Environmental education (EE) connects us to the world around us, teaching us about both natural and built environments. EE raises awareness of issues impacting the environment upon which we all depend, as well as actions we can take to improve and sustain it.
Whether we bring nature into the classroom, take students outside to learn, or find impromptu teachable moments on a nature walk with our families, EE has many benefits for youth, educators, schools, and communities.
As a long time supporter of environmental education and as an Adjunct Professor of EE at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, it is my passion to inspire future educators in this field. Over the years, I have asked each of my classes to share the reasons they teach EE, what it means to them, and how it can benefit learners of all ages. Here are our top ten benefits of EE.
Imagination and enthusiasm are heightened
EE is hands-on, interactive learning that sparks the imagination and unlocks creativity. When EE is integrated into the curriculum, students are more enthusiastic and engaged in learning, which raises student achievement in core academic areas.
Learning transcends the classroom
Not only does EE offer opportunities for experiential learning outside of the classroom, it enables students to make connections and apply their learning in the real world. EE helps learners see the interconnectedness of social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues.
Critical and creative thinking skills are enhanced
EE encourages students to research, investigate how and why things happen, and make their own decisions about complex environmental issues. By developing and enhancing critical and creative thinking skills, EE helps foster a new generation of informed consumers, workers, as well as policy or decision makers.
Tolerance and understanding are supported
EE encourages students to investigate varying sides of issues to understand the full picture. It promotes tolerance of different points of view and different cultures.
State and national learning standards are met for multiple subjects
By incorporating EE practices into the curriculum, teachers can integrate science, math, language arts, history, and more into one rich lesson or activity, and still satisfy numerous state and national academic standards in all subject areas. Taking a class outside or bringing nature indoors provides an excellent backdrop or context for interdisciplinary learning.
Biophobia and nature deficit disorder decline
By exposing students to nature and allowing them to learn and play outside, EE fosters sensitivity, appreciation, and respect for the environment. It combats “nature deficit disorder” … and it’s FUN!
Healthy lifestyles are encouraged
EE gets students outside and active, and helps address some of the health issues we are seeing in children today, such as obesity, attention deficit disorders, and depression. Good nutrition is often emphasized through EE and stress is reduced due to increased time spent in nature.
Communities are strengthened
EE promotes a sense of place and connection through community involvement. When students decide to learn more or take action to improve their environment, they reach out to community experts, donors, volunteers, and local facilities to help bring the community together to understand and address environmental issues impacting their neighborhood.
Responsible action is taken to better the environment
EE helps students understand how their decisions and actions affect the environment, builds knowledge and skills necessary to address complex environmental issues, as well as ways we can take action to keep our environment healthy and sustainable for the future. Service-learning programs offered by PLT and other EE organizations provide students and teachers with support through grants and other resources for action projects.
Students and teachers are empowered
EE promotes active learning, citizenship, and student leadership. It empowers youth to share their voice and make a difference at their school and in their communities. EE helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. I hope these “top ten” benefits will give you the confidence and commitment to incorporate EE into your curriculum!
Please share any additional benefits below in the comments section.
It’s that time of year again when the presentation boards come out – Science Fair Season. While there are innumerable science topics for kids to choose for their research, we thought it would be helpful to offer suggestions that relate to environmental science. With Earth Day and Science Fairs on the horizon, there are many great themes to help students examine an environmental topic in depth and educate their classmates and parents at the same time. Here are some ideas for environmental science fair projects:
Water Science Fair Projects:
1. How does the water cycle work? [Create a working model]
2. Where does fresh water come from? [Do the demonstration in “Water, Water Everywhere.”]
3. How do we clean dirty water to make it clean enough to drink? [Demonstrate different filtering techniques.]
4. Why is water scarce in parts of the world and who is most affected?
5. What are the main culprits of water contamination? [Do the demonstration in “Like Water and Oil” to show the effects of oil spills.]
6. What are water-borne diseases and how do they affect public health?
Air Quality Science Fair Projects:
7. How does polluted air affect human health? [Show the effect of pollutants on the respiratory system.]
8. How does transportation affect air quality? [Do the experiment in “Catching Pollution.”]
Climate Change Science Fair Projects:
9. What is the greenhouse effect? [Create a model]
10. How do certain human activities contribute to global warming? [Examine the calculations in “Global Warming Begins at Home USA.”]
11. What do ice core samples tell us about the history of global temperatures?
12. How does climate change affect the habitats and migration patterns of different species?
13. What are the consequences of global sea level rise? [Map the effects of various sea level increases, showing where impacts occur.]
Biodiversity Science Fair Projects:
14. What are invasive species and why might they pose a threat to different ecosystems? [Use a local example from your area – your County’s Extension Office is a good place to research.]
15. How have we derived medicines from different plants and animals?
16. What are the major threats to biodiversity?
Agricultural Science Fair Projects:
17. What are the pros and cons of genetically modified foods (GMOs)?
18. Can we feed the world with organically grown foods?
19. What are the short and long-term effects of commercial fertilizer use on the land?
20. What sort of diet would be optimal for human health and the environment? [Calculate the ecological footprint of various diets.]
21. Has the amount of arable land changed over time and how might this help predict future cropland availability? [Use “World Real Estate” to chart historical changes in the amount of arable land per person.]
22. How might climate change affect crop yields in different parts of the globe?
Renewable Energy Science Fair Projects:
23. How do solar panels work? How about wind turbines?
24. What is geothermal energy and how is it used?
Solid Waste Recycling Science Fair Projects:
25. Which materials decompose the fastest in landfills? In compost piles? [Try “Scraps into Soil” to get started and see results over time.]
26. Paper vs. Plastic – Which kind of bag has the greater impact on the environment and why?
27. How can changes in daily habits change the amount of trash we create? [Do the experiment in “Waste A-Weigh.”]
Population Themed Science Fair Projects:
28. What is carrying capacity in nature and what happens when different species exceed the carrying capacity? [Read “How Many is Enough?” to learn the basics of carrying capacity.]
29. How does reproduction vary among different species (ex. number of offspring, length of gestation, mating habits)?
30. How and why did human settlements change over time and what effect have these changes had on ecosystems?