What Should We Know/Teach?

What Every Student Should Know About the Environment


There are scores of possible models of environmental education programs, and most have many of the following large concepts in common. As students go from kindergarten through high school, they can work their way down the list.
  1. Earth overflows with life.
    One of science’s biggest mysteries is how many species share this planet— estimates range from 5 million to 100 million species. Many environmental education programs begin with the premise that life is vanishing; young learners should first know that Earth teems with a huge number of creatures.
  2. Each creature is uniquely adapted to its environment.
    Every species evolved to possess a unique set of adaptations that enables it to survive and thrive in its ecosystem. Students should be on a first-name basis with many local creatures.
  3. The web of life is interdependent.
    Organisms evolve complex relationships, each depending on numerous other species for their survival.
  4. Materials flow through ecosystems in cycles.
    All creatures need water, air, and nutrients to survive. These materials cycle and recycle through ecosystems. The water we drink today is the same water we’ve always had, and always will.
  5. The sun is the ultimate source of energy flowing through ecosystems.
    Food grows from sunlight energy; our houses are heated by fossil fuels created many millennia ago from ancient sunlight.
  6. There is no waste in nature; everything is recycled.
    In nature, every waste product is used by other creatures. Humans have bent those circles into straight lines, where things are used once and tossed.
  7. We consume resources to live.
    Every student should know where the trash truck takes the trash, where water comes from, and how the nearest power plant makes electricity.
  8. Conservation is the wise use of finite resources.
    We are physical creatures with real needs—to eat, drink, build houses, write on paper. But how do we use these resources sustainably?
  9. Humans can have a profound effect on environmental systems.
    Fossil fuels pump carbon dioxide into the sky; habitat loss is causing the extinction of large numbers of species. Our actions profoundly affect the ecological systems that sustain living things—and us. Nature can often repair these systems (forests grow back, for example); but humans are changing systems faster than nature can adapt.
  10. Each of us can powerfully affect the fate of the natural world.
    Because each of us is directly plugged into the planet, the actions we take—or fail to take—profoundly influence earth’s systems.
– Taken from ASCD, Mike Weilbacher, May 2009 | Volume 66 | Number 8 

Teaching Social Responsibility Pages 38-44

After a great #enviroed twitter chat, of which I could only play a small part, I thought back to what environmental education actually was, and what we as teachers needed to understand. 
During my thesis, I used a participatory action research model to look at how we were teaching environmental education, and this was one of the articles we looked up.  
Coming from a perspective where there is no need for any more doom and gloom, I really resonate with the first point.  Earth overflows with life.  Sometimes, we don’t always see it, sometimes we question why it is there, or want to move it or kill it, but one thing is true, there is a lot of life, and it is something we need to celebrate more. 
I’ve been reading a lot over the holiday, so far anyway. And one of the things I am struck by is how little we truly understand about life. I wonder if this goes back to the nature deficit disorder , and our inability to notice or name things? 
Anyway, what matters about environmental education, why are we teaching it, and what do we need to do to (re)connect young learners with nature? 

What Shapes Us?

What we believe transcends our thoughts and integrates into the way we teach.  Our values are passed to us from our community members, parents, teachers, and society (Moser, 2007). Through these values, our actions spring forth.  We are products of our community, and our community is shaped by the idea of our home space.  The people and values that surround us growing up, shape who we are going to be (Moser, 2007).  How do our previous experiences effect how we shape future students in different places?

Teachers have a variety of reasons for teaching (or not teaching) environmental education (Hart, 2003).  In some schools it is not necessary or required to teach environmental education.  While this is not true for my school, there is no established environmental curriculum.  This means teachers’ perceptions of environmental education dictate what and how they teach (Bengtson, 2010; Hart 2003).  How we perceive what we teach can lead to how we engage students.  Through critical self-reflection we can better understand what we believe, which allows us to think about how we engage our students.  Bengtson (2010) says it is critical that we are aware of both our perceptions and our setting when we engage in environmental education.  Are we better environmental educators if we believe environmental education is worthwhile?
As teachers move around, they may not have acquired the knowledge necessary to teach relevant environmental facts.  This dissonance between knowledge and applied values may hinder how expatriate teachers engage students in EE.  Sammel (2005) asserts that knowing who we are as environmental educators is a first step in understanding our educational program. Through interviews with my co-teachers, I can learn more about what they know about our new to us tropical environment and how that relates to what they choose to teach in class.  The perceptions of our shared place effect how we teach about the environment; therefore, we may need to learn more about our new homes before creating an effective program.
Experiences also help to shape our value system.  As expatriates, we have all come from different places, and believe different things. While many of us who travel experience similar occurrences, our previous experiences shape how we perceive our life in our new home.  I wonder how significant life experiences shape who we are as educators (Chawla, 1999; Anderson-Patton, 1980)?  


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Anderson-Patton, V. (1998). Creative Catalysts: A study of Creative Teachers from their own Perspectives and Experiences. (Dissertation) Retrieved from Proquest Dissertations and Theses UMI number 9838453

Bengtson, K.H.M. (2010). Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions of Environmental Education. (Dissertation) ProQuest Dissertations and Theses UMI number 3434324

Chawla, L . (1999) Life Paths Into Effective Environmental Action, in Journal of Environmental Education, Fall 99, Vol. 31, Issue 1
Hart, P. (2003) Teachers Thinking in Environmental Education: Consciousness and Responsibility
Moser, S. C. (2007). More bad news: The risk of neglecting emotional responses to climate change information. In S. C. Moser & L. Dilling (Eds.), Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (pp. 64-80). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Sammel, A. J. (2005). Teachers’ understandings and enactments of social and environmental justice issues in the classroom: What’s “critical” in the manufacturing of road-smart squirrels? (Dissertation) ProQuest Dissertations and Theses