“Across the country and around the world, growing numbers of educators are using the environment as a focal point for teaching…Across disciplines, teachers find that students are engaged in learning, feel challenged, and often perform better in school when they are studying their local environment.”
– Gene E. Carter, Executive Director, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
For many years now educators have been aware of the positive results of engaging students in hands-on, discovery learning through the study of their environment. Recent quantitative studies have measured the effectiveness of environmental education in America's schools. The results are notable. The Pew Charitable Trust supported a study (Closing the Achievement Gap) which evaluated 40 schools that used the environment as an integrated context for learning.
The results included:
- Better performance on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading, writing, social studies, math and science
- Reduced discipline and classroom management problems
- Development of problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills
- Increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning
- Greater pride and ownership in their school work
The study can be ordered at seer.org.
A 2000 study by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (Environment-based Education: Creating High Performance Schools and Students) had similar findings. According to that report, “The results in all of the schools studied are impressive and heartening, as the nation searches for effective ways to improve the quality of education for our children.”
The results showed:
- Reading and math scores improved.
- Students performed better in science and social studies.
- Students developed the ability to transfer their knowledge from familiar to unfamiliar contexts.
- Students learned to “do science” rather than just “learn about science.”
- Classroom discipline problems declined.
- All students had an opportunity to learn at a higher level.
The study can be found at neefusa.org
In addition to meeting the needs of schools for quality educational programs, environmental education helps build an informed citizenry for the future. As humanity wrestles with global warming, habitat loss, and other issues, the need for an environmentally literate population is increasingly important. The ability to understand the functioning of the earth systems that we depend upon begins with education.