Teaching for the Environment
issues affect, and are affected by, all our activities to varying degrees.
The need to have a working knowledge of environmental issues is not
confined to environmental scientists, engineers, and policy makers.
In our society, all educated citizens need to have a working understanding
of the fundamental principles involved for environmentally responsible
decision making. The knowledge and understanding of a range of concepts
and connections are required in order for an interested person to think
and make decisions coherently about individual and societal behaviors
that affect the environment.
interconnected nature of environmental problems, the interactions between
societal and individual decision making and their effect on the development
of solutions for environmental problems require that a comprehensive
environmental literacy course include scientific, social, economic,
organizational, and ethical dimensions. An active, project-based approach
to learning is imperative if course material is to enable students to
be skillful and confident participants in environmental decision making
at the individual and social level.
the last decade, we have evolved a course based on a systems approach,
integrating disciplinary knowledge and exploration of and issues as
relevant, and using pedagogy that involves active, participatory learning.
This text is an exposition of the components of the course for teachers.
As an understanding of environmental systems requires knowledge from
a variety of disciplines, we bring together relevant knowledge, and
methods for assessing the students' learning. To make it possible for
teachers with diverse disciplinary backgrounds to teach the course,
all the necessary content is included. Suggestions to guide student
learning are included as part of this text.
literacy is challenging to teach due to the complexities of the systems
that make up the environment, and the roles of individual and institutional
decision making with regard to the economy, ways of living, and technology
choices. Interactions among the components of the environment including
humans are complex and span space and time. The environment also evokes
many emotions. Over the past decade of teaching this course, we have
continually learned from our students and revised our ways of teaching,
assignments, and presentation of material. The possibility of student
engagement and the complexity of the topic makes the environment one
of the most exciting and challenging areas of inquiry for teaching and
of all ages have varying degrees of knowledge and comprehension about
the components of the environment and their interactions. Many students
are knowledgeable about the environment because of media exposure, personal
interest, and high school, service, or activist backgrounds. Students
also bring incomplete or incorrect knowledge, opinions passing for facts
because of things they have read, and the underlying philosophies of
their cultural or disciplinary backgrounds. The ideal scheme of learning
is a student-centered and participatory process in which the students'
existing framework of knowledge will be revealed, corrected, and enhanced.
overall facets of good teaching may be framed in terms of "context,
connections, competence, and conscience." Situated learning is
learning in context, and is widely accepted as the most enduring
way of learning. Understanding a topic in relation to experience and
with respect to other topics is part of situated learning. Active connections
of concepts and phenomena to one another are thus essential to learning.
If these connections are not made explicitly, the learner may connect
new knowledge to his/her existing knowledge framework sometimes erroneously,
giving rise to misconceptions. Thus establishing context and connections
intentionally is an important part of providing learning experiences.
This is the basis of constructivist teaching.
is of course the objective we all set explicitly when planning a course.
We want to transfer knowledge and skills. Being able to apply these
is acknowledged as part of the requisite for learning. In the case of
environmental decision making, competence includes problem solving and
decision making explicitly. Assignments and readings seek to place students
in decision-making situations. Conscience is perhaps the one
aspect left out of most formal teaching because it is often placed in
the private rather than public realm of knowledge. However, understanding
the value system--the ethos--of our society today is central to environmental
literacy and environmental decision making. Discussion of values occurs
throughout, both in relating the history and course of events, and in
general aspects of teaching that cover these four tenets are woven together
into the design, organization, and material in this text. The organization
of the environment into systems underscores the interrelationships and
intricate connections between components of the environment including
humans. The knowledge of science, technology, behavior, institutions,
and other contributors to the environment and its change are discussed
in an interdisciplinary manner. There is an emphasis on natural and
human-caused processes in discussing environmental phenomena. Process
is also emphasized in the assignments, both in terms of active exploration,
and in terms of the decision making that the students have to do. The
following sections elaborate some of the central aspects of this design
and pedagogical features that can encourage an integrated and action-oriented