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Environmental education practices

How environmental education is conceptualized and implemented in elementary and secondary schools is critical if we are to meet our
ultimate goal of environmental literacy. Integrated across the curriculum, environmental education draws upon the natural and physical
sciences, social sciences, and humanities. These disciplines are connected not only through the medium of the environment, but also
through the development of environmental issue investigation and action skills needed for civic engagement. In the end, however, the ability of school systems to provide comprehensive environmental education will depend on its systematic and cohesive integration into the standards-based curriculum. Although we know that curriculum can be designed that supports both academic achievement and the
development of environmental literacy, we also know that this type of curriculum planning takes work. It requires a thorough understanding of the standards and of the components of environmental literacy.

With the recent publication of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013), a new vision of science education has been articulated. As teachers and other educators begin the process of mapping their curriculum and developing the instructional strategies necessary to implement NGSS fully, we felt it would be useful to provide a resource that highlights some of the linkages between this vision of science education and environmental literacy. Companion documents that illustrate the linkages between environmental literacy and the Common Core State Standards are also available for download at eelinked.net/n/guidelines.
A Framework for Environmental Literacy Excellence in Environmental Education - Guidelines for Learning (K-12) (first published by NAAEE in 1999 and most recently revised in 2010) offers a detailed curriculum and instructional framework and vision for environmental education that promotes progress toward sustaining a healthy environment and quality of life. By setting specific expectations for what young people should know and be able to do by the time they complete fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades, Guidelines for Learning (K-12) translates general notions about environmental literacy into an age-appropriate framework for effective and comprehensive environmental education programming. The guidelines emphasize the development of conceptual knowledge as well as thinking, investigation, and action skills necessary for civic engagement. They rest on the idea that environmental literacy must be a goal of society and that environmental education must play an integral role throughout educational systems.

Essential Underpinnings Environmental education builds from a core of key principles that inform its approach to education. Some of these important underpinnings are: Systems: Systems help make sense of a large and complex world. A system is made up of parts. Each part can be understood separately. The whole, however, is understood only by understanding the relationships and interactions among the parts.

Interdependence: Human well-being is inextricably bound with environmental quality. Humans are a part of the natural order. We and the
systems we create – our societies, political systems, economies, religions, cultures, technologies – impact the total environment. Since we
are part of nature rather than outside it, we are challenged to recognize the ramifications of our interdependence.
The importance of where one lives: Beginning close to home, learners forge connections with, explore and understand their immediate
surroundings. The sensitivity, knowledge, and skills needed for this local connection provides a base for moving out into larger systems,
broader issues, and an expanding understanding of causes, connections, and consequences. Integration and infusion: Disciplines from the natural sciences to the social sciences to the humanities are connected through the medium of the environment and environmental issues. Environmental education offers opportunities for integration and works best when infused across the curriculum, rather than being treated as a separate discipline or subject. Roots in the real world: Learners develop knowledge and skills through direct experience with the environment, environmental issues, and society. Investigation, analysis, and problem solving are essential activities and are most effective when relevant to the real world. Lifelong learning: critical and creative thinking, decision-making, and communication, as well as collaborative learning, are emphasized. These skills are essential for active and meaningful learning, both in school and over a lifetime.

How are the Guidelines for Learning (K-12) Organized?

Ultimately, environmentally literate individuals possess a sophisticated set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that allow them to solve novel environmental problems and determine the best set of actions; they are engaged in civic decision-making and action. Four key elements of environmental literacy have been articulated and further delineated in guidelines:

Strand 1: Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills
Environmental literacy depends on a willingness and ability to ask questions about the surrounding world, speculate and hypothesize, seek
and evaluate information, and develop answers to questions. Learners must be familiar with inquiry, master fundamental skills for gathering and organizing information, and interpret and synthesize information to develop and communicate explanations.
This strand is comprised of seven guidelines, each of which details specific skills:

a.) Questioning
b.) Designing investigations
c.) Collecting information
d.) Evaluating accuracy and reliability
e.) Organizing information
f.) Working with models and simulations
g.) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations

Strand 2: Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems

Environmental literacy is contingent upon a deep understanding of the environmental processes and systems that are typically included in the Earth system sciences and the ecological sciences. Importantly, environmental literacy is also dependent on an equally deep understanding of human systems, including political, economic, cultural systems and their relationships and interactions with Earth’s physical and living systems. Understanding the ramifications of the interdependence of these systems is essential.

Strand 2.1: The Earth as a Physical System
a.) Process that shape the Earth
b.) Changes in matter
c.) Energy

Strand 2.2: The Living Environment
a.) Organisms, populations, and communities
b.) Heredity and evolution
c.) Systems and connections
d.) Flow of matter and energy

Strand 2.3: Humans and Their Societies
a.) Individuals and groups
b.) Culture
c.) Political and economic systems
d.) Global connections
e.) Change and conflict

Strand 2.4: Environment and Society
a.) Human/environment interactions
b.) Places
c.) Resources
d.) Technology
e.) Environmental issues

Strand 3: Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues

Environmental literacy is not limited to conceptual knowledge. The environmentally literate individual is able to identify, investigate, and
formulate potential solutions to environmental issues. Environmentally literate individuals have the skills needed to determine what if any
action is warranted and to make reasoned decisions about their own involvement.
Strand 3.1: Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues
a.) Identifying and investigating issues
b.) Sorting out the consequences of issues
c.) Identifying and evaluating alternative solutions and courses of action
d.) Working with flexibility, creativity, and openness

Strand 3.2: Decision-making and Citizenship Skills

a.) Forming and evaluating personal views
b.) Evaluating the need for citizen action
c.) Planning and taking action
d.) Evaluating the results of actions

Strand 4: Personal and Civic Responsibility

Individual dispositions are also critical to environmental literacy. Environmentally literate individuals accept the premise that true civic
engagement depends on the recognition of rights and responsibilities. They are willing and able to act on their own conclusions about what should be done to ensure environmental quality. As they develop and apply concept-based learning and skills for inquiry, analysis, and action, they understand that what they do as individuals and in groups makes a difference and they are willing to take responsibility for the effects of their actions.

a.) Understanding societal values and principles
b.) Recognizing citizens’ rights and responsibilities
c.) Recognizing efficacy
d.) Accepting personal responsibility

Next Generation Science Standards
How are the Next Generation Science Standards organized?

Developed using A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012) as its foundation, NGSS provides a developmentally appropriate
vision for science education. The NRC Framework describes, in detail, three dimensions of science education: Practices, Crosscutting
Concepts and Disciplinary Core Ideas. These dimensions, taken together, describe what it means to be scientifically literate. NGSS combines each of these three dimensions into performance expectations that reflect underlying learning progressions and describe specific assessment targets across benchmark grade levels. It is important to note that NGSS was conceived as a document that would guide assessment. Because NGSS was designed with assessment in mind, it was decided that writing performance expectations that cut evenly across the Framework would have set up unreasonable expectations. Consequently, NGSS concentrates only on a portion of the knowledge and skills presented in the Framework.

Dimension 1: Practices

Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
Developing and using models
Planning and carrying out investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Using mathematics and computational thinking 

Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
Engaging in argument from evidence
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information 

Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and effect
Scale, proportion, and quantity
Systems and system models
Energy and matter
Structure and function
Stability and change
Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World

Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas

Physical Sciences
Matter and its Interactions
Motion and Stability
Waves and Their Applications
Life Sciences
From Molecules to Organisms
Biological Evolution
Earth and Space Sciences
Earth’s Place in the Universe
Earth’s Systems
Earth and Human Activity
Engineering Design

Schools face challenges in interesting young people in
science and other subjects. Environmental education
outside of the classroom can readily apply the results
of research that shows how learning occurs through
active engagement of the student—with other people,
with other organisms, and with one’s physical surroundings.

Climate change brings additional stresses, including
flooding, drought, forest fire and sea level rise. These
stresses present society with an imperative to change
energy and other consumption patterns, as well as
to discover how existing and new practices can become
part of the solution. This suggests the need for
environmental education to engage participants in
learning, experimenting, deliberating, and developing
practices that contribute to climate change mitigation
and adaptation.

Society is increasingly realizing that environmental education
has a role to play in helping alleviate the stresses
faced by communities. For example, some children face
the threat of violence daily and lack access to loving
relationships and other forms of social support. Environmental education can provide these children with the
emotional and psychological benefits of spending time
in nature, as well as with “caring” adults and positive
role models. For these reasons, educators and youth
program leaders in community, faith-based, and other
organizations are increasingly looking to environmental
education as a platform to address youth and
community development in stressed communities.

The rapid rate of urbanization has raised questions
about what types of environmental education experiences
are important for the vast majority of the world’s
population. In the face of urbanization, environmental
educators can help participants learn about urban
ecosystems or “social-ecological systems.” They also
may engage participants in restoring pockets of nature
to cities, for example through planting trees or working
and learning alongside community gardeners.

The journalist Richard Louv brought to the world’s attention
the possibility that as people spend increasingly
more time in front of TV, computers, and other electronic
devices, they may become victims of “nature deficit
disorder.” Louv’s work suggests a role for environmental
education for children and parents not just in transmitting
knowledge or building skills, but also in creating
opportunities for unstructured outdoor play, exploration,
and observation, which are critical to human development
and restoration.

Environmental education practices often follow larger trends
in society. Not surprisingly, the origins of environmental education in the 1970s reflected a growing global concern about environmental degradation. While such concerns remain central to environmental education today, the following societal trends have emerged since then and are being integrated into environmental education as practiced in diverse settings around the world.

Linking Environmental Literacy and the Next Generation Science Standards

Summary: Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines for Learning (K-12) provides students, parents, educators, home schoolers, policy makers, and the public a set of common, voluntary guidelines for environmental literacy achievement. The guidelines support state and local environmental education efforts by setting learner expectations for environmental literacy in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. Use these guidelines to support your state Environmental Literacy Plan efforts. Read or download from this post.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines for Learning (K-12) (revised 2010) provides students, parents, educators, home schoolers, policy makers, and the public a set of common, voluntary guidelines for environmental literacy. The guidelines support state and local environmental education efforts by:

  •     Setting expectations for performance and achievement in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades;
  •     Suggesting a framework for effective and comprehensive environmental education programs and curricula;
  •     Demonstrating how environmental education can be used to meet standards set by the traditional disciplines and to give students opportunities to synthesize knowledge and experience across disciplines; and
  •     Defining the aims of environmental education.

These guidelines, organized into four strands, set a standard for high-quality environmental education in schools across the country, based on what an environmentally literate person should know and be able to do. They draw on the best thinking in the field to outline the core ingredients for environmental education.

The Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning (K-12) Executive Summary and Self Assessment Tool is also available for use as an easy reference. As in the full document, the Executive Summary is organized into four strands, each of which is further delineated by a set of guidelines that describe a level of skill or knowledge appropriate for each of three grade levels - fourth, eighth, and twelfth. In the Executive Summary, guidelines for a particular strand are arranged on two page layouts, so that the user can quickly understand the flow of guidelines at a grade level or compare how guidelines progress across the grade levels. It should be remembered that the Executive Summary is designed to provide only an overview.

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2004, 2010 by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). Commercial reproduction of any
material in this publication is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher, NAAEE. Educators may photocopy up to 100 copies of these materials for non-commercial educational purposes.




Submit your study materials to the USEPEC,  We can work with you to refine your educational packet, including editing and circulation. *note: the three categories available can range from K-5, 6-12 and higher . Submit your materials to   info@usepec.org US Mail or UPS 716 County Road 10 NE  #316 Blaine, MN 55434 855-791-2019 We are an organization that promotes the highest environmental standards among those in the petroleum industry, We also provide a strong bridge with a solid dynamic communication platform between those with environmental concerns and petroleum industry participants within the U.S.A.

 Across the Spectrum: Resources for Environmental Educators

Edited by Martha C. Monroe and Marianne E. Krasny


For the Educator:

Measuring Environmental Education Outcomes

Edited by Alex Russ.   MEEO-2014v2.pdf

Usepec Environmental Education