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Environmental education refers to organized efforts to teach about how natural environments function and, particularly, how human beings can manage their behavior and ecosystems in order to live sustainably. The term is often used to imply education within the school system, from primary to post-secondary. However, it is sometimes used more broadly to include all efforts to educate the public and other audiences, including print materials, websites, media campaigns, etc.
Environmental education has been considered an additional or elective subject in much of traditional K-12 curriculum. At the elementary school level, environmental education can take the form of science enrichment curriculum, natural history field trips, community service projects, and participation in outdoor science schools. In secondary school, environmental curriculum can be a focused subject within the sciences or is a part of student interest groups or clubs. At the undergraduate and graduate level, it can be considered its own field within education, environmental studies, environmental science and policy, ecology, or human/cultural ecology programs.
The North American Association for Environmental Education www.naaee.org has established the following "Guidelines for Excellence" for environmental education:
1. Fairness and accuracy: EE materials should be fair and accurate in describing environmental problems, issues, and conditions, and in reflecting the diversity of perspectives on them. 1.1 Factual accuracy. 1.2 Balanced presentation of differing viewpoints and theories. 1.3 Openness to inquiry. 1.4 Reflection of diversity.
2. Depth: EE materials should foster an awareness of the natural and built environment, an understanding of environmental concepts, conditions, and issues, and an awareness of the feelings, values, attitudes, and perceptions at the heart of environmental issues, as appropriate for different developmental levels. 2.1 Awareness. 2.2 Focus on concepts. 2.3 Concepts in context. 2.4 Attention to different scales.
3. Emphasis on skills building: EE materials should build lifelong skills that enable learners to address environmental issues. 3.1 Critical and creative thinking. 3.2 Applying skills to issues. 3.3 Action skills.
4. Action orientation: EE materials should promote civic responsibility, encouraging learners to use their knowledge, personal skills, and assessments of environmental issues as a basis for environmental problem solving and action. 4.1 Sense of personal stake and responsibility. 4.2 Self-efficacy.
5. Instructional soundness: EE materials should rely on instructional techniques that create an effective learning environment. 5.1 Learner-centered instruction. 5.2 Different ways of learning. 5.3 Connection to learners’ everyday lives. 5.4 Expanded learning environment. 5.5 Interdisciplinary. 5.6 Goals and objectives. 5.7 Appropriateness for specific learning settings. 5.8 Assessment.
6. Usability: EE materials should be well designed and easy to use. 6.1 Clarity and logic. 6.2 Easy to use. 6.3 Long lived. 6.4 Adaptable. 6.5 Accompanied by instruction and support. 6.6 Make substantiated claims. 6.7 Fit with national, state, or local requirements.
One of the current trends within environmental education seeks to move from an approach of ideology and activism to one that allows students to make informed decisions and take action based on experience as well as data. Within this process, environmental curricula have progressively been integrated into governmental education standards. Some environmental educators find this movement distressing and a move away from the original political and activist approach to environmental education while others find this approach more valid and accessible.
Overall there is a movement that has progressed since the relatively recent founding (1960s) of the idea of environmental education in industrial societies, which has transported the participant from nature appreciation and awareness to education for an ecologically sustainable future. This trend may be viewed as a microcosm of how many environmental education programs seek to first engage with participants through developing a sense of nature appreciation which is then translated into actions that affect conservation and sustainability.
- Conservation (ecological behavior)
- Environmental attitudes
- Environmental psychology
- Natural environment
- Outdoor education
- Science, Technology, Society and Environment Education
- Gruenewald, D.A., 2004, A Foucauldian analysis of environmental education: toward the socioecological challenge of the Earth Charter, Curriculum Inquiry 34(1):71-107.
- Malone, K. 1999, Environmental education researchers as environmental activists, Environmental Education Research 5(2):163-177.
- Palmer, J.A., 1998, Environmental Education in the 21st Century: Theory, Practice, Progress, and Promise, Routledge.
- Science (ed.), 1997, Overhauling environmental education, Science, 276:361.
- Smyth, J.C. 2006, Environment and education: a view of a changing scene, Environmental Education Research 12(3,4):247-264.
- The Environmental Education Directory
- United Nations Environmental Education Programme (UNEP)
- Fourth International Conference on Environmental Education, Tbilisiplus30
- Back to Natives Restoration a 501(c)3 (Irvine, CA)
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