Teaching and Learning
solving approach to environmental issues is essentially interdisciplinary.
Science, technology, and individual and institutional behavior are components
that shape environmental problems, their context, and their solutions.
An awareness of the entire environmental system is necessary for decision
making. Science, technology, human behavior, and decision making form
an increasingly complex hierarchy in relation to the environment. This
hierarchy can be viewed in terms of objectives, processes, participants,
and interactions among components.
a conceptual framework is at the center of all teaching and learning.
The complexities of the environment are best conceptualized in terms of
systems. The core knowledge for environmental literacy is therefore presented
in this text in terms of the systems that compose the environment.
subject matter and pedagogy to attain our objectives. Our approach is
based on students attaining five areas of understanding and experience:
and decision-making framework, including analysis, synthesis and evaluation
mental models and conceptual change;
autonomy, and ownership.
for each of these areas is described below very briefly. We give some
relevant examples of material developed under each category, although
each of the mentioned exercises could also be used to illustrate the other
points. The pedagogy of using a conceptual framework is important to enable
all students to develop a sense of ownership of knowledge and confidence
in their decision-making capabilities. The emphasis is on active, participatory,
problem-based, experiential learning, incorporating teamwork and students
systematizing their knowledge as appropriate. Cognitive and affective
learning objectives as well as pedagogical methods are interwoven in our
description throughout this text to provide an integrated framework for
teaching and learning.
core of principles and methods is the foundation for environmental literacy.
This is a small and manageable yet sufficiently comprehensive set so that
all the issues in the problem area of "environment" can be understood
with these principles. The general nature and applicability of these principles
should be made explicit to the student so that they form the basis for
understanding a broad array of problems. Ideally, the core knowledge should
be interdisciplinary so that artificial disciplinary divisions such as
science, economics, and technology will not be an impediment to the student
facing a complex situation involving interactions of science, technology,
aspects of knowledge necessary for understanding environmental problems
particularly the first and second laws of thermodynamics,
- the law
of conservation of mass practiced as materials balance
of ecology and ecological systems,
focusing on the interaction between population growth and resource consumption,
focusing on how quantitative risk is calculated, and how that is communicated,
ethics, environmental justice, and environmental equity, and
ways of thinking such as industrial metabolism and industrial ecology,
green design, and sustainable development.
and Decision-Making Framework
to apply knowledge is a central requisite of environmental literacy. The
critical judgment to discriminate between options is normally a faculty
developed with expertise and practice in a given subject area. Yet here
we want to develop this evaluative faculty in a "non-expert."
This means that the student should learn not only the facts but also develop
an understanding about the context, processes, and their strengths and
of the environmental issues described above have to be presented in a
coherent, yet adaptive and flexible conceptual framework so students can
continue to learn as issues emerge and paradigms change in the future.
Rather than being a prescriptive and rigid structure, this framework will
be developed by students from the subject material they learn and the
pedagogical techniques that place them in decision-making contexts. The
traditional knowledge hierarchy described by Bloom is: knowledge, comprehension,
application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. In the case of environmental
problems, college students have a certain level of pre-existing knowledge.
A useful way to frame the learning is first to elicit their knowledge
on the subject in the form of their mental model (for example, using a
concept map), and then to correct and enhance this model. So, it makes
sense to begin with the synthetic knowledge they have, then provide some
unifying and organizing principles. From there it is possible to go about
the process of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, developing in the
students the capability to seek out the relevant knowledge for a given
problem or situation.
we have used successfully to organize student learning is that of engineering
design. This framework can be laid out as follows:
a need (environmental need or problem)
and state the problem
the concepts and tools needed to solve the problem
alternatives for relative merit according to criteria and value provided
by the context
and design the best alternative.
the "prototype" if the testing finds problems that are unacceptable.
be considered a paradigm for teaching in general. Broadly, the five elements
of good educational design may be thought of as:
definition and solving,
and decision making, and
can use this framework to design the content, process, and the learning
environment. At different levels of student learning, different relative
emphases may be placed in these domains, depending on the student's knowledge,
developmental stage, and interests. Aspects such as needs assessment (problem
definition), decision making, and ethics--which have received attention
recently as central components of science and engineering education--are
brought in naturally into this "education as design" framework.
of this problem solving framework to an environmental problem is shown
schematically in Figure 1. In the case of an environmental problem, the
issue is defined (or "felt") often as an ecological or human
health impact. After defining the issue, the relevant questions or problems
to be addressed also have to be defined carefully. Figure 1 shows the
stages of environmental problem solving, along with the recommended student
activities that accompany each step, and feed into the next.
1: Stages of environmental problem-solving.
addition to achieving cognitive goals, this approach also has value in
the affective domain. Design provides a setting in which important aspects
of learning such as student ownership of knowledge and relevance of the
subject can be fostered as an inherent part of the educational setting.
Pedagogical and motivational factors (such as teaching
knowledge in context, learning through trial and error, extended periods
for observation and testing, seeing the use of the material learned, and
ethical responsibility as part of the goal of the design engineer) are
all automatically built into the design paradigm for learning. All of
these factors have been cited by numerous authors as necessary for attracting
and retaining female and minority students. 1
, 2 , 3 , 4
simple yet powerful tool of concept mapping
provides an example of providing the student with a method to map the
concepts and connections. This representation provides the student with
a way to express and explore the frameworks to be learned in the course.5
General issues of representing and framing knowledge are discussed later.
of an exercise we have used very successfully to teach analysis, synthesis,
and evaluation, as well as research skills, is one in which a team of
students do a "comparative life cycle
analysis". They take two options of a familiar consumer product
(e.g., soft drink bottles of plastic or glass; cloth or plastic diapers)
and do a life cycle analysis. Students develop criteria by which they
decide which of the options is more environmentally friendly, and design
an appropriate logo.
Mental Models and Conceptual Change
As explained in the previous section, the aim of our course is to give
the student the ability to recognize, structure, and formulate an environmental
concern, then seek the relevant knowledge, skills, and tools to address
the concern. Environmental concern is the beginning and end of this quest.
Understanding of science, of technology, and of human and institutional
behavior and decision making and their interplay is necessary for a complete
approach to any environmental concern.
of the material into systems provides the students with a way to organize
their own mental models. Basic knowledge (science) as well as applications
of knowledge (technology) are introduced in the context of environmental
systems. In order for students to acquire ownership of their knowledge,
it is important to understand the process of acquiring, organizing, and
using knowledge. Students come with a significant amount of knowledge,
varying according to their backgrounds. The first step is to draw out
and write an organized presentation of their knowledge, already integrated
by them into some framework. Use of this student "mental model"
as the foundation for teaching is central to interdisciplinary teaching.
It naturally engages the student in a process of discovery and integration,
as well as in a process of clarification, correction and enhancement of
this process of inquiry and to gain competence, it is also important for
students to understand the processes of acquiring and processing knowledge.
Generally, science is taught as a product, rather than as a process of
building models. This can lead to an inadequate understanding of the capabilities,
limits and uncertainties of science. Interdisciplinary teaching implies
teaching the context and process of generating knowledge, as well as providing
a historical and social context for the knowledge. This type of situation
is especially important in enabling students to think critically and to
develop competencies for decision making.
involves an interaction between what the learner knows (his/her existing
mental model of the subject), and the new material that is presented.
Incorporating the new material into the existing cognitive and affective
framework involves conceptual change. Although the ideas of learning as
conceptual change and the nature of understanding have been the topics
of writing of philosophers from ancient times (Plato in Meno) and more
recently (Hume, Ayer, Quine), recent research in education and cognitive
processes have empirically explored and formalized the theories of conceptual
change. A simplified view of conceptual change is that depending on the
degree, conceptual changes may be large shifts in the mental models, referred
to as accommodation, or, additions to existing models, called assimilation.
In this book, we attempt to present methods and exercises as well as sequencing
and compiling of material to facilitate both as appropriate. Conceptual
change models of learning have been described by numerous authors from
different perspectives, notable among them, Kenneth Strike, George Posner
and Joseph Novak of Cornell, M.C. Wittrock of UCLA, Deidre Gentner of
the University of Illinois, and Leo Klopfer and Audrey Champagne of the
University of Pittsburgh. A nice collection of their
works is found in a volume edited by Leo West and Leon Pines.6
people learn and think in different ways. While this is a widely accepted
view in education, we do little as a community to be cognizant of this
in teaching and in planning in courses. The pluralistic
models of thinking came into public prominence in the U.S. with the publication
in 1983 of Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind.7
Gardner's frameworks form an integration of evolutionary, cross-cultural
and neurological evidence. A sociocultural framework of learning and thinking
had also been developed by L.S. Vygotsky in the U.S.S.R., but was largely
unknown in the U.S. until his work began to be translated and published
here in the early 1960's. Gardner's multiple intelligence
and Vygotsky's social and participatory views on learning have been used
elegantly by Vera John Steiner to explore creativity in a number of well-known
creative people in her Notebooks of the Mind : Explorations of Thinking.8
Some understanding of these "multiple intelligences" is necessary
if we are to serve students with care. To this end, this text provides
a range of activities that invites students' creative participation.
citizens' education needs to evolve and continue to serve them in the
face of change. For this, the course should also teach the "scientific
and humanistic ways of thinking," including methods of structuring
a new problem, and methods of recognizing commonalities and differences
in classes of problems so that the transfer of learning to a new problem
occurs as it develops. Gentner has shown that such
translation of learning does not occur automatically9
, so it is necessary that generalizability and limitations be discussed
explicitly in the course. Again the conceptual frameworks and tools aid
in this development.
Ownership and Autonomy
be competent decision-makers students have to develop a problem-solving
mentality that can enable them to feel confident and take "ownership"
of adapting solutions to new problems. This means that the pedagogy of
teaching has to place the students in situations not only of solving a
specified problem, but in situations where they have to define the problem,
collect data from diffuse, "real-world" situations, and formulate
strategies for solutions10. Active problem-based
learning through case studies used routinely in our courses is a means
of formulating, structuring, and solving problems. These assignments require
students to represent the points of view of diverse stakeholders in the
issue at hand. They also have to develop and present solutions founded
on substantive knowledge and evidence. Articulation is an important part
of literacy, and these presentations help students develop and improve
years, we have seen that a byproduct of this approach is the confidence
and ownership that students develop towards their knowledge. They begin
to gain the competence to go in search of the facts, analyze, synthesize,
and evaluate data, and examine the ethics of various decisions. During
the semester we observe the students becoming increasingly adept at setting
up and solving problems, and also become more autonomous and sensitive
in their decision making.
Tobias, S. They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second
Tier, Tucson, AZ: Research Corporation, 1990.
Rosser, S.V. Teaching the Majority, New York: Teachers College
Rosser, S.V. Female-Friendly Science, New York, NY: Pergamon Press,
Nair, I. ???? 1995.
West, Leo and Leon Pines (ed.). Cognitive Structure and Conceptual
Change, Academic Press, 1985.
Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind : A Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
New York, NY: Basic Books, 1985.
John Steiner, Vera. Notebooks of the Mind : Explorations of Thinking,
New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997 ( Revised Edition; original,
Gentner, Dedre. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 1983.