more quickly in outdoor settings compared to classrooms, retaining skills longer and appreciating the experience more (Tanner, 2001). The ability of environmental education programs in schools and resident camps to positively affect the environmental awareness and attitudes of children and adolescents depends on educators enabling students to develop critical thinking, environmental action skills and internal locus of control (Yerkes & Biederman, 2003). The difference between the scientific question-posing capabilities of 10th-grade students of high and low academic levels is significant in both the number and complexity of questions asked about air quality (Dori & Herscovitz, 1999). High school students are capable of conducting primary research on a variety of environment-related topics such as the greenhouse effect, eco-tourism, and green business, and they can also hold a classroom environmental summit to discuss their findings (Bushell, 1997).
Rickinson (2001 & 2006) has examined the nature and quality of research on students' environmental learning. According to Rickinson (2001), the environmental education research field has become increasingly diverse. Rickinson (2006) points out that there needs to be greater emphasis on making environmental education research accessible and useable, with increased collaboration between researchers and practitioners/policy makers. The “learning as process and outcome” theme has been under-researched and under-theorized in the field of environmental education (Rickinson, 2006). Rickinson (2006) concludes that there needs to be more research on the educational rather than the environmental dimensions of environmental education and on life-long environmental learning.
Affective Development: Domain of education that involves students' attitudes, feelings, and emotions as distinguished from their cognitive thoughts and actions.
Bioethics: Also social ethics; area of study involving the philosophical actions, choices, behaviors, values, or principles of human interactions with the environment.
Cross-Curricular: Also cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or hybrid; an approach to education and learning that involves and integrates several or all school subjects.
Environmental Education: Experiential, cross-curricular, integrative process of learning about the natural, living, physical, and social environment, and humans' interrelationships with their surroundings, to develop related knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can be applied toward responsible and sustainable development, environmental improvement, conservation, and protection.
Environmental Ethic: An informed personal awareness of, concern about, and ideals for the shared natural environment.
Environmental Literacy: Possessing a functional or working knowledge of the environment and related issues.
Environmental Learning: The formal or informal, educational active experience of students in gaining multidimensional personal knowledge, awareness, growth, skills, attitudes, or behaviors relating to the environment.
Experiential Education: Constructivist form and philosophy of education in which students become actively and practically engaged, develop their own knowledge and skills, and learn by doing and participating directly in activities typically outside the classroom.
Integrative Learning: Term used here in the context of integrated learning; educational experience in which students gain knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors through an interdisciplinary or cross-curricular pedagogical approach drawing on a variety of academic subjects.
Interdisciplinary: Also hybrid, cross-curricular, or cross-disciplinary; education, learning, or study that crosses disciplinary boundaries, involving and integrating content from multiple curricular or subject areas; a term describing the intermingling of disciplines for hybridized study.
Outdoor Education: Learning that occurs outside the classroom, that is in/about/for the out-of-doors, and that involves first-hand observations and direct experiences.
Place-Based Education: Or “pedagogy of place”; form of education "founded" by Aldo Leopold and that involves direct observation and first-hand study of the land and quality environmental learning experiences in local settings.
Service Learning: Type of education, such as environmental education, that involves a voluntary community action or community service component.
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