Environmental education (EE) provides opportunities for students to learn in natural environments.
Instead of sitting in classrooms listening to teachers talk, children in EE programs participate in hands-on activities at local rivers, city parks, urban gardens, and other natural spaces.
EE teachers use the features of natural environments to teach science, math, language arts, social studies, history, and other subjects. Instead of imparting facts in isolation, EE situates learning within the context of real-world places and issues to make it meaningful for students. Fresh air and exercise are added bonuses.
Research summarized by the Place-Based Education Evaluation Cooperative has shown that environmental education can provide significant academic and behavioral benefits.
For example, the Pacific Education Institute’s Environmental Education Assessment Project, which encompassed more than 150 schools, found that EE programs increased scores on standardized tests in math, reading, and writing. EE students were also more likely to stay in school, receive large scholarships, and behave more responsibly within their schools and communities.
The State Education and Environment Roundtable’s California Student Assessment Project also found that EE increased test scores in multiple subjects, reduced disciplinary problems, improved attendance, and increased enthusiasm and engagement.
According to a report by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, students in EE programs tend to outperform their peers in similar schools that do not incorporate EE, and these effects are seen even in the most impoverished schools.
EE can be adapted for all subjects and grade levels.
For young children, a garden might be used to teach simple math skills by having students count flowers or identify shapes.
Teachers of older students can plan a garden to teach mathematics (determining the layout using geometry), science (discovering what various plants need to thrive), language arts (writing about the garden), and history and social studies (growing crops that native peoples traditionally grew to learn about historical lifestyles).
For a creative teacher, the possibilities are limitless.
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