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Environmental education & sustainability

Environmental education (EE) & sustainable development (SD)

Two fruit flies are put into a jar at midnight.
two fruit fliesin a jar They and their descendants reproduce and double every minute.
At noon the next day the jar is full.

When was the jar half full?


  • When did the fruit flies know they were in trouble?
  • If the Earth is the jar, and we are fruit flies, then, when will our jar be full?
  • When will we know we are in trouble?


This page explores six environmental education focus questions and provides information and resources to answer them.

Focus questions:

To do this we review a historical perspective of thoughts on the environment, reviews the state of environmental education (EE), a framework to use to integrate EE and sustainable development (SD) with educational topics, research to support EE and SD, scoring guide for environmental concerns, suggestions to assess environmental curriculum, ideas for planning EE & SD, suggestions to integrate environmental issues into content areas, and suggestions to plan ecosystem investigations. And finally a summary with possible answers to the focus questions.

Historical perspective of environment

Let's start with a historical perspective of what people have thought about the environment.

Historically Indigenous people are experts on knowing their environment and how to manage it in a sustainable way. Which generally follows seasonal patterns and recognizing significant changes that will effect their survival. Because of this, they tried not to upset nature, or the gods, and be respectful of how they impacted the environment.

When humans were scarce and population limited, their impact on nature was limited with their use of fire and selective harvesting. However, as the population increased their indiscriminate and unplanned use of the Earth's resources threatened the sustainability of land and water and other natural resources in their environment.

To compensate they developed their technology and relied more on farming and domestication of animals and moved away from a reliance on a harmony with nature, to one of minor human interventions and began to believe that we, humans, could control or conquer it. Which led to an increased reliance on human interventions with intensive farming of monocultures in prepared fields and herding and housing animals to produce more food; without enough regard to the harm caused to the natural environments and the need of a diversity of life to sustain life on Earth. This situation was further exacerbated by modernization, rapid industrialization, deforestation, a greater need for industrial farming, increased consumption, and pollution related to these changes.

A few historical examples of these interventions include:

  • Early civilizations recognized limits of weather and geography. In Egypt (4 000 BCE), reliance on flooding of the Nile river; Petra (380 BCE), limited rainfall in the desert and created an irrigation system.
  • Many agriculturally based civilizations struggle with crop failures due to poor soil, lack of water, swarms of insects, deforestation, over grazing, ...
  • Haber deigns a process (1902 & 1915) to make ammonia fertilizer to use to provide more nitrogen fertilizer to plants.
  • The Green Revolution, (1960) develops new strains of wheat and rice for higher yields. 
  • Harden, 1968, writes Tragedy of the Commons, in which he describes problems with thinking of resources as common.
  • Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, (1962) which many believe it marks the beginning of the modern environmental movement.
  • First Earth Day (1970).
  • Move toward an ecological world view and sustainability. (1996)

Review the STEM timeline for other historical evens that impact the environment.

Historical review of environmental education (EE) & including sustainable development (SD)

Most people believe it is important for everyone to learn about the environment and appreciate it to sustain life on Earth. However, what this means and how to achieve it is a challenge for all of us, especially educators.

Let's look at ideas about EE over the years and how they changed.


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met and defined environmental education (EE) as:

a process of developing values and understanding concepts to cultivate attitudes and skills essential to appreciate the interrelationships among humans, their culture and biophysical features. Furthermore, EE was a tool useful in making decisions, coding behaviors and best practices on environmental quality issues.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). (1970). International Working Meeting on Environmental Education in the School Curriculum, Final Report. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Triggered publications on the environment and ecology. Like Silent Spring.


Orr claims that all education is environmental education.

If this is true, then the village that it takes to educate a child needs to refocus its philosophical base from an individualistic materialistic consumer economy ... to a collaborative sustainable economy ...

Orr D. W. (1992) Ecological Literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. New York: state University of New York Press.


Smyth describes the purposes of EE as needing to reduce the emphasis on the environmental awareness of environmental literacy and increase the emphasis for a system of education designed to prepare a thoughtful and restrained community who plays its part in an ecologically sustainable society. Learners who are responsible, competent, ethical, appreciate aesthetically wise choices and effective actions to bring human and ecological systems together. And want to be part in realizing their future!

John Smyth (1995). A view of a changing scene. in Environment and Education


A goal for environmental education (EE) is to recognize the environment as an object of solicitude [a place and social construct in need of love and care from us:]. Emphasis is placed on solicitude: taking care of other humans and those other than human, with sustained and affectionate attention.

Sauvé, L. (2005) Currents in Environmental Education: Mapping a Complex and Evolving Pedagogical Field. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 10 (1): 11-37.


Environmental education (EE) is defined as the acquisition of knowledge aimed at behavioral and action modification by students and is skewed to wise use of environmental resources at individual and group level.

Thomas, G. (2005). Facilitation in Education for the Environment. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 21, 107–116.


Kopnina described EE as needing to teach ways of living that empower individuals to become informed, responsible and active environmental citizens through building awareness of environmental issues and problems, developing an attitude of respect and care for the natural environment, and building capacities to care for and take action to enhance and protect the environment.

Kopnina, H. (2012). Education for sustainable development (ESD): The turn away from ‘environment in environmental education? Environmental Education Research, 18(5), 699-717.


Components of EE include:

  1. Having a high standard of conduct to apply understanding and knowledge when making decisions regarding varied environmental contexts,
  2. Cognitive abilities and skills,
  3. Affective and cognitive dispositions and
  4. Knowledge and understanding of various environmental issues, problems and concepts.

Sharma, P. (2016). Learning outcomes for environmental literacy: A guide for textbook writers, teachers and researchers. Centre for Environmental Education.


And more recently is focused on understanding EE to promote sustainable development (SD).

Grosseck, G., Tiru, L., & Bran, R. (2019). Education for sustainable development evolution and perspectives: A bibliometric review of research, 1992-2018. Sustainability, 11(21), 6136.



The role of EE and SD overlap and are interrelated. Environmental education, resonates with the model which refers to the environment in a holistic, human oriented approach as interacting biophysical (organisms and life support systems), social (people living together), economic (livelihood, money and services) and political (power, policy and decisions) dimensions.

Goldman, D., Assaraf, O., & Shaharabani, D. (2013). Influence of a non-formal environmental education programme on junior high school students’ environmental literacy. International Journal of Science Education, 35(3), 515–545.

These are some of the tenets of SD, which can be interrelated with EE.

Maurer, M., & Bogner, F. (2019). How freshmen perceive environmental education (EE) and education for sustainable development (ESD). PLoS One, 14(1), e0208910.


It's important to assists learners to understand and acquire sufficient prerequisite knowledge to develop appropriate skills and attitudes necessary in solving the environmental challenges they encounter daily through responsible acting and scientific thinking.

Edsand, H., & Broich, T. (2020). The impact of environmental education on environmental and renewable energy technology awareness: Empirical evidence from Colombia. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 18(4), 611–634.


The historical ideas of EE and SD can be used to create a framework for the roles or goals of EE and SD to use to guide learners.

Goals and roles include

  1. Knowledge - What do you know?
    • Ecological and physical systems
    • Political, cultural and social systems
    • Environmental issues
    • Action strategies and citizen participation
    • Many solutions to environmental problems
  2. Dispositions - How do you respond to environmental problems?
    • Concerns and attitudes to the environment
    • Sensitivity
    • Personal responsibility assumption
    • Concerns and attitudes to the environment
    • Self-efficacy
    • Intent and motivation to take action
  3. Competencies - What skills and abilities do you possess? When and how do you apply them?
    • Identify environmental problems
    • Question about environmental problems under different environmental conditions
    • Analyze environmental problems
    • Use primary and secondary sources to investigate the science and social aspects of
      environmental problems
    • Assess and make judgments on environmental problems considering the socio-
      political systems
    • Use evidence and knowledge-based facts to propose solutions to the problems
    • Monitor and evaluate plans to solve environmental problems at various levels and scales
  4. Responsible behavior towards the environment
    • Participate in habitual and deliberate behaviors at individual and group level to solve current environmental problems sustain ably and prevent reemergence of new ones.

Hollweg, K. S., Taylor, J. R., Bybee, R. W., Marcinkowski, T. J., McBeth, W. C., & Zoido, P. (2011). Developing a framework for assessing environmental literacy. North American Association for Environmental Education.



State of environmental education

Since the rise of EE in the 1970's, there has not been sufficient involvement in practical environmental protection despite many communities rich in ecological knowledge. A study of K-12 environmental education (EE) conducted by the Independent Commission on Environmental Education (ICCE) in 2000 supports thirty years lack of progress in EE.

ICEE findings

  • Study of the environment is an important subject for grades K-12.
  • Teachers are the key to successful environmental education, but the materials often fail to give them the support they need.
  • Environmental education should not be confused with environmental science.
  • Materials that are not based on the best available science do not promote environmental literacy.
  • Environmental education materials often do not provide a framework for progressive building of knowledge.
  • Environmental education has become needlessly controversial.
  • Environmental education materials often fail to prepare students to deal with controversial environmental issues.
  • Environmental education materials often fail to help students understand the trade offs in addressing environmental problems.
  • Factual errors are common in many environmental education materials and textbooks.
  • Many high school environmental science textbooks have serious flaws. Some provide superficial coverage of science. Others mix science with advocacy.
  • There is no relationship between the quality of the material and the authoritative recommendations that accompany the publications.

ICEE recommendations

The ICEE believes the following recommendations must be implemented if environmental education is to gain the stature it deserves.

  • Environmental educators should place primary emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge.
  • Students in the lower elementary grades should begin the study of science with the study of the natural world.
  • Schools should consider teaching environmental education as an upper level multidisciplinary capstone course integrating what students have learned in science, social studies and other upper level courses.
  • Professional scientific and educational organizations such as the AAAS and NSTA should recommend educational materials only after a detailed, substantive review by experts has found them to be accurate.
  • Publishers must reevaluate their peer review process for environmental science textbooks and environmental education materials.
  • Textbook adoption committees and educational professionals responsible for selection of materials at the state and local levels should ask scientist, economists, and other experts, in addition to parents and teachers, to review materials for accuracy.
  • Environmental educational materials at all levels should provide more substantive content in natural science and social science than they now provide.
  • Teachers need substantive preparation in science, economics, and mathematics to teach environmental education.
  • An independent review process conducted by experts from the areas covered in environmental education should be established to perform ongoing evaluations of curricula in this field.

The ICCE report implies that what needs to be done to have students become environmental savvy is known and that educational materials and teachers can be prepared to achieve the goals of environmental education.

Salmon, Jeffrey in his article Are We Building Environmental Literacy? published in the Journal of Environmental Education, 00958964, summer 2000, Vol. 31, Issue 4.

Unfortunately this is still a fairly accurate summary of EE for many school children. Even though since then we have also discovered that what we thought we knew about EE was incomplete without SD.

Therefore, EE aimed at sustainable development (SD) must include both knowledge on environmental issues and how to nurture or develop the necessary values, associated with ecology, that instill problem solving skills and change the attitudes and perceptions, if necessary, of being active in maintaining sustainable ecosystems. A goal, which society at large is struggling with and EE and SD can only be a part of attaining and maintaining a sustainable world.

Therefore, a flaw in curriculum is lack of sufficient attention on methods aimed at practical civic and moral education towards environmental sustainability.

To remedy this we must maintain a focus on the acquisition of knowledge along with the importance of developing values, emotions, and social skills along with decision making skills with a the desire to use the knowledge to create more knowledge to be able to make and implement decisions for a sustainable Earth.

Research to review for preparing to teach EE & SD

An important consideration to be active participants for a sustainable environments is the view of who is responsible and how to implement responsible behaviors. Ferreira's, ideas on individual and group responsibility informs us as to how difficult it is to scale individual responsibility to group responsibility.

Environmentalist ... is the responsibility as individuals or group inspired?

Ferreira explores the positives and negatives of thinking of environmentalist as an individual or social construct. While reality is a combination of the two considering each individually is helpful.

Greta Thunberg - environmental activist

Extinction Rebellion - a UK-headquartered global environmental movement, for nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.

The positive feelings and views we experience for an individual (Greta Thunberg) versus the generally negative feelings and views of a collective (Extinction Rebellion, EPA, Greenpeace) raises issues, for the field of environmental and sustainability educational paths.

Our sense of self is strong. So we think of, getting in touch with our true selves or getting back to nature more as an environmental self than as a cultural being who lives among others.

However, our ecological identity, our place in the ecosystem, our role and purpose as a human being is not created by reconnecting us to our true inherited environmental selves, but is created by the language and narratives we experience through the social institutions we live in that encompasses all historical circumstances and cultural and institutional interactions.

Therefore, if a preformed and morally pure primal self does not exist, then what do environmental educators need to do to achieve individuals who become active citizens who care for the environment? Examples include experiences that develop

  • Nature connections through participation in nature walks and other types of outdoor activities that respectfully connect to nature.
  • Environmental values which can be clarified when learners reflect on their positions along a continuum of values, for example, in relation to hunting elephants, and then physically place themselves at a point that reflects their beliefs and/or values.
  • Consumption practices through inventory of all their possessions.
  • Everyday impacts by mapping their everyday or ordinary experiences such as visiting the supermarket, sorting and recycling waste, or even washing the dishes, energy audits to impacts on the environment and sustainability.


It is clear that the activities discussed above work to embed a new range of habits for living as an environmentalist and behaving as a good environmental citizen. Self-regulating, self-governing individuals who are environmental citizens. This is NOT simple as these are activities that rock the boat and require bravery!

A key lesson of environmental education is that to have a special kind of relationship with the environment, you need to have a special kind of relationship with your self also.

Ferreira, JA. ( 2019). The limits of environmental educators’ fashioning of ‘individualized’ environmental citizens. Journal of Environmental Education. Volume 50, 2019 - Issue 4-6, Pages 321-331, 10 Mar 2020.

With these ideas in mind, What can be done to better prepare teachers?

Educational research about how to teach about the environment and its implications

Stephen Pui-Ming Yeung found:

  • Found inquiry teaching models more effective than  didactic teaching models.
  • Suggested this could be seen as a positive in light of the increasing call in the Standards and by researchers for more inquiry and a constructivist approach. 
  • However, many teachers are reluctant to adopt an inquiry approach because of their fear of loosing control. Control of students' behavior as well as not knowing the subject knowledge well enough, or the investigative processes.
  • In addition the increase of high stakes testing with a reliance on standardized achievement test scores causes teachers to feel the need to focus more on factual information and choose a didactic approach with the hope to increase coverage rather than use an inquiry approach, which they believe would take longer.

Pui-Ming Yeung, Teaching Approaches and the Development of Responsible Environmental Behavior:
the Case of Hong Kong Ethics, Place, and Environment
, Vol. 5, No. 3, 239-269, 2002.

General Research on EE

  • Suggests EE learning can be a transformative learning opportunity to promote environmental sustainability. Ardoin, N., Bowers, A., Roth, W., & Holthuis, N. (2018). Environmental education and K-12 student outcomes: A review and analysis of research. The Journal of Environmental Education, 49(1), 1–17.
  • Demonstrated that EE learning instills confidence, skills, behavior, motivation and better academic performance among learners towards sustainable environmental practice. Stern, M., Powell, B., & Hill, D. (2014). Environmental education program evaluation in the new millennium: What do we measure and what have we learned? Environmental Education Research, 20(5), 581–611.
  • Learners with EE skills were more likely to engage in community clean ups, waste recycling and water reuse activities compared to those without. Harness, H., & Drossman, H. (2011). The environmental education through filmmaking project. Environmental Education Research, 17(6), 829–849.
  • EE enhances interest and passion to resolve environmental issues, Stern, M. J., Powell, R. B., & Ardoin, N. M. (2011). Evaluating a constructivist and culturally responsive approach to environmental education for diverse audiences. The Journal of Environmental Education, 42(2), 109–122.
  • Apart from equipping learners with knowledge to deal with environmental issues, EE learners can synthesize complex information through decision making and critical thinking to produce lifelong problem solvers and active community participants. Ernst, J., & Monroe, M. (2004). The effects of environment based education on students’ critical thinking skills and disposition toward critical thinking. Environmental Education Research, 10(4), 507–522.
  • EE can provide motivation and personal responsibility to address current environmental issues such as water management. Stern, M. J., Powell, R. B., & Ardoin, N. M. (2011). Evaluating a constructivist and culturally responsive approach to environmental education for diverse audiences. The Journal of Environmental Education, 42(2), 109–122.
  • EE can provide motivation and personal responsibility to address current environmental issues such as pollution and climate change. Jennings, N., Swidler, S., & Koliba, C. (2005). Place based education in the standards based reform era—Conflict or complement? American Journal of Education, 112(1), 44–65.
  • Diversified learning and teaching approaches do not automatically translate to success especially if learners’ behaviors, attitudes and knowledge on the environment is limited Rickinson, M. (2001). Learners and Learning in Environmental Education: A Critical Review of the Evidence. Environmental Education, 7(3), 207–317.
  • Suggest that apart from factual knowledge, action related knowledge is essential for effective EE. Grosseck, G., Tiru, L., & Bran, R. (2019). Education for sustainable development evolution and perspectives: A bibliometric review of research, 1992-2018.
  • Investigating EE and environmental knowledge among high schoolers of USA, Switzerland, England and Chile and did not find any significant relationship between EE and resultant environmental attitudes. DeChano, L. M. (2006). A multi-country examination of the relationship between environmental knowledge and attitudes. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 15(1), 15–28.
  • In Israel, there was no significant correlation between EE and environmental behavior. Negev, M., Sagy, G., Garb, Y., Salzberg, A., & Tal, A. (2008). Evaluating the environmental literacy of Israeli elementary and high school students. The Journal of Environmental Education, 39(2), 3–20.
  • EE programs examined by Israeli out-of-school environmental associations found an enhanced sensitivity to human environment interrelationships with limited cognitive domain on environmental issues. Goldman, D., Assaraf, O., & Shaharabani, D. (2013). Influence of a non-formal environmental education programme on junior high-school students’ environmental literacy. International Journal of Science Education, 35(3), 515–545.
  • A number of studies support the ideology that EE raises awareness and concerns on environmental matters, but they do not necessarily translate to positive environmental behavior change. Bamberg, S. & Möser, G. (2007). Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: a new meta-analysis of psycho-social determinants of proenvironmental behaviour. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 14-25.
  • It is consensus that proenvironmental attitudes and EE are interrelated and strengthen each other by motivating information seeking on environmental problems. Among learners of all ages, EE is a crucial stimulant to awareness of environmental investigations in Germany and Finland. Asunta, T. (2004). Knowledge sources, attitudes and self reported behaviour of secondary level science students concerning environmental topics. In A. Laine, J. Lavonen, & V. Meisalo (Eds.), Current Research on Mathematics and Science Education. University of Helsinki. Research Report 253.
  • As well as in Canada Michalos, C., Creech, H., McDonald, C., & Hatch Kahlke, P. M. (2009). Measuring Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours towards Sustainable Development: two Exploratory Studies. International Institute for Sustainable Development.
  • Internal factors of environmental literacy (defined by its domain components) and external factors (traditions, pressures and norms) transmitted by the social environment influence proenvironmental behaviours and actions. Zsoka, A., Szerenyi, Z., Szechy, A., & Kocsis, T. (2013). Greening due to environmental education? Environmental knowledge, attitudes, consumer behaviour and everyday pro-environmental activities of Hungarian high school and university students. Journal of Cleaner Production, 48, 126–138.


Many of the above are referenced in: Environmental-Education-and-Its-Effects-on-Environmental-Sustainability February 2021 Joan Nyika & Fredrick M. Mwema. Chapter 9

which is the mainstay of environmental sustainability.

Research on teachers ideas and views

It is a challenge for many people, including teachers, to develop their understanding about the environment because they are disconnected from the environment and often lack the knowledge, skills, perspectives and values needed to consider whole systems, develop a sense of place, or pursue responsibility to protect and share resources for each other.

Research on preservice educators conceptions of the environment

Preservice educators conceptions of environment fit into three distinctive categories:

  1. Object focused. The environment as an isolated physical entity.
  2. Utility based The environment as a resource for human benefit and well-being, and
  3. Interactional environment The environment as a web of relationships between humans and natural elements.

Most teachers had an object focused perspective.

Ideas about how to teach environmental education fall into three core categories:

  1. Knowledge acquisition. Environmental information needs to be passed on to learners.
  2. Utilization of resources. Environmental information is how to exploit natural resources, and
  3. Care for the environment—as a key means by which to educate citizens about desired pro-environmental behaviors.

The knowledge-centered category was the most dominant conception. Finally, the authors found that teachers who viewed the environment through an object lens understood environmental education as knowledge-centered education. The implications of these findings in informing professional development activities and directions for further research are presented.

Unveiling in-service teachers’ conceptions of ‘environment’ and ‘environmental education’: an Ethiopian perspective Mulugeta Awayehu Gugssa & Jørund Aasetre. 02 May 2022

Research on teachers' views of their needs for teaching environmental education (EE)

K-12 Teachers, with a high interest in EE, were surveyed and found their opinion on their needs.


  • Environmental Education sites where they can take learners for hands on learning opportunities for themselves and their learners.
  • Outdoor environmental labs
  • Readily available free lesson plans and materials
  • Frequently updated web pages
  • Lab school where University or nature guides would teach students how to research.
  • Assistance in creating outdoor labs at their schools.


  • Funding needs
  • Lesson and curriculum ideas
  • Field trip opportunities
  • Outdoor site development, use, and alignment to state curriculum

Teachers were asked what they would be willing to be involved in

  • Most preferred professional development during school year and with workshops.
  • A smaller group was interested in university courses and weekend workshops

Yvonne Meichtry and Lorna Harrell, An Environmental Education Needs Assessment of K-12 teachers in Kentucky. The Journal of Environmental Education, 2002, Vol. 33, No. 3, 21-26.


Assessment related ideas

Scoring guide for level of environmental concern based on action or inaction

Most concern

  • Get involved with political action by exerting pressure on others to take responsibility for managing the environment (write letters, organize letter writing campaigns, contact government officials, business leaders, buy only green, involve mass mediate to bring pressure on different groups, investigate environmental education in schools...) Social responsibility & political action
  • Encourage others to do above and get publicly involved (liter pick up, recycle, plant trees, raise money, government action...) Advocacy
  • Make individual conservation effort (recycle, use both sides of a paper, conserve water turn off faucets when brushing teeth, take shorter showers, buy recycled materials...) Individual responsibility
  • Litter, never recycle, materialistic, indifferent or irresponsible

Least concern for the environment

Suggestions for a tool to assess environmental curriculum

Assessment of environmental curricula should:

  • Identify the necessary and sufficient components of an environmental education curricula to use to sufficiently discriminate the value of one program from another.
  • Be a very comprehensive instrument that encompasses the broad areas of environmental sensitivity, foundations of social science, and ecology. 
  • Include environmental sensitivity as a category.

However, Kim questions the present state of society and its schools to provide an atmosphere conducive to nurturing attitudes and values necessary for enough learners to develop a sufficient sensitivity needed to achieve any significant change.

Kyung-Ok Kim. An Inventory for Assessing Environmental Education Curricula,
The Journal of Environmental Education. 2003, Vol. 34. no. 2, 12-18.

Learners and students thoughts about the environment?

Student environmental knowledge

Environmental education is important in achieving environmental improvement. However, for students to construct accurate information, instruction must be based on the children's understandings rather than on assumptions of what we think they know and believe.

When students were asked. What do you think the term/word environment means.

their answer fell into two categories:

  1. Environment as an object.
  2. Environment as a relation.

Their specific answers included statements such as:

Object focus

  • The environment is a place.
  • The environment is a place that contains living things.
  • The environment is a place that contains living things and people.

Relational focus

  • The environment does something for people.
  • People are part of the environment and are responsible for it.
  • People and the environment are in a mutually sustaining relationship.

Loughland, Tony, Reid, Anna, & Peter Petocz. Young People's Conceptions of Environment: a phenomenographic analysis. Environmental Education research, Vol. 8, no. 2, 2002.(U.S.)

What do learners think about their relationship with the environment?

The relational focus is preferable with the most inclusive being environment and people in a relationship of mutual care and found:

    • Young children are six times more likely to report a relational view with the idea that the environment contributes to their well being as they contribute to the environment's well being, than students in secondary schools.
    • The next most significant difference is with girls being 1.5 times more likely than boys to have a relational view.
    • A mixture of social and environmental concerns were most likely to show a relational view with the least likely being those that picked all environmental and no social concerns.
    • A positive relationship of 1.25 existed between students that had a relational view and being more optimistic on an optimism/neutral/pessimist scale.


Understanding of environmental knowledge, was not a significant factor, for those in high school, but was for those in primary school.


The instruction in the primary grades may be more integrated while the instruction in the secondary is more directed toward biology topics such as polluted streams.

Suggested recommendations?

Must view that social global concerns are related to the environment and work to reduce the following:

  • Environmental education is viewed as belonging to a biology class or geography.
  • Animals are to be organized into hierarchies.
  • Plants and animals are regarded as pets or pests.
  • Nature is a scenic view on television, contained in parks and nature preserves, and sometimes viewed through the window.
  • Consumerism, materialism, economic gain, and individualism as cultural icons.
  • Standards created around disciplines reducing integration of curriculum.
  • Industry as partners.

Loughland, Tony et. Al. Factors Influencing Young People's Conceptions of Environment Environmental Education Research, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003. (Australia)

What do learners believe about different environmental solutions?

Environmental Solutions
  • Eco centrism - believe that society needs to change the political and economic structure.
  • Technocentrism - believe the use of technology and legal accountability can solve environmental problems.
  • Balanced view - believe economics and environmental needs can be balanced.

Student goals and outcomes need to include:

  • Environmental understanding
  • Sociological understanding
  • Political understanding
  • Cultural understanding
  • Concern for all living organisms
  • Understanding of mathematics

Misconceptions related to EE

Greenhouse effect


CO2 is an abundant greenhouse gas. The green house effect is mostly the result of human activity. If the greenhouse effect increases, the average temperature in the USA will rise, warm air holds more water, weather will be more extreme, weather patterns will shift, but not sure how. As the ice caps and glaciers melt, there will be more available liquid water.

Three greenhouse gases: CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), and N2O (nitrous oxide) interact in many complex ways. N2O is 300 times more potent in holding heat on a 100 year timescale. CH4 is 80 times more potent in holding heat on a 20 year timescale. Sources for these gases include biomass, oil leaking, gas wells, landfills, manure lagoons, effluence from rice paddies, effluent from anaerobic digestors, and microbial transformation of nitrogen in urine and feces. Which all need to be monitored for their O2 (oxygen), CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), and N2O (nitrous oxide) content to understand what is happening with different interactions to be able to implement appropriate greenhouse gas mitigations, which can be more effective than focusing on a single emission source. Source Science. by Lisa U. Stein & Mary E. Lindstrom. Greenhouse gas mitigation requires caution June 7, 2024


  • CO2 is the only greenhouse gas.
  • The increase in CO2 reacts with chlorine,
  • CO2 helps break down the ozone.
  • Ozone is made from CO2.
  • CO2 is what we breathe.
  • Deforestation creates the greenhouse effect.
  • Greenhouse effect will create more warm air and more rain. 

Ozone depletion


Stratospheric ozone is vital for life on Earth. One cause of stratospheric ozone destruction is CFCs. Some household items cause destruction of ozone.


  • Ozone produces heat.
  • The ozone hole lets more gases into the earth's surface.
  • Will cause more UV rays to be trapped in the atmosphere and cause more skin cancer.
  • Ozone is vital for life.
  • Without ozone the temperature would increase too much to survive.
  • Chlorine bleach, deodorants, and lawn mower engines cause ozone depletion.

Acid rain


Acid rain can be produced in nature. Burning some types of coal produces acid rain. Acid rain damages some stone buildings more than others.)


  • Acid rain can not be produced naturally.
  • Acid dissolves limestone (makes it disappear).


Planning for EE & SD instruction

Suggestions to integrate environmental issues into content areas

What would a school look like that would educate children to become environmentally responsible citizens? See one possibility of planning for a school with a curriculum organized around big ideas not subjects ...

Could use an environmental literacy program like the Oregon Environmental Literacy Program - includes suggestions on what and how to teach to help children develop and appreciate natural environments and learn to protect and sustain our natural resources.

Could modify units and activities you already use by using the environmental education framework to select generate EE & SD concepts, goals, & outcomes to use to alter or add activities for EE and SD.

Modifications that would include three areas for EE and SD ...

Example for:

  • Rivers and streams unit with activities focused on flow and erosion,
  • Watersheds -  unit plan that explores watersheds and conditions that affect them. Amounts of precipitation and kinds or precipitation, slope, surface area, surface type, amount and kinds of plants, and how of these combine to affect the amount of runoff.

Use Shepardson et. al suggestions to include activities to

  1. Learn the knowledge and skill needed to investigate environmental issues. (How do rivers flow and move water, sediment, pollution ... And what is a watershed ... and how can they be protected as a sustainable environment for the life that depend on them.)
  2. Change their understanding of watersheds from a simplistic system with individual and isolated pollutants to a holistic and biological system with a synergistic effect from a variety of potential pollutants on a watershed for which acceptable standards or limits of those pollutants were made with respect to land use, acceptance of risks, desired gains and loses as a result of any and all decisions.
  3. Gain the skill and desire to move into the real world to investigate environmental issues. For more detail reference the environmental education framework.

Shepardson, Daniel P, Jon Harbor, Barbara Cooper, and Jim McDonald. The Impact of a Professional Development Program on Teachers' Understanding about Watersheds, Water Quality, and Stream Monitoring. The Journal of Environmental Education, 2002, Vol. 33, No. 3, 34-40.

Another ideas for modification of units that focuses on four areas: production regulation, habitat, and culture for EE and SD.

Saving the World - One Ecosystem at a Time

Supplement chapters or units, such as the following, on the environment, community, and ecosystem as suggested Jorgennson et. al.

  • Environment & environmental factors - unit with plans, activities, & lab note book 
  • Community - A unit or packet with a sequence of activities & plans to develop a deeper understanding of the relationships of organisms & populations as communities within environments. Includes hands on activities with plants, seeds (embryo, cotyledon, & seed coat), crickets, anoles, decomposers, and terrariums. 
  • Ecosystem - A unit or project with a sequence of activities & plans to develop a deeper understanding of the interdependence required to maintain healthy ecosystems. Investigations include study of environmental factors, organisms and their needs, populations, communities, life cycles, food webs and energy cycle, water cycle, carbon dioxide - oxygen cycle, nitrogen cycle, and decomposition.


Maintaining biodiversity within a healthy environment, community, and ecosystem is critical for sustainability.

Knowing what goes on in an ecosystem that makes it function is critical to achieve this.

In this activity, teams of learners have an opportunity to research an ecosystem and design a solution to maintain the health of four areas:

  1. Production of food, clean water, wood, fibers, medicine...
  2. Regulation of water purification, climate and disease,
  3. Habitat : support of environmental factors necessary for the survival and well being or organisms, such as habitat, soil, nutrient cycles, biodiversity, gene pool, and crop pollination, and
  4. Culture: provide for individual and community well being through aesthetic values of nature, spiritual and recreational benefits of sustainable ecosystems.

Teams will evaluate the merits and the constraints of each solution and present oral arguments defending their solutions.

Unpacked concepts, outcomes, and NGSS standards

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Designing a solution to a scientific problem is very much an engineering and design process activity. Learners will use technology to find information to help them learn about the science of ecosystems and come up with a rank ordered list of solutions and defend their choices as congruent for a sustainable ecosystem.

Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. (MS-LS2-5)

Life science core

Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth's terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem's biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health, (MS-LS2-5)

Biodiversity and Humans LS4.D
Changes in biodiversity can influence humans' resources, such as food, energy, and medicines, as well as ecosystem services that humans rely on for example, water purification and recycling. (Secondary to MS-LS2-5)

Developing Possible Solutions ETSl.B
There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. (Secondary to MS-LS2-5)

Crosscutting Concepts

Stability and Change : Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part. (MSLS2-4), (MS-LS2-5)

Planning information


By the end of this activity, students will have demonstrated the ability to research and then present an evidence based argument proposing various solutions to maintaining biodiversity and equilibrium in an ecosystem
to preserve the ecosystem services,

Framing the Design Problem (Engineering Practice)

Students can pursue the following problem for this activity: "For each ecosystem targeted, design a solution to preserve the ecosystem services."

Teacher Background

Biodiversity is the connection of living things to one another. Plants and animals that exist together in a particular area are said to live in an ecosystem (short for ecological system). These plants and animals interact with one another and with the nonliving elements of the area, such as climate, water, and soil. Ecosystems can be as small as the space under a log or as vast as the entire forest. Ecosystems are generally described in terms of the "services" they provide. Visit the National Wildlife Federation's website for more background information regarding provisioning and regulating the cultural and supporting services of ecosystems. Suggest to search: ecosystems services. See description in the overview.

Instructional Procedure

Learning cycle instructional model
Explore (Engage & Explore 5E - learning cycle)

Invite students, seated in table groups, to watch images of different ecosystems (diagnostic assessment, therefore, there should be no teacher instructional input). Show each image, let groups discuss their observations and think about similarities and differences.

After viewing all images, say. Complete the following:

  1. Make a list of what they believe a healthy ecosystem looks like.
  2. Describe how they know it is healthy.
  3. Describe how to measure the health of an ecosystem.
  4. In what ways can humans have a positive effect on an ecosystem?

Use their answers to determine their prior knowledge regarding ecosystems. Consider their depth and detail of support for their ideas as evidence to infer their understanding for the objective and conceptualization of the concepts.

In a whole-group brainstorm and list the ecosystems learners can think of: forest, desert, grasslands, mountain, aquatic (and the many sub-ecosystems). Leave space between each ecosystem so that they can sign up to investigate their choice of ecosystem.

Let them sign up for a system to investigate.

Record their ecosystems and group members' names in their notebooks.

In groups have them.

  1. Brainstorm and research, at least four, ways their ecosystem maintains its health. Use the rigor, organization, and resilience of their system as well as the ecosystem areas.
    1. Production of food, clean water, wood, fibers, medicine...
    2. Regulation of water purification, climate and disease,
    3. Habitat : support of environmental factors necessary for the survival and well being or organisms, such as habitat, soil, nutrient cycles, biodiversity, gene pool, and crop pollination, and
    4. Culture: provide for individual and community well being through aesthetic values of nature, spiritual and recreational benefits of sustainable ecosystems.
  2. Make charts in their notebooks in preparation for their solutions. Students should chart their own ecosystem, identifying strengths, weaknesses, solutions, and so on for at least one idea related to each of the four ecosystem service areas.
  3. Fill in their charts as they research solutions.
  4. Discuss and then rank their solutions, with "1" being the most important solution to maintain the ecosystem services.
  5. Transfer their notebook work to a electronic device or other technology that can be displayed for the entire class to view while they discuss their plans orally with the full class.
Invent (Explain 5E - learning cycle)
  1. Groups present their ecosystems ideas and solutions, one at a time, to the rest of the class.
  2. The teacher invites others to ask questions about the group's rankings.

Discussion and Argumentation

When students present their ecosystem ..., the class can ask questions and challenge their research findings and solutions, requiring the presenters to cite their evidence and sources.

Discover (Elaborate & Evaluate 5E - learning cycle)
  1. Each group takes their top ranked idea from their chart and draws a scale diagram depicting their idea.
  2. Students should write their explanation of the process they went through to rank order their solutions.
  3. Use issue analysis to compare arguments for four different solution as if you were asked to rank order them as a make recommendation to a decision making group.

Source modified from: Doing Good Science in Middle School. Olaf Jorgenson, Rick Vanosdall, Vicki Massey, and Jackie Cleveland. NSTA press download


Six Focus Questions & suggestions for EE & SD

1. What do you think is the State of Environmental Education?

Most environmental education is at the lowest level of the program goals. With a few individual teachers reaching the higher levels along with some individual learners, who are driven by a personal caring ethical disposition.

2. What does environmental education mean to you, i.e. definition?

I view environmental education as primarily needing to provide all learners, who are citizens, with an emotional and ethical relationship of responsibility to all living organisms and maintain a sustainable Earth.

Education of environmental processes and the interaction of humans and the environment is important, but in my view secondary. Without appropriate caring values, education becomes just school activities, unconnected to each individual's real life and personal responsibilities rather than a collective activity to maintain a sustainable Earth.

My hope is that environmental education helps develop caring and responsible citizens that seek to live in harmony with the Earth and in doing so understand the need to be scientifically literate and in constant pursuit of better understanding of the interrelated nature of life on Earth, Earth itself and how to maintain a sustainable Earth. 

3. Who should deliver environmental education?

Environmental education is essential to the continual survival of the human species. All citizens must accept a role of responsible environmental stewardship of the planet. Without a significant number of citizens taking this responsibility, in a manner similar to the responsibility most people take for their personal health, no single organization can provide a delivery system of environmental education that will be successful. Groups of educators, politicians, business people, and many other groups must be involved in educating all of us in this important endeavor.

4. Who should be the audience for environmental education?

Absolutely everybody.

5. What are the barriers to delivering environmental education?

  • Believing that one person doesn't and can't make a difference. 
  • Understanding the difference one person can do or can't do can make a difference.
  • Understanding that how we view the environment is a social construct and for everyone to take sustainable action requires a culture and society that promotes sustainable actions.
  • Lack of a citizenry that is mathematically and scientifically literate
  • Misconceptions of large and small. 
  • Not understanding number value, how insignificant small amounts for individuals in a population of millions results in a significantly large number.
  • How small amounts of some things are insignificant, and small amounts of other things are deadly. 
  • Gullible or ignorant citizenry that believe groups who distort or lie about environmental issues because of greed, desire for power, or lack ethical responsibility to protect the planet Earth with sustainable practices.

6. What resources are needed to do environmental education?

Monetary, intellectual, cultural, social, and ethical: Environmental education must permeate all threads of our culture.

We must study everything we do on Earth from a multidisciplinary and ethically responsible perspective. We must understand the consequences of what we choose to do or not do and learn to err on the side of caution instead of waiting for significant proof that certain actions cause catastrophes.

Until we have a significant plurality of citizens that understand and actively recycle, conserve, monitor environments, continually seek to understand interrelationships in our world and how changes impact all, demand that governments accept more responsibility in the care of our world and accepting responsibility for the affects their decisions can have on the Earth, more civic engagement, are better educated, and accept the need for life-long learning, we will not have environmental education that will make any bigger difference than what we have today.

Some activities require little more than money to purchase media and supplies or to travel. Mostly environmental education requires people with enough resources to develop self-efficacy and a desire to learn how best to care for other people, living organisms, and the environment they depend on for a quality life.


What are some possible concerns?

  • Knowledge and accurate understanding of scientific knowledge as it relates to the environment.
  • Instructional methods that challenge students to get to the core of their misunderstandings.
  • Understanding of scientific inquiry and research.
  • Foresight to envision accurate future scenarios.
  • Development of attitudes and values that demand a society that accepts a responsibility for caring and stewardship of all living organisms.
  • Move from a compartmental subject curriculum to an integrated curriculum based on a world view.

Where do we go from here?






The jar will be full:

One minute before noon or 11:59 AM.

I suppose the fruit flies could have solved their problem two ways. Not filling up the jar and by getting a bigger jar!