|Environmental Education in the Schools (Peace Corps, 1993)|
|Teaching tips and tricks: Strategies that work|
By keeping learning styles in mind, as well as students' individual strengths, you can create more effective environmental education lesson plans. There are many ways to design lessons, but all require that you set aside time to plan so that you know where you are going, how you will get there, and how you will know if you have succeeded. By planning ahead, you will be able to incorporate a variety of approaches and techniques, increase student involvement, accomplish your objectives, and prepare materials needed for the lesson. The most important step is to clearly outline your goals (see page 23 in Chapter 2) and then write specific behavioral objectives for each lesson that will accomplish your goals.
A CLOSER LOOK AT OBJECTIVES
There are often three levels of writing behavioral objectives: your overall program objectives, the specific course objectives, and the actual lesson plan objectives. Before writing lesson plan objectives, you'll need to map out your overall program and course objectives. The time to do this is when you develop your scope and sequence (see Chapter 5).
Here's a sample of each level of objectives:
PROGRAM OBJECTIVE: By the end of middle school, students will be able to list the major environmental issues facing Sri Lanka and describe the causes and consequences of each issue.
COURSE OBJECTIVE: BY the end of level six, students will be able to explain the causes of desertification, discuss how desertification affects people living in and around desertified areas, and describe several possible solutions that could help slow desertification.
LESSON PLAN OBJECTIVE: BY the end of this three-day lesson,
students will be able to define desertification and describe three factors that
Although there are many strategies for developing effective lesson plans, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
* Know the purpose of the lesson and let students know what to expect. Think about what students should be able to do by the end of the lesson before actually writing your behavioral objectives.
* Start with the familiar and move to the more unfamiliar. Tailor your objectives to reflect student interests and needs.
* Decide what approaches and specific activities you will use to accomplish your objectives. For example, how will you motivate your students, what types of activities will you use, how will you summarize the lesson, and so on.
* Take time to prepare materials and arrange for guest speakers, field trips, and other special events to make your teaching more effective.
* Finally, decide how you will assess the effectiveness of the lesson, either formally or informally.
From the start you need to get input from your students so that they want to learn what you want to teach. One way of doing this is to ask your students at the beginning of the course or unit to think about what they want to learn or expect to learn in your class. Not only will this help your teaching-it will also help give students a sense of ownership in the course or program. This is especially important when you are trying to help students improve thinking skills and creativity. If the content is personally meaningful to your students, you will be better able to hold their interest and teach the thinking skills you have identified as important.
LESSON PLANNING MODELS
Based on research about learning styles, we recommend that teachers develop lesson plans that cater to a variety of learning styles and emphasize discovery learning. One model, outlined in McCarthy's 4MAT System, includes a 4-step design, beginning with a motivational activity, followed by an activity that conveys information. The next segment includes time for the students to practice using the information and ends with an activity that allows the students to apply what they have learned. Motivation and information are more teacher-directed; practice and application are more student-directed. This four-step model is based on the common sense idea that variety helps stimulate interest on the part of learners and that each of us prefers certain types of instruction to others. Most educators would agree that by keeping learning styles in mind when developing environmental education lesson plans, you can help build a more dynamic and effective teaching program. (See the Appendix for a sample lesson planning worksheet.)
Here's a sample environmental education lesson plan for primary students that focuses on acid rain and follows the 4MAT system:
MOTIVATION: Start with an intro that shows students the connection between energy use and acid rain, such as a cumulative chant like "The House that Jack Built" that ties turning on a light to burning coal and causing acid rain to form (see page 114 for an example that focuses on the water cycle). Then ask the students to form small groups to discuss what they know about acid rain. Have them group their thoughts in ways that can be presented to the rest of the class. After each group presents, discuss the commonalties and lead into the next step of the lesson-a mini-lecture about acid rain and energy.
INFORMATION: Using whatever learning aids are available (flip charts, blackboard, slides, etc.), present a brief lecture about the causes and consequences of acid rain. If possible, hand out information about acid rain that the students can read. Emphasize the connection between individual energy use and acid rain.
PRACTICE: Have students create word webs to review the information they've learned about the relationship of acid rain to jobs, environmental damage, people's attitudes, and so on.
APPLICATION: Put up displays in the school and community about what causes acid rain and what individuals can do to help lessen the impacts. Also try to get student editorials published in the school newspaper, if there is one.
"All teachers, not just a few, and all courses should strive to
develop creative ability."
Here's a sample environmental education lesson plan for secondary students that focuses on pesticide safety:
MOTIVATION: Have the students read a moral dilemma dealing with pesticide use and have the class divide into groups to discuss the issues. (See Chapter 7 for an example of a moral dilemma.)
INFORMATION: Have a guest speaker describe pesticide use in your community, including information about the health risks and how to safely apply pesticides. Next present information about different kinds of pesticides and why many experts feel that integrated pest management (IPM) can be safer, cheaper, and more effective than traditional chemical pest treatment. Discuss the pros and cons of IPM.
PRACTICE: Have students complete exercises about pesticide use in the country, including health problems associated with applying and disposing of pesticides, benefits of pesticide use, types of pesticides, effect of pesticides on wildlife, and so on. Have students survey community residents about their attitudes and practices.
APPLICATION: Have students make public service announcements (radio spots or print) that warn people of the dangers of pesticide use and show them how to apply safer pesticides and get rid of pesticide containers safely.
This 4MAT system also stresses the importance of the experiential learning cycle. According to experiential learning theory, the most effective learning comes from having a concrete experience and then reflecting on that experience, drawing conclusions from the experience and generalizing from it, and finally deciding how to use what was learned to improve, expand, change, and plan for the future. In the four-step model outlined above, the concrete experience usually takes place in the motivation or information steps of the lesson plan.
Experiential or discovery learning forces students to get involved. For example, students may try to clean up an oil spill in a gallon of water using straw, sticks, and matches, take a field trip to a recently deforested area to assess the damage, and establish a mock court, present evidence, and try a case related to environmental terrorism. When students learn by doing, they are often more motivated to learn, retain what they learn longer, and are able to transfer what they know to other situations. Discovery learning also helps students increase self-confidence and self-reliance because they take more of the responsibility for learning.
Instead of telling students information, experiential learning helps them discover for themselves. Environmental education and discovery learning are closely linked. By taking part in hands-on environmental education activities, students are more likely to take a personal interest in the environment and related issues. But as exciting and effective as hands-on learning is, it's important to remember that not all students do well with this type of approach especially if the learning is too unstructured. For experiential learning to be most effective, it helps to have guided discovery, in which the teacher provides hints and leading questions to keep students on track.
"Critical thinking allows students to become active
participants in their learning."
-Carol Thanus Primary School Teacher
The experiential learning cycle fits well into the four-step model explained above, but is also the focus of other lesson-planning models. For example, in the "focus-explore-reflect-apply" learning cycle described here, students take part in a concrete experience during the "explore" phase of the lesson:
FOCUS: Explore and clarify the ideas that students already have about the topics.
EXPLORE: Enable students to take part in hands-on explorations of the topics being investigated.
REFLECT: Encourage students to discuss their observations and reconcile their ideas.
APPLY: Help students to discuss and apply their new ideas in new situations.
(Reprinted from the National Science Resources Center, National Academy of Science, and Smithsonian Institution, 1992.)
No matter which lesson-planning model you choose, it's important to recognize the importance of review. Studies have shown that many students learn better when they are reminded of what they're learning (review), why it is important, and how it is related to what they already know or are learning in other classes. For example, if you are about to start the second day of teaching about problems involving coral reefs, you might want to refer back to what happened in the previous lesson first, and then captivate your group with a demonstration, simulation, discussion, or other experience that can engage the students and get them motivated to find out what's coming next.
Lesson planning models, such as the ones outlined above, provide a framework that can remind you to cater to different learning styles and make use of discovery learning. In some cases, a lesson can be completed in one or two class periods. In other cases, a lesson can take longer. See the Appendix for several lesson planning worksheets. (For more about lesson planning, see page 88 in Teacher Training, Peace Corps ICE T-45.)
One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is fleshing out your lesson plans and developing activities that can help you meet your objectives. Which activities are best? It all depends on you, your students, and your situation. You need to consider the subject, time, materials, student needs, and the balance you want to strike between student-centered and teacher-centered activities.
Some lessons will include many activities; others will focus on one major activity. As with lesson planning, the first step in creating an activity is to consider your objectives. It's also important to think about your approach, the skills you want to emphasize, and the level of instruction, making sure the content matches the level of your audience. (See Chapter 7 for sample environmental education activities.)
The rest of this chapter is devoted to specific topics that can help you develop innovative educational activities that strengthen your environmental education program and your overall teaching. _ Specifically, we'll focus on identifying student misconceptions, facilitating controversial issues, teaching critical and creative thinking skills, and promoting group cooperation skills.
Remember, many of the activities in the next chapter were
developed for a specific audience, culture, geographic location, and so on, and
will need to be adapted or completely revised to fit your needs. Also note that
each has its own strengths and weaknesses, which you can improve when you adapt
DO BATS NEST IN PEOPLE'S HAIR?
All students come to class with misconceptions. Some of the things they believe are simply myths or untruths they have picked up from their friends or family, such as bats being able to nest in people's hair or tapirs having the ability to suck out the insides of a dog through their snouts. But other misconceptions are entrenched misunderstandings that provide a skewed understanding about how the world works. Many educators feel that you won't be successful in changing a skewed mental map unless the student does the reworking to put the correct information into a form that fits with his or her previous learning.
One way to better understand student misconceptions is to assess where your students are before starting a lesson. Then you can work with the students to help them examine their previous thinking and reconstruct a more correct explanation. Experiential learning can help students "relearn" and discover for themselves and build correct mental maps. Working with other students who see things differently can also help change perceptions and understandings. There are many ways to assess student knowledge, attitudes, and understandings, from informal questionnaires to formal testing. See Chapter 9 for more about student assessment.
CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES IN THE CLASSROOM
Should developed countries sell their hazardous waste to less-developed countries for disposal? Is nuclear power a feasible option for Eastern Europe? Should a wetland area in Sri Lanka be protected as a preserve, limiting the hunting rights of the indigenous people who have hunted there for hundreds of years? One of the best ways to motivate upper elementary, middle, and secondary students and get them to think is to introduce current controversial issues involving the environment into your classroom. Students often jump at the chance to discuss issues that are directly relevant to their lives and interests. At the same time, they can strengthen their critical and creative thinking skills, their moral reasoning skills, their understanding of conflict resolution, and their ability to get along with and respect their peers.
There are many ways to introduce controversial issues into your teaching, from debates to structured controversy resolution. (See Chapter 7 for examples of both.) In many cultures, puppets and role plays are used to introduce controversial issues to students. In all cases, the topic should be challenging, relevant, and appropriate for the intellectual level of the students and the cultural norms of your community. And the procedure you want students to use should be clear to the students at the beginning of the process. In debates, for example, you could have the students take one side of an issue, research it, prepare arguments supporting their views, and try to convince others (the teacher or a student panel) to agree with their position. In structured controversies, students could argue both sides of an issue, then work as teams to come up with a collaborative solution that involves thinking from both sides of the issue and relies on input and consensus from all in the group. At the conclusion, each person writes an essay summarizing what he or she learned from the activity.
Throughout debates, conflict, or discussions, it's important for you, as the facilitator, to remain as neutral as you can and to avoid voicing opinions about the topic or your own religious, political, or philosophical views until after students have had a chance to discuss and debate. (Many students will be swayed by your views and tend to side with you.) But you can encourage thought-provoking discussions by asking questions, guiding cooperative strategies, and focusing on specific aspects of the issues, such as the balance between individual freedoms and the social good, the role of the citizen in the resolution of environmental issues, and the underlying principles of a democratic society. It's also important to make sure your colleagues, administrators, and parents are informed about what you are teaching and how you are teaching it especially if the topic is extremely controversial in your village or town. Think about ways to increase trust levels between school staff, parents, and the rest of the community and talk over your ideas with colleagues.
David and Roger Johnson, educational researchers at the University of Minnesota, suggest students discuss these rules before participating in a classroom controversy:
* I am critical of ideas, not people.
* I focus on making the best decision possible, not on "winning."
* I encourage everyone to participate and master all the relevant information.
* I listen to everyone's ideas, even if I don't agree.
* I restate (paraphrase) what someone has said if it is not clear.
* I first bring out all the ideas and facts supporting both sides and then try to put them together in a way that makes sense.
* I try to understand both sides of the issue
* I change my mind when the evidence clearly indicates that I should do so.
What can your students gain from taking part in discussions involving controversial environmental issues? Here are just a few of the benefits:
* improved communication skills
* improved ability to collect and interpret information
* improved ability to detect bias
* improved ability to differentiate between fact and opinion
* ability to respect the views of others
* ability to work cooperatively with peers
* ability to make logical conclusions
* chance to examine their values and beliefs and those of others
* greater understanding of the subject
* ability to make better decisions and come up with more effective solutions
* ability to see different perspectives
* greater commitment to the problem solving process
THINK TANK: STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING THINKING
As we mentioned earlier, environmental education and critical thinking skills go hand in hand. But what are some strategies for teaching critical thinking skills? There are several ways to do it and many different opinions about how to do it most effectively. Some educators say that you need to spend time teaching students about specific thinking skills and helping them examine the thought processes they use. For example, you might spend a class period focusing on how to detect bias or analyze a situation. Many educators also stress that the best way to teach thinking skills is in the context of a content area. That is, if you want students to predict consequences from an action, use a real situation that is teaching content as well as the skill of prediction. Environmental education is one of the best ways to help teachers teach thinking skills because students are naturally curious about the natural world and the environmental issues that are directly relevant to their lives and the lives of their families and neighbors.
Once you outline those skills you feel are most important to teach, you can integrate them into everything you do. For example, ask questions that make your students use the thinking skills you've listed (see below for questioning strategies) and encourage them to support their answers. Encourage activities that help students analyze, apply, and evaluate information. For example, play the devil's advocate during discussions and encourage debates. And discuss controversial issues in the classroom that make students look at complex relationships between environmental, economical, social, political, and moral concerns. (See Chapter 7 for activity ideas that stress critical thinking skills and the Bibliography for resources that can help you incorporate thinking skills into your teaching.)
"Wonder is the beginning of wisdom."
CREATIVITY GENERATING NEW IDEAS AND APPROACHES
All students have the potential to think creatively. And environmental education activities lend themselves to helping students reach their creative potential in many different subjects-from writing to drama to science. Creativity is an especially critical part of environmental problem solving. By encouraging brainstorming, discussion, discovery learning, and creative questioning, you can help students come up with new ideas, approaches, and ways of looking at a problem. Solutions to environmental issues and conflict often involve unconventional methods, imagination, creative ideas, and innovative approaches.
Creativity in environmental education can mean making a poster about contour plowing using a new technique or coming up with a clever saying encouraging people to conserve energy. It can mean creating a display about how a coral reef benefits the community or writing a play about the consequences of tropical deforestation. And it can also result in a creative solution to a local environmental dilemma.
It's always important to keep culture in mind when thinking about creativity. Researchers have found that in some countries, creativity takes on a variety of meanings. Discussing creativity with colleagues and what role creativity can play would be a good start to determining what is most appropriate in your situation.
THE ART OF QUESTIONING
To produce a world of critical and creative thinkers that can help solve environmental problems, we need to encourage students to ask questions and think critically. To do this, we need to ask them the right kinds of questions and model good questioning techniques. But it's not that easy to ask good questions-questions that are thought-provoking and varied. Although teachers ask a lot of questions (research shows that some teachers ask more than 400 questions a day), most of the questions have only one right answer and require students to pull facts and figures from their brain. Unfortunately, these kinds of questions don't encourage students to explore or think at higher levels. What color is amethyst? Where is Belize? What's the definition of a tropical rain forest?-are all examples of these "what's the right answer" factual questions.
The reliance on a right answer has also led some students to not really think about the question asked at all and instead focus on coming up with an answer. In one study, students were asked questions like this: "There are 26 sheep and 10 goats on a ship. How old is the captain? 76 of the 97 students "solved" the problem by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. They felt they were expected to answer the question as quickly and "correctly" as possible. They did not feel they were expected to make sense of the problem. Instruction and practice had not emphasized understanding the problem.
Although factual questions are important, they should be balanced ~ _ with more stimulating questions that make students think about some- thing differently, come to a different conclusion, or reflect on some- thing important. There are many different kinds of questions that can help students grow intellectually and creatively. And there are many strategies for using questions in your teaching. For example, one type of questioning strategy, called Socratic Questioning, is designed to probe deeply and get students to think. It also helps open up discussion and allow students to express themselves freely without worrying about being wrong. Here are some sample questions about voting that might be part of a Socratic questioning session:
WHAT DOES "VOTE" MEAN?
How do people decide whom to elect? How should they decide? How could people predict how a potential leader is likely to act? If you don't know about issues or the candidates, should you vote?
(Adapted from the work of Richard Paul, A.J.A. Brinker, Karen Jensen, and Heidi Kreklav (Foundation for Critical Thinking, Sonoma State University)
"Questions, not answers, stimulate the
Some educators use the terms "convergent" and "divergent" to describe two basic kinds of questions. Convergent questions are focused questions that usually have one right answer; divergent questions are probing questions that are open-ended and can have any number of answers. For example, "What's the largest river in Zaire" is a convergent question. "What is your reaction to the video's assumption that industry is the 'bad guy'?" is an example of divergent question.
You can also use Bloom's taxonomy to ensure that you ask questions that challenge students to think at higher levels. (See the box on page 90 for questioning cues that lead to higher-level questioning.)
QUESTIONING TIPS AND TRICKS
There are many ways to incorporate what the research tells us about questioning into your environmental education teaching. Here are a few tips and tricks to think about as you plan your lessons. (For more about questioning techniques and different types of questions, see "Teacher Training: A Training Manual, ICE T-46, page 107.)
"The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of
-Linus Pauling Nobel Prize winner
WAIT A SECOND: Wait at least three to five seconds after asking a question before calling on a student to respond. Also wait a few seconds after the student responds. This "double wait time" will give students more time to think, respond, and participate in questions and to get a lot of ideas.
FACILITATE WITH FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS: Push students to go beyond their answers with probing questions such as "Why? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Tell me more. Can you give an example?"
DON'T JUDGE: When a student answers a question, don't harshly evaluate by saying something like "You're wrong, Jerome." Instead, withhold negative judgment, positively acknowledge the response (nod head, ask whether anyone agrees or disagrees, and move the discussion along. As the discussion continues, the correct answer(s) will surface and be reinforced.
SUMMARIZE: Help students listen more carefully by asking questions like "Could you please summarize Robin's point about the connection between jobs and environmental issues?"
SURVEY: Get students involved by surveying the class: "How many people agree with the author's point about global climate change?"
ENCOURAGE INTERACTION: Encourage students to ask each other questions: "Philip, will you please call on someone else to respond?"
PLAY DEVIL'S ADVOCATE: Encourage students to defend their reasoning by offering different points of view.
DON'T RELY ON RAISED HANDS: Call on students randomly instead of favoring just those with raised hands.
ENCOURAGE "THINKING ALOUD": Ask students to think about how they came up with a response: "Describe how you arrived at your answer."
CUE STUDENT RESPONSES: For example, say "There is no one correct answer for this question. I want you to consider alternatives."
THINK, PAIR, SHARE: After asking a question, you can allow time for each person to think about the answer, then have students pair up for Teachers open the door, but you more discussion. Finally, have students share their thoughts with the entire group.
ENCOURAGE ACTION: Ask questions that lead to investigation or action, such as "What happens if you add baking soda to the soil?" "How would you describe the texture of the bark?"
A QUESTIONABLE ENVIRONMENT: Add questions to displays, bulletin boards, and collections. Start a "Questions to Investigate" corner or a "Problem of the Week" competition.
DON'T ANSWER THAT: Sometimes the best way to get students to think is to ask rhetorical questions, such as "I wonder what's under that log."
WRITE THEM DOWN: Many educators think about the questions they want to ask and jot them down before class. This triggers you to remember to ask stimulating questions. The more you practice, the easier it gets to ask questions that make students think.*
*Adapted from Critical Thinking Handbook: 4th-6th Grade by Richard Paul (Foundation for Critical Thinking 1990)
These tips were developed for North American and European
audiences. It's important to check with colleagues and experts in your country
about their thoughts on questioning. You may need to adapt some of these
suggestions to fit the needs of your students.
"Teachers open the door, but you must enter
CUES FOR ENCOURAGING HIGHER LEVEL THINKING
Adapted from "Cueing Thinking in the Classroom: The Promise of
Theory-Embedded Tools" by Jay McTighe and Frank T. Lyman, Jr. (April 1988,
Educational Leadership, ASCD)
"Not to know is bad, but not to wish to know is
-West African Proverb