|Environmental Education in the Schools (Peace Corps, 1993)|
|What is environmental education?|
By learning you will teach; by teaching you will
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to plan, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program, here's a brief overview of some of the issues associated with environmental education, what the research says, and what we'll be focusing on in the following chapters of this manual:
"THINK GLOBALLY ACT LOCALLY"
First coined by author and historian Rene Dubois, this phrase is a catchy way to remind students that environmental problems are often global in scope, but are most effectively tackled at the individual or community level. Students may feel helpless about global ozone depletion. But they can feel empowered when they learn that by not using certain types of plastic foam, they can help reduce ozone- depleting chemicals. This phrase also reinforces how critical it is for students to examine their own behaviors and to understand how individual actions affect global issues. Although it's important for students to understand the international, national, and regional nature of environmental problems, often the most effective environmental education programs help students look at how their own actions at a local level can cause and help prevent or solve environmental problems.
MORE THAN SCIENCE
Many educators link environmental education exclusively with science education. Although a large chunk of environmental education does deal with an understanding of science concepts, it also requires an understanding of economics, math, geography, ethics, politics, and other subjects. In the next several chapters, we'll look at the interdisciplinary nature of environmental education and strategies for integrating environmental education throughout the curriculum.
YOU DON'T NEED TO BE AN EXPERT
Don t think you need to be a scientist or environmental education professional to incorporate environmental education into your teaching. As we've said earlier, environmental education is much more than one "subject"; it involves values education, decision making, communication skills, creativity, and many other subjects and skills. As an educator, your role is to facilitate learning and to know how and when to get the experts involved if they're needed. By incorporating environmental content into your teaching, you can try new activities and approaches and learn more about environmental issues along with your students.
MAKING THE FIT
Environmental education can take many forms. In some school systems, environmental education is carefully integrated throughout the curriculum, relying on a guiding scope and sequence (i.e., planned integration by grade and subject) that ensures that objectives are met throughout a student's schooling. In other school systems, the approach is more piecemeal, with bits of environmental education popping up in different classes and different grades, but without the cohesive structure of a scope and sequence (see Chapter 5 for more about scope and sequence). A few schools offer year-long or semester-long courses that deal specifically with some aspect of the environment, including issues, environmental problems, resource management, and so on. And some schools integrate environmental education throughout the curriculum and also offer environmental courses in middle and high school. But many school systems do not have a school-wide environmental education program at all and instead rely on motivated individuals to incorporate environmental education into their teaching. Finally, many schools do their environmental education after school-in clubs and weekend community activities. In Chapters 2 and 3, we'll look more closely at strategies for incorporating environmental education into a school or classroom curriculum and how to develop a program that is right for you. And in Chapter 9, we'll look at how to evaluate your programs to determine how effective and efficient they are and how to use evaluation to improve your program.
The First Law of Environmental Education: An Experience is
worth 10,000 pictures.
- Noel McInnis
In classrooms around the world, teachers lecture, students take notes, and then students are tested on what they've learned. However, in many classrooms experiential or "hands-on" learning is starting to replace or supplement traditional "chalk-talks." Through experiments, simulations, debate, and other participatory activities, students discover concepts on their own. Experiential learning has been shown to increase retention, motivate students to learn, and encourage group cooperation. It has been especially successful with environmental problem-solving activities. In Chapters 6 and 7 we'll look at a variety of hands-on environmental education activities and techniques that can be adapted for use in schools around the world, including ideas for enhancing lecture-style teaching.
Many people argue that students around the world-especially in urban areas-are losing touch with the natural world. In many places, outdoor experiences are not a regular part of instruction; instead of occurring throughout a student's schooling, outdoor experiences are often limited to a few outings in primary grades. Getting students out into the environment on a regular basis is an important part of a comprehensive environmental education program. Nothing can replace first-hand experiences to help students understand their community, natural systems, and environmental issues.
Using the environment as a classroom is also a way to bring your students closer to nature. For example, many language educators take their students outside for reading and to stimulate creative writing. And many science and math educators use the environment as a laboratory in which students conduct investigations and experiments.
THE BUILT, THE TECHNOLOGICAL, AND THE NATURAL
What is the connection between the "built" environment and the natural environment? The number of people moving to and living in urban areas is increasing at an unprecedented pace in many parts of the world. How does urban living affect people's attitudes about the surrounding environment? How is technology controlling natural and human environments? What are the ethical questions surrounding the use of new technologies? How is a quality environment maintained in an expanding urban environment? These are some of the questions that environmental education strives to answer. In Chapter 7, we've included several sample activities that focus on urban issues. The Bibliography also lists resources that can help you incorporate urban activities into your teaching.
Getting students into the community to look at the natural and built environment can make environmental education programs more relevant to the lives of students. As you focus on real systems, problems, and solutions, your students get first hand experiences that are often missing in educational programs. These "real" experiences not only enrich the curriculum, but can also help strengthen the ties between your educational program and the community.
It's also important to be sensitive to the realities of the environmental problems facing your community. Many of your students and their families may be directly or indirectly responsible for the environmental problems that your students investigate. For example, if you work in Central Europe, many of your students' parents will probably work in the factories that are polluting the air and water. And in Africa, some of your students and their families or relatives might be contributing to the poaching problem. Although you shouldn't shy away from discussing environmental problems because of this, you do need to be sensitive to "laying blame" and think about the best way to present certain issues. (See Chapter 6 for more about teaching controversial issues in the classroom.)
We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape our
- Winston Churchill
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
There's a good chance that what is educationally appropriate in Cincinnati, Ohio won't be appropriate in Banjul, The Gambia or Nuku- Alofa, Tonga. Educators understand the importance of being sensitive to cultural diversity when creating an effective education program. Understanding how people perceive their environment and how they view themselves and their place in the environment is also very important to the success of a program. It's also important that you realize how your ideas about the environment and education might differ from those of the people you will be working with. By better understanding your audience, you can make your teaching more meaningful and relevant to their lives and more culturally appropriate. In the next two chapters, we'll look at ways to assess your community, your environment, your school system, and your students, and how to use this assessment to develop a more effective, culturally appropriate environmental education program.
"Tell a child what to think and you make him a slave to
knowledge. Teach a child how to think and you make all knowledge his
-Henry J. Tait
THINK! THINK! THINK!
One of the goals of an environmental education program is to help students develop the ability to think-both critically and creatively. A student who might someday become part of a local governing council will be most effective if he or she can successfully weigh options, identify alternatives, communicate, ask the right questions, analyze input, and make decisions. The same holds true for a student who might someday be a landowner trying to decide how to manage his or her land or a citizen asked to take sides on an issue that affects the environment and the community. In Chapter 5, we'll look at how to incorporate thinking skills into an environmental education program. We also encourage you to read more about the topic by checking out the resources listed in the Bibliography.
Environmental education is inextricably linked to values. As children mature, the value system they develop influences the choices and decisions they make regarding all aspects of their lives, including environmental issues. Values also add consistency to a person's life, which helps to build a better self-concept. In Chapter 4, we'll look more closely at the connection between values, beliefs, and attitudes and the development of an environmental ethic. (Also see Chapter 7 for several examples of activities that focus on values clarification and value analysis strategies.)
An environmental education program can do much to help empower students to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of others. And this empowerment can lead to increased feelings of pride and self respect. When students take part in a community project to help improve environmental quality or solve a community problem, they are helping themselves and helping others at the same time. They are also affirming their values and seeing that their actions can make a difference.
TOUCH THE KIDS, TOUCH THE PARENTS
Although many of you will be working primarily in schools, you can also have a lasting impact on your students parents. In some cases, parents may be educated by their students. This "parent education" takes place when students bring home new information and skills, and it often provides the impetus to discuss and debate issues, ideas, and feelings. You can also have an impact on parents in the community through activities that bring students, parents, educators, and others together to achieve a common goal.
TAKE ON A SECONDARY PROJECT
There's a natural link between formal and nonformal environmental education efforts. For example, many teachers provide the spark to get wildlife and environmental clubs off the ground and to encourage students to take part in community programs designed to solve a problem. Many Peace Corps Volunteers working in schools are also taking part in secondary projects related to the environment-and they're tying environmental education to other activities and subject matter as well. For example, in Hungary, a group of English teachers has organized a summer camp emphasizing English language skills, environmental awareness, and action.
What is the connection between economic stability and environmentally sustainable development? How can people make enough money to survive and still protect the environment so that resources will not be depleted? Is it possible to use resources sustainably, even in countries where food, shelter, and clean water are in short supply? Educating students about the relationship between a healthy environment and a healthy economy is a critical part of environmental education-and a part that's often been neglected in the past. In Chapter 7 we've included several activities that can help students understand what the word "sustainable" means and how it applies to development and the environment. We've also included a variety of resources in the Bibliography that focus on environmentally sustainable projects and that help clarify the link between economic issues and the environment.
In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our
decisions on the next seven generations.
-Iroquois Confederation, 18th Century attributed
MOVING TOWARD ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOR
In the past, many environmental education efforts have focused mainly on awareness. These programs often included activities that helped students get in touch with the natural world and become aware of environmental problems. This was especially the case with many of the environmental education programs developed in the 1970s, which relied heavily on sensory activities and outdoor experiences to help students relate to the natural world. Although awareness is a critical part of environmental education, most educators would agree that without incorporating the five objectives listed on pages 6-7 into a cohesive program, your efforts will not be as likely to achieve tangible results.
There is also an increasing impetus to move students beyond awareness to environmentally responsible behavior. Many environmental educators feel that the road to environmentally responsible behavior is a continuum that begins with environmental awareness and knowledge and ends with students becoming actively dedicated to improving and maintaining environmental quality.
LIGHT A SPARK!
As an educator, you can have a lifelong impact on your students by incorporating environmental education strategies into your teaching. Environmental quality is directly relevant to the lives of your students and their families. By helping them know what their rights are as citizens, empowering them to take action and feel they can make a difference, clarifying the connections between individual or family health and the environment, showing how personal finance and the environment are linked, and getting them excited about the natural world, you can spark a personal ownership in environmental concerns. And don't worry that you can't do everything-lighting a spark is a good start.
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be
HUNGARIAN TEACHERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Like most countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Hungary suffers from a host of severe environmental problems, including acid rain, smog, water pollution, hazardous waste disposal problems, and loss of habitat. Although the problems can be overwhelming, Peace Corps Volunteers have made a commitment to begin tackling the environmental issues and are working with schools, non-governmental organizations, and local community groups. For example, Volunteers who are teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL Volunteers) in secondary schools and universities are incorporating environmental content into their lesson plans. Their students are learning English by taking part in debates, exhibits, poetry contests, and other activities that focus on air and water pollution, solid waste, and natural resource issues. These Volunteers are also working with their counterparts to sponsor English/Environment camps during the summer, where students of all ages improve their English skills and take part in a variety of environmental education activities.
One TEFL Volunteer, Kevin Anderson, who was working as a
secondary school teacher, got involved in a secondary project to help protect
one of Hungary's most pristine rivers-the Tisza. Working with the Nyiregyhaza
Chapter of the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Protection Society, Kevin
worked with a colleague to get a $10,000 grant from the Regional Environment
Center to survey the upper river and riverside forests, educate the public about
the ecology of the river, and disseminate information. Since getting the grant,
the river has been surveyed and mapped, an educational video about the
importance of the river has been produced, and the city of Nyireghaza has
decided to become part of the Green City program.