Two fruit flies are put into a jar at midnight.
They and their descendants reproduce and double every minute.
At noon the next day the jar is full.
When was the jar half full?
- When was the jar half-full? ***
- When did the fruit flies know they were in trouble?
- If the earth is a jar and we are fruit flies, when will our jar be full?
- When will we know we are in trouble?
- Historical perspective
- Environmental education
- Teaching resources
- Six questions & answers about environmental education
This page explores environmental education and its resources. It includes a historical perspective, reviews the state of environmental education, ICCE findings about the state of environmental education, ICEE recommendations for environmental education, suggestions to help teachers become environmentally savvy, a review of teacher's needs, sample program goals, scoring guide for environmental concerns, suggestions to assess environmental curriculum, review of student environmental knowledge, some related misconceptions, and six frequent questions about environmental education and my answers.
- What do you know about environmental education?
- What is your opinion of the state of environmental education in the United States K-12 schools?
- What do you know about sustainability?
- What is your opinion about the teaching of sustainability in the United States K-12 schools?
Not sure? Let's start with some historical perspective.
Historical perspective of environment
Historically Indigenous people are experts on knowing their environment and how to manage it in a sustainable way. Which generally followed seasonal patterns. Recognizing significant changes could effect their survival, they tried not to upset nature, or the gods, and be respectful of how they impacted the environment. As people people developed their technology and relied more on farming and domestication of animals, they moved from a reliance on a harmony with nature, with minor human interventions, like use of fire and selective harvesting; to a belief that we, humans, could control or conquer it. Which led to an increased reliance on human interventions for intensive farming of mono cultures in prepared fields and herding and housing animals to produce more food; without enough regard to the destruction caused to the environment and its sustainability.
A few historical examples of these interventions include:
- Early civilizations recognized limits of weather and geography. In Egypt (4 000 BCE), reliance on flooding of the Nile river; Petra (380 BCE), limited rainfall in the desert and created an irrigation system.
- Many civilizations struggle with crop failures due to poor soil, lack of water, swarms of insects, deforestation, over grazing, ...
- Haber deigns a process (1902 & 1915) to make ammonia fertilizer to use to provide more nitrogen fertilizer to plants.
- The Green Revolution, (1960) develops new strains of wheat and rice for higher yields.
- Harden, 1968, writes Tragedy of the Commons, in which he describes problems with thinking of resources as common.
- Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, (1962) which many believe it marks the beginning of the modern environmental movement.
- First Earth Day (1970).
- Move toward an ecological world view and sustainability. (1996)
Source STEM timeline
Environmental science education
State of environmental science education
This brief summary suggests different view of the environment, but what is being presented to school children?
A review of K-12 environmental education teaching materials by the Independent Commission on Environmental Education (ICCE) is analyzed and discussed by Salmon, Jeffrey in his article Are We Building Environmental Literacy? published in the Journal of Environmental Education, 00958964, summer 2000, Vol. 31, Issue 4.
- Study of the environment is an important subject for grades K-12.
- Teachers are the key to successful environmental education, but the materials often fail to give them the support they need.
- Environmental education should not be confused with environmental science,.
- Materials that are not based on the best available science do not promote environmental literacy.
- Environmental education materials often do not provide a framework for progressive building of knowledge.
- Environmental education has become needlessly controversial.
- Environmental education materials often fail to prepare students to deal with controversial environmental issues.
- Environmental education materials often fail to help students understand the trade offs in addressing environmental problems.
- Factual errors are common in many environmental education materials and textbooks.
- Many high school environmental science textbooks have serous flaws. Some provide superficial coverage of science. Others mix science with advocacy.
- There is no relationship between the quality of the material and the authoritative recommendations that accompany the publications.
The ICEE believes the following recommendations must be implemented if environmental education is to gain the stature it deserves.
- Environmental educators should place primary emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge.
- Students in the lower elementary grades should begin the study of science with the study of the natural world.
- Schools should consider teaching environmental education as an upper-level multi-disciplinary capstone course integrating what students have learned in science, social studies and other upper-level courses.
- Professional scientific and educational organizations such as the AAAS and NSTA should recommend educational materials only after a detailed, substantive review by experts has found them to be accurate.
- Publishers must reevaluate their peer review process for environmental science textbooks and environmental education materials.
- Textbook adoption committees and educational professionals responsible for selection of materials at the state and local levels should ask scientist, economists, and other experts, in addition to parents and teachers, to review materials for accuracy.
- Environmental educational materials at all levels should provide more substantive content in natural science and social science than they now provide.
- Teachers need substantive preparation in science, economics, and mathematics to teach environmental education.
- An independent review process conducted by experts from the areas covered in environmental education should be established to perform ongoing evaluations of curricula in this field.
The ICCE report implies that what needs to be done to have students become environmental savvy is known and that educational materials and teachers can be prepared to achieve the goals of environmental education.
Assuming this accurate, what can be done to better prepare teachers?
Suggestions to help teachers become environmentally savvy?
Teachers need to
- Learn the knowledge and skill needed to investigate environmental issues.
- Change their understanding of watersheds from a simplistic system with individual and isolated pollutants to a holistic and biological system with a synergistic effect from a variety of potential pollutants on a watershed for which acceptable standards or limits of those pollutants were made with respect to land use, acceptance of risks, desired gains and loses as a result of any and all decisions.
- Gain the skill and desire to move into the real world to investigate environmental issues.
What do teacher say about this?
Teachers' views of their needs
K-12 Teachers, with a high interest in EE, were surveyed and found their opinion on their needs.
- Environmental Education Sites with hands on learning opportunities for both students and teachers.
- Outdoor environmental labs
- Readily available free lesson plans and materials
- Frequently updated web pages
- Lab school where University or nature guides would teach students how to research.
- Assistance in creating outdoor labs at their schools.
- Funding needs
- Lesson and curriculum ideas
- Field trip opportunities
- Outdoor site development, use, and alignment to state curriculum
Teachers were asked what they would be willing to be involved in
- Preferred professional development during school year and with workshops.
- A small group were interested in university courses and weekend workshops
What should be the goals and outcomes of Environmental education programs?
Sample program goals & outcomes
Scoring guide for environmental concern
Least concern for the environment
- Litter, never recycle, materialistic,
- Make individual conservation effort (recycle, use both sides of a paper, conserve water turn off faucets when brushing teeth, take shorter showers, buy recycled materials...) Individual responsibility
- Encourage others to do above and get publicly involved (liter pick-up, recycle, plant trees, raise money, government action...) Advocacy
- Get involved with political action by exerting pressure on others to take responsibility for managing the environment (write letters, organize letter writing campaigns, contact government officials, business leaders, buy only green, involve mass mediate to bring pressure on different groups, investigate environmental education in schools...) Political action
Suggestions for a tool to assess environmental curriculum
Assessment of environmental curricula should include:
- Identifies the necessary and sufficient components of an environmental education curricula to use to sufficiently discriminate the value of one program from another.
- It is a very comprehensive instrument that encompasses the broad areas of environmental sensitivity, foundations of social science, and ecology.
- It is important that environmental sensitivity is included as a category.
However, I question the present state of society and its schools to provide an atmosphere conducive to nurturing attitudes and values necessary for enough students to develop a sufficient sensitivity needed to achieve any significant change.
What do students know about the environment?
Student environmental knowledge
Environmental education is important in achieving environmental improvement. However, for students to construct accurate information, instruction must be based on the children's understandings rather than on assumptions of what we think they know and believe.
When students were asked. What do you think the term/word environment means.
their answer fell into two categories:
- Environment as an object.
- Environment as a relation.
Their specific answers included statements such as:
- The environment is a place.
- The environment is a place that contains living things.
- The environment is a place that contains living things and people.
- The environment does something for people.
- People are part of the environment and are responsible for it.
- People and the environment are in a mutually sustaining relationship.
The relational focus is preferable with the most inclusive being environment and people in a relationship of mutual care and found:
- Young children are six times more likely to report a relational view with the idea that the environment contributes to their well being as they contribute to the environment's well being, than students in secondary schools.
- The next most significant difference is with girls being 1.5 times more likely than boys to have a relational view.
- A mixture of social and environmental concerns were most likely to show a relational view with the least likely being those that picked all environmental and no social concerns.
- A positive relationship of 1.25 existed between students that had a relational view and being more optimistic on an optimism/neutral/pessimist scale.
Understanding of environmental knowledge, was not a significant factor, for those in high school, but was for those in primary school.
The instruction in the primary grades may be more integrated while the instruction in the secondary is more directed toward biology topics such as polluted streams.
Must view that social global concerns are related to the environment and work to reduce the following:
- Environmental education is viewed as belonging to a biology class or geography.
- Animals are to be organized into hierarchies.
- Plants and animals are regarded as pets or pests.
- Nature is a scenic view on television, contained in parks and nature preserves, and sometimes viewed through the window.
- Consumerism, materialism, economic gain, and individualism as cultural icons.
- Standards created around disciplines reducing integration of curriculum.
- Industry as partners.
What do students believe about different environmental solutions?
- Eco centrism - believe that society needs to change the political and economic structure.
- Technocentrism - believe the use of technology and legal accountability can solve environmental problems.
- Balanced view - believe economics and environmental needs can be balanced.
Student goals and outcomes need to include:
- Environmental understanding
- Sociological understanding
- Political understanding
- Cultural understanding
- Concern for all living organisms
- Understanding of mathematics
What does research suggest about how to teach about the environment?
Educational Research and its Implications
Stephen Pui-Ming Yeung found:
- Found inquiry teaching models more effective than didactic teaching models.
- Suggested this could be seen as a positive in light of the increasing call in the Standards and by researchers for more inquiry and a constructivist approach.
- However, many teachers are reluctant to adopt an inquiry approach because of their fear of loosing control. Control of students' behavior as well as not knowing the subject knowledge well enough, or the investigative processes.
- In addition the increase of high stakes testing with a reliance on standardized achievement test scores causes teachers to feel the need to focus more on factual information and choose a didactic approach with the hope to increase coverage rather than use an inquiry approach, which they believe would take longer.
What misconceptions do students have related to environmental education?
CO2 is an abundant greenhouse gas. The green house effect is completely the result of human activity. If the greenhouse effect increases, the average temperature in the USA will rise, warm air holds more water, weather patterns will shift, but not sure how. If the ice caps melt there will be more available liquid water.
- The increase in CO2 reacts with chlorine,
- CO2 helps break down the ozone.
- Ozone is made from CO2.
- CO2 is what we breathe.
- Deforestation creates the greenhouse effect.
- Greenhouse effect will create more warm air and more rain.
Stratospheric ozone is vital for life on Earth. One cause of stratospheric ozone destruction is CFCs. Some household items cause destruction of ozone.
- Ozone produces heat.
- The ozone hole lets more gases into the earth's surface.
- Will cause more UV rays to be trapped in the atmosphere and cause more skin cancer.
- Ozone is vital for life.
- Without ozone the temperature would increase too much to survive.
- Chlorine bleach, deodorants, and lawn mower engines cause ozone depletion.
Acid rain can be produced in nature. Burning some types of coal produces acid rain. Acid rain damages some stone buildings more than others.)
- Acid rain can not be produced naturally.
- Acid dissolves limestone (makes it disappear).
What are possible concerns?
- Knowledge and accurate understanding of scientific knowledge as it relates to the environment.
- Instructional methods that challenge students to get to the core of their misunderstandings.
- Understanding of scientific inquiry and research.
- Foresight to envision accurate future scenarios.
- Development of attitudes and values that demand a society that accepts a responsibility for caring and stewardship of all living organisms.
- Move from a compartmental subject curriculum to an integrated curriculum based on a world view.
Where do we go from here?
What would a school look like that would educate children to become environmentally responsible citizens?
Orr claims that all education is environmental education.
If this is true, then the village that it takes to educate a child needs to refocus its philosophical base from an individualistic materialistic consumer economy... to a collaborative...
See curriculum planning for an integrated school...
- Making healthy decisions for personal, social, and environmental health
- Ecosystems subject dimensions integration with a 5 E learning cycle
- Ecosystems - environment, communities, ecosystems
- Tree growth* - activities to observe trees, notice changes, & make operational definitions to explain environmental causes for the changes. Primary level plan
- Trees - Growth, tree rings, environmental factors - Middle Grades *
- Trees - observing, measuring heights, & finding patterns & relationships (clinometer & scale (Biltmore) stick)
What do I believe is the state of environmental education in the U. S.?
Six Questions & Answers about environmental education
1. What do you think the State of Environmental Education in the United States K - 12 schools is?
Most environmental education is at the lowest level of the program goals. With a few individual teachers reaching to the higher levels along with some individual learners, who are driven by a personal caring ethical disposition.
2. What does environmental education mean to you, i.e. definition?
I view environmental education as primarily needing to provide learners, who are citizens, with an emotional and ethical relationship of responsibility to all living organisms and the planet Earth. Education of environmental processes and the interaction of humans and the environment is important, but in my view secondary. Without appropriate caring values, education becomes just school activities, unconnected to each individual's real life and personal responsibilities.
My hope is that environmental education helps develop caring and responsible citizens that seek to live in harmony with the Earth and in doing such understand the need to be scientifically literate and in constant pursuit of better understanding of the interrelated nature of life on Earth, Earth itself and how to maintain a sustainable Earth.
3. Who should deliver environmental education?
Environmental education is essential to the continual survival of the human species. All citizens must accept a role of responsible environmental stewardship of the planet. Without a significant number of citizens taking this responsibility, in a manner similar to the responsibility most people take for their personal health, no single organization can provide a delivery system of environmental education that will be successful. Groups of educators, politicians, business people, and many other groups must be involved in educating all of us in this important endeavor.
4. Who should be the audience for environmental education?
5. What are the barriers to delivering environmental education?
- Believing that one person doesn't and can't make a difference.
- Understanding the difference one person can do or can't do to make a difference.
- Lack of a citizenry that is mathematically and scientifically literacy.
- Misconceptions of large and small.
- Not understanding number value, how insignificant small amounts for a population of millions results in a significantly large number.
- How small amounts of some things are insignificant, and small amounts of other things aren't.
- Gullible or ignorant citizenry that believe politicians, media, businesses, and other groups that distort or lie about environmental issues because of greed, desire for power, or lack ethical responsibility to protect the planet Earth with sustainable practices.
6. What resources are needed to do environmental education?
Monetary, intellectual, cultural, social, and ethical: Environmental education must permeate all threads of our culture.
We must study everything we do on Earth from a multidisciplinary and ethically responsible perspective. We must understand the consequences of what we choose to do or not do and learn to err on the side of caution instead of waiting for significant proof that certain actions cause catastrophes.
Until we have a significant plurality of citizens that understand and actively recycle, conserve, monitor environments, continually seek to understand interrelationships in our world and how changes impact all, demand that governments accept more responsibility in the care of our world and accepting responsibility for the affects their decisions can have on the Earth, more civic engagement, are better educated, and accept the need for life-long learning, we will not have environmental education that will make any bigger difference than what we have today.
Some activities require little more than money to purchase media and supplies or to travel. Mostly environmental education requires people with enough resources to develop self-efficacy and a desire to learn how best to care for other people, living organisms, and the environment they depend on for a quality life.
* One minute before noon or 11:59 AM.