The University Record, April 11, 1994

Environmental education swoops into K–12 classrooms

By Kate Kellogg
News and Information Services

Bald eagles are making ratios, percentages and other math concepts more palatable to seventh-grade students in Polson, Mont. The students are mapping eagle sightings in their area and analyzing data to determine migration patterns and habitat preferences.

Kindergartners in Topanga, Calif., are learning their ABCs with an environmental twist: “A” is for aluminum, “C” is for car pool, “E” is for endangered—at least in Leslie Dahlquist’s class.

These projects are among 35 such examples described in Getting Started, a new guide for teaching environmental education. The 132-page, illustrated booklet is produced by the National Consortium for Environmental Education and Training (NCEET), which is based at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The guide is designed to help K–12 teachers of all subjects incorporate environmental themes into their lessons. It includes short profiles of teachers in urban, rural and suburban school districts around the country who have initiated successful ecology and conservation projects. Most of these teachers have little or no prior experience in environmental education.

“We hope that teachers will be inspired by these stories of their peers’ success in bringing environmental education into the classroom,” says Prof. Paul Nowak, NCEET director.

Each project requires active student participation and demonstrates how students can have an impact on personal behavior, their school, neighborhood or community, Nowak said.

For example, “The Most Appealing Peanut” project requires fourth-graders in Waterloo, Iowa, to individually wrap peanuts with elaborate materials and select their favorite package from among those of their classmates—only to realize that all they really wanted was the peanut. Their teacher uses this exercise in overpackaging to demonstrate the different choices available to consumers.

The teachers’ stories reveal how they have overcome funding problems and ambivalent superiors who may wonder where such hands-on environmental education fits into the official curriculum, Nowak noted.

Tight funding has not stopped Mary Anne Challa’s first-grade class in Grand Rapids from adopting trees outside their school. As described in “Getting Started,” each student identifies a tree, conducts a bark rubbing, measures growth throughout the year, and notes the leaves, nuts, seeds or cones, and the height and width of the canopy. The children mimic the changes in their live trees on a cardboard classroom tree, complete with insect eggs and seeds.

Challa acquires materials for these projects through small grants from the PTA and Kellogg Foundation and scavenges recycled materials from local paper mills.

Why devote so much time and creative energy to environmental education? Because it may be a matter of survival.

“As we learn more and more about the impact of humans on the life-sustaining systems of Earth,” the guide says, “it is critical that we re-examine our relationship to our environment through environmental education. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and decision-makers.”

Getting Started stories present examples of teachers’ methods for overcoming common constraints against innovation in the classroom, such as limited

financial resources, limited time for additional lesson planning and lack of knowledge about how to integrate environmental education into the curriculum, Nowak notes.

The guide contains a well-organized sampling of the best environmental education resources. Besides the teachers’ stories, names and school addresses, the guide offers suggestions for instructional materials and tips on using local, state and federal resources—from local libraries to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The guide also covers funding and in-service opportunities in environmental education, and includes addresses of non-profit national, state and regional environmental organizations and their coordinators.

The NCEET works to support, enhance and extend effective environmental education in grades K-12. Single copies of Getting Started cost $9.95. Quantity discounts ($4.95 each for 58–100 copies) are available. To order copies, call 998-6726.