Standards-Based Education and Its Impacts on Environmental Science Education
Dr. George R. Davis
Moorhead State University
This paper will explore the current revolution in K-12 education and its impact on the preparation of teachers to deliver effective environmental education. It will also describe what constitutes an effective environmental education, and what role technology might play in such an education.
K-12 education in the United States is going through a major revolution that is redefining what constitutes the education of a high school graduate. Foundational to this revolution is the Goals 2000 program of the federal government. Started under the Bush administration in response to a bevy of critical reports on the status of K-12 education (starting with the Nation at Risk Report in 1983), the Goals 2000 program was organized with a group of state governors working with the federal government. The chair of the governors' group was Bill Clinton. Richard Riley, the current Secretary of Education, also participated in the governors' group. The Goals 2000 program was passed into law early in President Clinton's first term.
For our purposes the most significant impact of the Goals 2000 program was the creation of national standards documents. As of this date two of these standards documents, the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) and the National Geography Standards (GESP, 1994) provide the foundation upon which an effective K-12 environmental education program can be built. The North American Association for Environmental Education is in the process of creating a series of Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education. Currently, the guidelines for environmental education materials have been published with other guidelines to come later (NAAEE, 1996).
These standards documents, while being made available for volunteer use by states and school districts, represent the major innovation in K-12 curriculum today. Minnesota has embraced this innovation by creating the Minnesota Graduation Standards (MN-CFL, 1998) that defines what knowledge and skills all Minnesota students must address to receive a high school diploma. The standards and assessments have been tested and implemented in parts during the last three years. The Fall 1998 ninth grade class is the first group of students who will be required to earn their diploma by demonstrating command of the knowledge and skills as described in 24 standards across ten learning areas. In addition, they are required to demonstrate competency in reading, writing and mathematics as measured by a series of standardized tests.
The reality of these standards, as representing what Minnesotans believe to be the important knowledge and skills of a high school education, has impacted Minnesota teacher preparation programs as well. Our state Board of Teaching has put in place a new set of Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) based teacher preparation standards that were translated into licensure programs at each of the twenty-six teacher education institutions during the spring of 1999. For those of us who deliver environmental education programs to K-12 students and teachers, it is clear that we will need to be delivering or preparing teachers to deliver standards-based environmental education as part of these new standards-based teacher preparation programs.
I believe we are up to the challenge. We in environmental education have come to better understand and share agreement on the characteristics of an effective environmental education for students. The Belgrade Charter of 1976 and the Tbilisi Declaration of 1978 helped us define the scope and purpose of environmental education. It turns out, of course, that what characterizes good environmental education also constitutes good education in general. We have been working on understanding what characterizes effective education for at least 100-150 years. Our current understanding of what constitutes effective education started with the work of John Dewey (Dewey, 1959) progressed through Jerome Bruner's concept of a spiral curriculum (Bruner, 1966), the cognitive psychology of Jean Piaget (Piaget, 1970), the social constructivism of Lev Vygotsky (Vygotsky, 1978), and continues with the promising work found in recent brain research (Kotulak, 1996). It is my contention that this historically grounded and research based emerging paradigm of effective education is well represented in the standards documents I listed earlier and provides for environmental educators the best opportunity to hardwire an effective integrated environmental education for K-12 students since World War II. We now have an opportunity to integrate environmental education into the mainstream of the K-12 curriculum.
To realize our dream of environmental education as a mainstreamed hardwired, integrated part of a standards-based curriculum, we have to make a fundamental change in how we prepare teachers to deliver environmental education instruction. Up to this point in time, we have prepared teachers to teach environmental education mostly through the use of various in-service education models. All of the nationally distributed programs (such as Project Learning Tree, Project Wild and Project WET) utilize an in-service model as their primary method of preparing teachers to use their curricula. While such in-service models never did reach a majority of teachers, they are going to reach even fewer teachers in the future. One reason for this is the demographic fact US school districts will have to hire over two million new K-12 teachers during the next ten years due to the retiring of the "baby boomer" teachers (NCES, 1999). New teachers are coming into the profession at a faster rate than teachers are being in-serviced by any national voluntary environmental education program. The answer to this need to prepare all teachers to integrate effective environmental education into a standards-based curriculum, coupled with the reality of the growing ineffectiveness of the traditional in-service delivery models, is to include a quality environmental teacher preparation strand into the pre-service preparation of K-12 teachers. Successfully designing and maintaining an effective pre-service environmental education program is a major project awaiting environmental teacher educators. What is need is a more comprehensive in-service preparation than one would get through the inclusion of an in-class workshop on one of the national K-12 environmental education programs (see examples above) in a science methods class.
Minnesota Pre-Service Preparation Effort
The designing of such pre-service teacher preparation programs has been the task of nine teacher education institutions (see note) in Minnesota during the last four years. These nine institutions prepare over seventy percent of the K-12 teachers in Minnesota. The task is reaching full flower as we all have been going through the major redesign of our K-12 teacher education programs as described above.
These mandated changes are both a blessing and a challenge in our effort to integrate into our teacher preparation programs the environmental education strand needed by education majors to be able to effectively teach environmental education. They are a challenge in the fact that the mandated changes in our teacher licensure programs put a strain on the number of credit hours our universities allow us to use for teacher education. All Minnesota state universities must work within a 128 semester credit maximum and there is no room to add courses to an already full four year teacher preparation program. Therefore, our environmental education strand must be integrated into a series of existing courses in both the liberal arts and teacher education methods. Often such integrated programs are harder to maintain because responsibility to maintain the integrity of the program is shared by a large number of professors. What will make this possible in Minnesota is that the new Minnesota Board of Teaching standards for K-12 teacher preparation lists required standards for elementary education majors and secondary science teachers that include the content and pedagogy for the preparation of K-12 teachers to deliver effective environmental education.
While these standards documents call for skills and knowledge for all teachers that mesh very well with a quality environmental education preparation this meshing is best realized only in our elementary and early childhood programs as well as our secondary social studies and science programs. In addition to the Minnesota Board of Teaching standards the national standards also describe skills and knowledge, which contain important parts of a quality environmental education program. National Geography Standards includes standards around the skills and knowledge of asking questions, acquiring information, organizing information via maps and graphs, analyzing information, studying ecosystems (NGS, 1994). National Science Education Standards includes standards around the skills and knowledge of the ability to carryout scientific inquiry, study organisms in their environment, populations and ecosystems, diversity and adaptations of organisms, geochemical cycles (NSES, 1996). We Minnesota environmental educators worked long and hard with the State Board of Education to adopt as part of the Minnesota Graduation Standards the K-12 environmental outcomes from our 1993 GreenPrint for environmental education. The A GreenPrint for Minnesota: State Plan for Environmental Education (MEEAB, 1993) is a cradle-to-grave environmental education program for all Minnesotans. It was developed over a three-year period with funding provided by the 1990 Minnesota Environmental Education Act.
Characteristics of an Effective Environmental Education Program
Now that I have described the task before us in environmental education and environmental teacher preparation, let me describe the characteristics of an effective environmental education program:
1. Environmental education must be constructivist based and developmentally appropriate. This characteristic stands on a strong research base and is the one characteristic that has deep roots in the history of environmental education. Environmental education is an amalgam of nature-study, conservation education, outdoor education, natural history education, object teaching, progressive education, elementary science education and resource use education going back in some cases to the 1890's in this country (Minton, 1980). For much of this history the K-12 science curricula and environmental education curricula shared much the same content and pedagogy. One of the best descriptions of this characteristic can be found in a document called: Learner-Centered Psychological Principles: Guidelines for School Redesign and Reform (APA, 1993).
2. Environmental education programs must be interdisciplinary and strongly connected to the other knowledge and skills students are learning. While this runs contrary to the traditional practice of education, especially in secondary schools and at the college level, it is the practice called for in the standards documents.
3. Environmental education must be ecologically based. Our Graduation Standards call for all Minnesota students to understand ecological systems. The study of systems as well as ecological systems is called for in both the National Science Education Standards as well as the National Geography Standards. Ecology is not just another science to be added to a long list of science topics. Callicot said it best:
"ecology is not just one science among many; it is a habit of mind and a way of experiencing. The end result of a genuine ecological education is a complete reorientation of a person to his or her surroundings." (Callicot, 1989)
4. Environmental education must be based in the local ecoregion of the student, but must extend beyond the local as the local cannot be understood without the context of the global. This characteristic matches very well with the learning model in education which calls for instruction to start with the world (what the students know) the students bring to school, round out that world with local experiences and then move the students' experience and understanding to ever larger and more sophisticated world as the students move through school (Bybee, et al, 1980) (Bybee & Landes, 1990).
5. Environmental education must contain substantial and appropriate experiences in the natural and human impacted environments. Many of the environmental education outcomes cannot be achieved in the four walls of the regular classroom. Some experiences need to be gained in the students' urban community, including city parks, school yards, sewage treatment plants, etc., as well as truly natural outdoor sites away from the city. Today's K-12 students do not generally have rich experiences investigating their outdoors, whether it is in their city or a natural area away from the city. Aldo Leopold called for such experiences in the Sand County Almanac (Leopold, 1966). In Minnesota, state bonding money and private foundation money have been made available during the last few years to greatly expand the capacity of outdoor education sites around the state to provide more access for Minnesota K-12 students to have significant outdoor education experiences. With the expanded facilities just coming on-line at this writing, the impact of this effort is still to be seen. The Minnesota Graduation Standards give permission to school administrators to use funds for student access to outdoor education sites.
6. Environmental education must contain significant inquiry-based experiences for students. This fits quite well with what has been called for by both the national and INTASC-based standards documents. The National Science Education Standards calls for a new vision of inquiry that " includes the process of science and requires that students combine process and scientific knowledge as they use scientific reasoning and critical thinking to develop their understanding of science" (NSES, 1996). National Geography Standards calls for students to "use methods of geographic inquiry to answer geographic questions" (NGS, 1994). While not all environmental education activities will be inquiry based, there should be significant inquiry based activities preferably field based. Experience by science teacher educators over the last thirty years has shown that preparing K-12 science teachers to deliver inquiry instruction, let alone field-based inquiry, has not been easy or particularly effective. I see this as one of our most challenging tasks as science teacher educators as it represents one of the most significant departures from a textbook based science curriculum.
7. Environmental education must bring students to develop an environmental aesthetic and ethic that forms the basis of a personal commitment from which action can be taken. Students must be educated to both: aesthetic through perception and to an ethic through consideration and reflection. They must be shown how to engage in productive action preferably in cooperation with others, however controversial that action may be. This characteristic also finds a warmer home in a Minnesota standards-based curriculum than a traditional curriculum. Several of the Minnesota standards call for students to participate in Service Learning projects. Early projects are more teacher selected and designed. Later, during high school, projects become student selected, designed and carried out. It is the marriage of the Boy Scout Eagle project with schoolwork. While Service Learning projects are not all environmental projects, a good share of them are. The inclusion of Service Learning projects in a effective environmental education program is a natural because the many opportunities both locally and globally for students to act on their evolving environmental ethic. Finally, the Minnesota Graduation Standards also mainstream the arts. The new standards recognize the value of an art education for all students, giving increased value to an aesthetic education for all students.
The standards documents give us a new definition of what a K-12 mainstream education is in Minnesota, if not the country (most states are in the process of establishing a standards-based K-12 curriculum). I have endeavored to show that a quality environmental education for K-12 students is very much in concert with the type of education the standards require.
The Roles of the Microcomputer in Environmental Education
All this standards driven change raises the question of tools. Do we as educators have the tools needed to deliver this type of education to our students? The short answer is that we do have one tool, while not sufficient, it is critical to our ability to deliver a quality standards-imbedded environmental education to our students. The tool, of course, is the microcomputer.
The possible roles of the microcomputer in this new standards-based educational paradigm have been well described by others (i.e. McClaren, 1998); therefore, I won't repeat all those roles here. I do, however, want to focus from the standards-embedded environmental education point of view what critical roles the microcomputer must play and the issues that surround those roles.
1. Student access to information: The use of the Internet and CD-ROM already promises to provide students a greater amount and more up-to-date information about a wide variety of environmental-based topics for study. The traditional mass education textbooks were never very satisfactory in their ability to provide such information. Mass produced textbooks still do not give equal or sufficient coverage of information for all regions of the country. For many topics in biology, earth science, geology and history geographic coverage is weak especially in the upper Midwest of the United States. A variety of paperback books works better, but still suffer from lack of coverage and the ability to remain up-to-date. As the student's role moves more to asking questions rather than answering questions, access to the Internet and electronic card catalogues from area libraries makes finding up-to-date information on a wide variety to topics very important. The investigation of topics of student interest will no longer be limited to textbook information, what the teacher knows, or what print resources the school library provides.
This access to local place coverage of information is very important in a curriculum in which the introduction to the concepts of the field sciences starting with a through introduction to the natural history of students' immediate world as discussed earlier. If teachers are going to engage students in an effective study of ecosystems, for example, they will need to have easy access to their ecosystem through study at out-of-school sites and sources of local natural history information. Only through this union of direct study of local natural sites will students have the context needed to understand information found in books and the Internet. Once students understand their local ecosystem (i.e. tall grass prairie) through direct study and access to information on the tall grass prairie will they be able to understand other ecosystems (i.e. tropical rain forests) and finally ecosystem as a concept.
2. Teacher access to information: While we do need to provide the bulk of the environmental education of teachers in their pre-service teacher education program, there is still some important knowledge that must by its very nature be provided at the teachers' school sites. Local outdoor education sites, information about local flora and fauna, and local resource people are unique to where the teacher teaches. A regional or state Web site can easily provide such specific information. Minnesota provides SEEK , a statewide environmental education Web site, which provides such information for teachers and links to other environmental education sites. In addition, teachers, as lifelong learners, benefit with their students from the information found with the microcomputer.
3. Interactive investigations of remote study sites (urban or natural) or simulations of environmental problems: In this new standard-based education world, time and space are still limiting factors. There are important natural and urban places to visit for which time and/or money is not available (i.e. tropical rain forests). CD-ROM based interactive investigations and explorations of remote study sites have a legitimate role to play in a quality environmental education program. The interactive nature of such programs makes them superior to the old non-interactive movie or video. What some environmental educators fear is that such programs will replace all outdoor experiences because CD-ROM cost less and are less work than study at outdoor education sites. CD-ROM programs will never replace experiences in outdoor education sites, but do have the potential of allowing students to explore (to a limited extent) other urban or natural outdoor sites after they have studied at local and area sites.
The use of CD-ROM based simulations, which allows students to experience and investigate events that in real time (weeks, months, years, centuries, etc.) are too long to study directly. There is much debate as to the wisdom of using such programs. Much more careful research has to be done on what students are really learning from such simulations. However, if we are studying important concepts, it seems that simulations can offer a way to investigate the topic rather than having to rely on the traditional method of just being told the outcome. The problem with simulations is that some are misleading which produce student misconceptions, often grounded in the simulations' oversimplifications of the topic.
4. Student-to-student sharing of information: One of the most powerful uses of the microcomputer and the Internet is the ability for classes of students from different schools to collaborate on an environmental investigation through the sharing of data and analysis. The most well known and researched of these is water quality testing programs such as those conducted through the GREEN Project and the Illinois Rivers Project . The Globe Project also uses the microcomputer in this way. In the past, the availability of only e-mail in a majority of participating schools has caused student-to-student sharing to be limited, but with the rapid wiring of schools for Internet access the potential of this use should soon be realized.
Environmental science educators have their work before them. While much has been accomplished in the past, much is yet to be done. The best opportunity to hardwire environmental education into the mainstream education of all K-12 is now. Our challenge is to take the best of what we have done in the past and add to that new and well tested experiences. Add to that expanded sources of information and techniques made possible by new tools, and we can produce an effective environmental-based education for our students so they will adopt a sustainable relationship with mother earth.
The nine participating Minnesota colleges and universities that developed the pre-service environmental education programs for their respective K-12 teacher education programs 1995-1997:
Bemidji State University, Bemidji
Concordia University, St. Paul
Hamline University, St. Paul
Moorhead State University, Moorhead
Minnesota State University Mankato, Mankato
St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud
University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth
University of Minnesota Morris, Morris
University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis
American Psychological Association. (1993). Learner-Centered Psychological Principles: Guidelines for School Redesign and Reform. Washington, DC: Author.
Bruner, J. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bybee, R.W., Landes, N.M. (1990). "Science for Life and Living." The American Biology Teacher, 52 (2), 92-98.
Bybee, R.W., Harms, N., Ward, B., and Yager, R. (1980). "Science, Society and Science Education." Science Education, 64, 377-395.
Callicot, J.B. (1989). In Defense of the Land Ethic. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Dworkin, M. (Ed). (1959). Dewey on Education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Geography Education Standards Project. (1994). Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Hussar, W. (1999). Predicting the Need for Newly Hired Teachers in the United States to 2008-09. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
Kotulak, R. (1996). Inside the Brain. Kansas City, MO: Andrew McMeel Publishing.
Leopold, Aldo. (1949). A Sand County Almanac. New York: Ballantine Books.
McClaren, Milton. (1998, March). Environmental Education in an Information Age: Confusion, Information, or Understanding. Symposium: Academic Planning in College and University Environmental Programs. Ft. Myers, FL.
Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning. (1998). Minnesota Graduation Standards. St. Paul, MN: Author.
Minnesota Environmental Education Advisory Board. (1993). A GreenPrint for Minnesota: State Plan for Environmental Education. St. Paul, MN: Author
Minton, Ty. (1980). The History of the Nature Study Movement and Its Role in the Development of Environmental Education. University Microfilms International Dissertation Services. Ann Arbor, MI.
National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
North American Association for Environmental Education. (1996). Environmental Education Materials: Guidelines for Excellence. Troy, OH: Author.
Piaget, J. (1970). The Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child. New York, NY: Orion Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
About the author...
Dr. George R. Davis, Ed.D., is an associate professor of science education at Moorhead State University, Moorhead, MN where he is the Director of the Regional Science Center and teaches in the teacher education program. He holds a Doctorate in Education degree in science education from the University of Northern Colorado, a Masters of Arts in science education degree and a Bachelor of Arts in biology (with teaching) degree from the University of Northern Iowa.. Prior to coming to MSU in 1990 he was at Emporia State University in Kansas where he taught secondary science methods courses and directed the Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education Center. He has twelve years of high school science teaching experience.
Back to the EJSE