More than Just a Field Trip:The Importance of Environmental Education Jen Martin and Josh Davis Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
Environmental Education:is the learning process that increases people’s knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action. (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations, 1977)
Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont Our Mission: Great Smoky Mountains Institute provides in-depth experiences through educational programs designed to nurture appreciation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, celebrate diversity, and foster stewardship.
What Tremont does… Citizen Science!
In 2006: 5,572 students from 95 different schools located in 12 states attended a Tremont program.
Essential Questions: • What knowledge does the student take home from a Tremont program? • What will students remember after an environmental education (EE) experience? • How do we evaluate an EE experience? • What proof do we have that EE programs are working?
Research in Washington and other states show that students in schools using environmental education consistently score higher on standardized tests than students in schools without EE. Previous Studies: Report Card on the Status of Environmental Education in Washington State
“You learn so much by actually being there, experiencing first hand what you’ve only read about in books.” -Gabe Herrera (Oak Park River Forest High School Senior, Illinois)
Previous Studies: Report Card on the Status of Environmental Education in Washington State Young people exposed to EE tend to improve their overall grade-point average, stay in school longer, receive higher- than- average scholarship awards, and display more responsible behavior in school and in the community. They also are generally better prepared for the job market.
I wish every teacher could see their students in learning situations as unique as Tremont. The labels of “troublemaker,” “unmotivated,” and “underachiever” melt away in your outdoor classroom. - Peggy Steffan (Immaculate Conception High School, Memphis, Tennessee)
Study released in June of 2005 on 6th grade students attending three, week-long residential EE programs: Children who attended raised their science scores by 27% The increase in science knowledge was maintained 6 to 10 weeks following the program Previous Studies:American Institutes of Research - California
Previous Studies:American Institutes of Research - California • Students showed gains in cooperation and conflict resolution that were significantly higher than those students not attending
“Our kids learn so much about nature and working together, but the most important thing I see is growth in self-confidence and esteem. Their confidence grows because they have to make decisions without a parent’s influence and they almost always make the right choice! They also come to see that they are important- the kids take care of each other. If someone is sick, everyone wants to help. Tremont does so much for everyone- but most importantly our kids’ image of themselves is changed forever.” -Keith Buff, Assistant Principal (Valley Springs Middle School, Asheville, NC)
What do students take away from an environmental education experience at Tremont? To help us answer this question we developed an evaluation system . . . • An evaluating team was chosen in April 2004, consisting of Yale PhD candidates: Marc Stern, Bob Powell, and Nicole Ardoin. • Grant money from Alcoa Foundation helped fund the project. • Tremont Staff worked together to develop questions based on our mission. • We developed pre surveys, post surveys, and 3 month post surveys that Tremont staff would administer to all attending schools beginning Spring 2005. • Tremont staff entered evaluation data into SPSS and calculated results.
How we did it… • Tremont staff administered surveys to ten random students from each school beginning Spring 2005. • Questions allow us to determine if, after attending a Tremont residential program, students have an increase in… • Knowledge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Biodiversity • Sense of Place and a Connection with Nature • Stewardship • Interest in Cultural History • Interest in Learning • Since Spring 2005, over 1,000 student surveys have been distributed. • Our 2006/07 school year results: 272 surveys (pre and post trip), 186 surveys (pre, post and 3 month follow up).
Student Indexes: Knowledge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Biodiversity • Goal: Students develop an enhanced understanding of the ecological services provided by biodiversity and GSMNP.
Student Indexes: Sense of Place and a Connection with Nature • Goal: Students feel that GSMNP and the outdoors are their second home- a welcoming, comforting, friendly environment.
Student Indexes: Stewardship • Goal: Students’ attitudes and behaviors reflect an understanding of negative impacts on the environment.
Student Indexes: Interest in Cultural History • Goal: Students develop an appreciation for and cognitive understanding of cultural diversity.
Student Indexes: Interest in Learning • Goal: Students develop and interest and passion for learning.
What we found… An increase in students’ Knowledge about GSMNP and Biodiversity! • Students’ scores show an increase in learning that GSMNP, and other natural places: -preserves a part of our nation’s cultural history -helps keep the air clean* -helps keep the water clean* -helps protect trees and animals from harm • Statistically significant increase in students who knew how many different plants and animals live in GSMNP* • Statistically significant increase in students who knew the best definition of an “exotic” species** (Statistically significant increase if p < .05) *Between pre/ post and pre/3 month surveys, p <.05 ** Between pre/ post surveys, p < .05
What we found… Statistically significant increase in students’ Sense of Place and Connection with Nature! * • Students comfort level in the outdoors increased right after their Tremont trip, and continued to remain high 3 months after the trip, compared to before their Tremont experience. • Students have an increased interest in learning about plants, animals and the places they live. *Statistically significant increase if p < .05 For this index p < .001 for pre and post surveys, and p = .014 for pre to 3 month surveys
What we found… Students showed an increase in Environmental Stewardship! * • Statistically significant increases in students who: • Turn out the lights when they leave a room • Are careful to not waste food • Are careful to not waste water • Talk to their friends and family about the environment • Increase in students who might someday want to volunteer in a National Park • Results were just as statistically strong 3 months later! *Between pre/ post surveys, p < .001. Between pre/ 3 month surveys p < .001
What we found… Students showed an increase in their Interest in Cultural History! • Students showed a statistically significant increase in*: Feeling that places that teach us about our history are important. Interest in learning about different cultures or other ways of life. Interest in learning about the history of their hometown. *Between pre and post surveys, p < .05
What we found… Students showed an increase in their Interest in Learning! * • Statistically significant increase in students’ interest in learning about different cultures or ways of life* • Increased interest in wanting to visit other National Parks and natural areas. • Increased interest in wanting to learn about the history of their hometown. *Between pre and post surveys, p < .05
What does all this mean? Environmental education experiences provide students with a strong connection to the natural world.
What does all this mean? Learning about the outdoors and appreciating its value produces students who are good stewards of the environment.
What does all this mean? Environmental education experiences increase students’ sense of place, interest in learning, and overall knowledge about science and nature.
What does all this mean? Students exposed to a longer environmental education experience (a 3-day Tremont program vs. a 5-day program): • show a stronger connection with the natural world • become better stewards of the environment • exhibit an increased interest in learning • retain a greater knowledge of GSMNP
What comes next? • Evaluations continue into the 2007-2008 school year • Each subsequent year of student evaluations will allow us to compare past successes with future results • Continued data analysis allows Tremont teaching staff to evaluate our own performance, focus on areas we see that need improvement, and teach consistently • The team responsible for helping us develop our evaluations has taken the data from the ’06/’07 school year, and submitted a paper to the Journal of Environmental Education, currently undergoing peer-review
Preventing Nature Deficit Disorder “Most American children now spend most of their time in artificial environments, but their need for nature hasn’t gone away.” -Richard Louv Author, Last Child in the Woods
Benefits of Environmental Education Studies show that prolonged exposure to the natural environment is beneficial to the physical, mental, and emotional development of children: • Children exhibiting Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can concentrate better after being in nature (Taylor, et. Al. 2001)
Benefits of Environmental Education • Playing and learning in natural environments improves children’s cognitive development through increasing their awareness, observation, and reasoning skills (Pyle 2002).
Benefits of Environmental Education • Exposure to nature buffers the impact of stress and helps children deal with adversity (Wells 2002). • Nature increases children’s creativity and imagination, and sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991, Crain 2001). • Nature stimulates social interaction among children (Moore 1986, Bixler et. al. 2002).
Benefits of Environmental Education • Nature gives children a sense of peace and oneness with the world (Crain 2001).
References Cobb, E. (1977). The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, New York,Columbia University Press. Crain, William (2001). How Nature Helps Children Develop. Montessori Life, Summer 2001. Louv, Richard (1991). Childhood’s Future, New York, Doubleday. Moore, Robin C. (1986). The Power of Nature Orientation of Girls and Boys Toward Biotic and Abiotic Play Settings On A Reconstructed School Yard. Children’s Environment Quarterly, 3 (3). Pyle, Robert (2002). Eden in a Vacant Lot: Special Places, Species and Kids in Community of Life. In: Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations. Kahn, P.H. and Kellert, S.R. (eds) Cambridge: MIT Press. Taylor, A.F., Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environment & Behavior, 33(1), 54-77. Wells, Nancy M. (2000). At Home with Nature, Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning, Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.