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  • 1. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37ISSN 1306-3065© 2007 by Gokkusagi Ltd. All Rights Reserved International Impediments to Environmental Education Instruction in the Classroom: A Post-Workshop Inquiry Amy T. Parlo and 12Malcolm B. Butler 1 1University of Georgia, USA 2E-mail: mbbutler@stpt.usf.edu & malcolmbbutler@gmail.com Abstract: Current research has begun to reveal a link between environmental education and increases in science achievement and understanding (Glynn 2000; Liederman and Hoody, 1998). The researchers in this study of participants in a coastal marine teacher workshop found that increases in environmental topics or lessons in teachers’ classrooms post-program were minimal. Several limitations to infusion were revealed, including teachers’ perceived obligation to strictly follow science standards, and an increased emphasis on preparation for standardized tests. The results suggest that greater emphasis is needed on providing opportunities for participants to make explicit connections with their instruction within the parameters of the science classroom. Key words: Environmental Education, Professional Development INTRODUCTION of environmental education, which utilizes discipline In the late 1960’s, stemming from increased integration, problem solving and hands-on activities environmental concerns and public activism, (Glynn, 2000). environmental education developed from the nature Under the pressures of current reforms that focus study, outdoor education and conservation movements. on standards-based teaching and teacher accountability, William Stapp’s definition of environmental education teachers may lose sight of the value of environmental (EE) in the Journal of Environmental Education in education. Although environmental topics may be 1969, outlined EE as a means of producing an integrated into various science disciplines, they receive environmentally literate citizenry, empowered and very modest attention in the National Science Education motivated to solve environmental problems. Standards. Unaware of all the educational opportunities However, over the past decade, research is beginning that environmental education presents, teachers may to reveal broad academic benefits of using the allow EE topics to be easily overshadowed by those that environment as a foundation for instruction. Multiple receive greater emphasis in national, state and local studies indicate a positive correlation between standards. In 1998, the National Environmental environmental education and student achievement. In Education Advancement Program (NEEAP) conducted the late 1990s, two studies conducted by the National a study to determine the status of environmental Environmental Education Training Foundation education at the state level. Building on a Ruskey & (NEETF) and Leidermann and Hoody (1998), formed Wilkes 1994 publication, Promoting Environmental the central foundation for the literature base illustrating Education, each state was asked to report on its status the benefits of environmental education. These studies according to a survey that consisted of 16 components reported that EE can lead to increased knowledge and of a comprehensive environmental education program. understanding of science content, concepts, processes Results of that survey indicate that there is much room and principles as well as increased problem solving and for expansion of environmental education in the science application skills. Furthermore, by linking academic curriculum. topics to the local environment, students are able to One impediment to the infusion of environmental make real-world connections, allowing the material to be education (EE) into science curriculum may stem from made more meaningful, tangible and relevant. This the dearth of EE in teacher preparation programs. A increased relevance results in higher motivation, study conducted by Rosalyn McKeown-Ice found that increased interest and decreased discipline problems students of teacher training programs typically had (Battersby, 1999; Ernst & Monroe, 2004; Glynn, 2000; limited access to environmental education content and Krynock & Robb, 1999). These gains in student methods, with fewer than one third of the institutions in achievement and motivation are attributed to the nature her study offering students a background in ~ 32 ~
  • 2. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37environmental issues ( McKeown-Ice, 2000). experiences are infused with and supplemented byInadequate inservice opportunities are also a hurdle for instructional pedagogy appropriate for middle and highinfusing environmental education into classroom school students. Instruction frequently models inquiry-curriculum (Adams, Biddle & Thomas, 1988; Childress, based practices and teacher participants are given1978; Pettus & Teates, 1983). Not surprisingly then, opportunities to develop lessons and labs thatmany teachers express concerns about their competence incorporate the topics covered in the program for use into conduct EE programs (Buethe & Smallwood, 1986; their own classrooms.NEEAC, 1996; Wade, 1996). In fact, insufficient Participantsteacher training has been cited to be the predominant Each summer, approximately 18 science educationreason K-12 teachers are not teaching EE (Gabriel, graduate students and teachers are admitted into R2R.1996). Selection of the R2R participants is conducted by thePurpose and Research Questions two Project Directors, including a university-based The purpose of this study was to investigate the science educator and professor and a site-based scienceeffects of the Rivers to Reefs/Coastlines (R2R) teacher educator and naturalist. Consideration is given in theworkshop on teachers’ infusion of environmental topics selection process to allot 50% of the available slots tointo their curriculum. The University of Georgia has graduate students and the remaining portion tooffered the R2R program each summer since 1999. practicing teachers, with some participants fitting bothHowever, evidence of the effects of the program on categories. In addition, efforts are made to create ateacher instruction has been almost exclusively diverse pool of participants representing various levelsanecdotal, and very positive. This research aims to and disciplines of secondary science and elementaryformalize the investigation in an effort to identify ways instruction, years teaching experience, and school typein which to maximize the impact of the program. The (e.g., urban, rural, and suburban).research questions guiding this study were: This study draws upon the interviews of eight past In what ways are past participants of R2R integrating participants of R2R. Demographic informationthe environmental topics covered in the program into regarding the experience, discipline and grade level oftheir instruction? each teacher participant is presented in Table 1. What limitations or barriers are perceived to hinder Data Collection and Analysisthe integration of environmental topics in their This research focused on qualitative interviewscurriculum? of eight past participants of R2R who are currentlyResearch Context and Methods teaching. Interviews were conducted using a semi- structured interview format, and the interviews wereDescription of the Workshop conducted at the schools of the participating teachers. The R2R program is a 15-day residential professional Serving as an exploratory pilot study informing a largerdevelopment program conducted by the University of research effort to investigate a wide range of effects ofGeorgia at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium the program on participants, teachers were asked toon Skidaway Island off the Georgia coast. R2R offers reflect on their experiences in the R2R program as wellintensive lab and field experiences focusing on as detail and provide examples of how it impacted theirenvironmental issues of coastal marine ecology. These class instruction. Data were transcribed and analyzed from an interpretivist perspective (Crotty, 1998). UsingTable 1 Participant demographicsParticipant Gender Years Teaching Grades Disciplines1. F 14 Pre K – 5 Science enrichment course th2. M 1 9 Biology th3. F 5 6 Physical Science th th4. F 3 11 and 12 Geology Environmental Science and Biology th th5. F 7 6 -8 Project based elective course th6. F 4 7 Life Science th7. F 1 9 Geology th8. F 2 8 Earth Science~ 33 ~
  • 3. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37open coding (Krathwohl, 1998), themes were identified Part of the Rivers to Reefs program requiresand organized into categories. For the specific focus of participants to generate activities for use in theirthis study, particular attention was given to activities the classroom based on experiences and information fromteachers reported to have utilized directly from the the program. This requirement provides participantsprogram, modified from ones offered or developed with an opportunity to make connections with theirduring the program, or lessons they constructed after classroom practice. In addition, teachers have theparticipation that reflect environmental topics. In opportunity to collaborate with and garner ideas fromaddition, participants were asked to discuss any other teachers in the program, providing a rich resourceobstacles they encountered when attempting to for future lesson development particular to their classimplement such activities. content. Despite this focused effort to tie theFindings experience to classroom instruction, teachers reported Three main themes emerged from the interviews, only using their generated activities if it directly reflectedeach illustrating perceived limitations of the program’s one of the science standards for their content. Theusefulness, as well as barriers to implementing teachers seemed unaware of ways in which the environmental topics covered in R2R could be used toenvironmental topics in the classroom. The first theme supplement instruction for other, perhaps seeminglyreflected the teachers’ concern with strictly following unrelated, content standards. Materials from thecontent standards. The second theme encompassed the program, such as posters or shells that were collected,difficulty of translating the coastal experience into were displayed in several of the classrooms. However, itcontent that was meaningful to students. Finally, the was admitted that they were used mainly for decorativelast theme highlights the barriers the teachers perceived purposes.in teaching environmental education in a traditional In addition, several teachers felt that although the program was informative both in content and pedagogy,school setting. the information was limited in value because they did not teach on the coast. According to one teacher:Following the Standards Over the past two decades, educational reform has I really got a lot out of [the program] at thefocused on the use of standards-based teaching. In time. How much of it I use in my classroom is1996, the National Research Council established the not much because, you know, we aren’t on theNational Science Education Standards to guide school coast. We can’t really do a plankton lab orscience curriculum. Although not mandatory, the anything…[..] But as for the information, itStandards serve as a blueprint for state and county isn’t really applicable to what I do. This disconnect from the coast was salient in manystandards. In 2001, President George W. Bush signed of the interviews. Many of the teachers reported onlyinto law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). One of drawing on their R2R experiences when teaching topicsthe pillars of NCLB is teacher accountability, which that were specifically covered in the program. Althoughmeasures student achievement against local standards a component of R2R provides direct connections ofthrough high-stakes standardized testing. coastal issues to upstream activities, the teachers were These interviews revealed that the teachers feel unable to make the conceptual transfer of R2R topics to reflect their local environmental issues and ecology.compelled to closely follow their schools’ established This theme was more prominent with teachers who didstandards in an effort to adequately prepare their not teach science disciplines that overtly align withstudents for various tests each school administers in environmental subjects. For example, the participantaccordance with NCLB. In some of the situations, as teaching physical science expressed that her use of R2Rmany as three high stakes tests are administered each materials has been minimal because the “links toyear, including the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the physical science are a little harder to come by”.Criterion Reference Competency Test, as well as a Environmental Education in the Traditionalcounty exam that determines promotion to the next Classroomgrade level. The teachers reported that preparation for The Rivers to Reefs program is based almostthese tests resulted in demands on time that did not entirely on outdoor experiences . Participants conductallow for instruction of extra material. One teacher water quality experiments from the back of boats andstated, “I am restricted and deluged with the curriculum coastlines are charted on foot using GPS equipment.I have, which does not allow a lot of time for integrating Plankton tows conducted in the morning providenew materials or topics.” The perceived time invertebrate samples for a lab investigation in the afternoon, and lessons about sea turtles are conducted atconstraints and limitations on freedom of curriculum midnight on the beach while locating nests and tracks.were identified by almost all of the interviewed teachers The structure of the program seems to have influencedas affecting their integration of R2R topics and materials how these teachers think environmental educationin their classrooms. should be taught. Each of the teachers discussedMaking the Connection her/his desire to incorporate activities that immersed her/his students in learning within the environment~ 34 ~
  • 4. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37around them. However, this desire to provide similar inquiry activities of various degrees and opportunitiesexperiences for their students was undermined by the are provided to connect the materials with theirperceived difficulty and obstacles to leaving the classroom instruction.traditional classroom. One teacher remarked: In Supovitz and Turner’s outline of characteristics of effective professional development, as well as those I’ve tried a few things, but it’s hard. You know provided by others such as Loucks-Horsley et al., we’re worried about security and the only door (2003), each of the characteristics receives equal that is unlocked is the front office. You know, attention. This study, however, might suggest that I have students that are allergic to bees. I have greater emphasis should be given to those characteristics a student in the 6th grade that has a prosthetic that provide clear and tangible links to classroom leg. So there are things like that you have to practice. take into consideration to do those things… The need to provide effective environmental I had this fantasy that I would be able to bring education professional development has been provided my students to the coast and do those sorts of in the literature (Adams, Biddle, & Thomas, 1988; things that we put together. In reality, you Bottinelli, 1976; Childress, 1978; Pettus & Teates, 1983). can’t do that. We have lots of restrictions on This study serves to contribute to our understanding of field trips and a summer event like that is a what characteristics and emphases maximize the impact headache in a lot of ways. of professional development on teacher instruction and In fact, several of the teachers noted difficulties in ultimately student learning and achievement. Futuretrying to teach outside the classroom. Most frequently research regarding R2R will provide a more in-depthcited was the lack of funding and time available for field investigation into the obstacles of teacher integration oftrips. environmental topics after participation in R2R, as well as identifying other impacts of the program onDISCUSSION classroom practices. This study highlights some of the obstacles thatundermine the effectiveness of the Rivers to Reefs REFERENCESworkshop in increasing environmental education in Arons, A. B. (1989). What science should we teach? Inscience curriculum. Comments provided by teachers the Biological Science Curriculum Study (Ed.),clearly indicate that they felt the program was a valuable A BSCS Thirtieth Anniversary Symposium:one, offering inquiry experiences as learners,opportunities to collaborate with peer teachers, and Curriculum Development for the Year 2000instructional methods that can be used for any content. (p.13-20).Colorado Springs, CO: BSCSHowever, in regards to environmental content, much of Battersby, J. (1999). Does environmental educationwhat is purportedly gained in the program is not have ‘street credibility’ and the potential tonecessarily finding its way into classroom instruction. reduce pupil disaffection within and beyond In their work, Supovitz and Turner (2000), outline their school curriculum. Cambridge Journal ofsome characteristics of effective professional Education, 29(3), 447-459.development. These characteristics include immersionof participants in inquiry questioning and Buethe, C. & Smallwood, J. (1986). Teachers’experimentation through modeling of inquiry environmental literacy: Check and recheck,instruction, and the engagement of teachers in concrete 1975 and Journal of Environmental Education,teaching tasks based on teachers’ experiences with 18(1), 39-42.students (Aarons, 1989; McDermott, 1990; Bybee, 1993; Bybee, R. W. (1993). 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  • 5. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37 research process. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage McDermott, L. C. (1990). A perspective in teacher Publications Ltd. preparation in physics and other sciences: TheDarling-Hammond, L., & McLaughlin, M. W. (1995). need Policies that support professional development for special science courses for teachers. in an era of reform. Phi Delta Kappan, April American Journal of Physics, 58. 1995. McKeown-Ice, R. (2000). Environmental education inErnst, J. & Monroe, M. (2004). The effects of the United States: A survey of preservice environment-based education on students’ teacher education programs. The Journal of critical thinking Environmental Education, 27(2), 33-39. skills and dispositions toward critical thinking National Research Council. (1996) National Science [Electronic version]. Environmental Education Standards. Washington, DC: Education National Academy Press. Retrieved May 29, Research, 10(4), 507-522. 2005from:Fullan, M. (1991). The new meaning of educational http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/b change. New York: Teachers College Press. ooks/nses/html/1.html#whyGabriel, N. (1996). Teach our teachers well: Strategies No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107– to integrate environmental education into 110, 155 Stat. 1425 (2002). Retrieved May 20, teacher education programs. Boston: Second 2005 from the U.S. Department of Education Nature. Website:http://www.ed.gov/nclb/accoGlynn, J. L. (2000). Environment-based education: untability/index.html?src=ov Creating high performance schools and Pettus, A. M., & Teates, T.M. (1983). Environmental students [Electronic version]. Washington, D.C.: NEETF. Retrieved May 18, 2005, from education in Virginia schools.Journal of http://neetf.org/pubs/NEETF8400.pdf Environmental Education, 15(1), 17-21.Hawley, W.D., & Valli, L. (1999). The essentials of Ruskey, A., Wilke, R. & Beasley, T. (2001). A survey of effective professional development: A new the status of state-level environmental consensus. In G. Sykes & L. Darling- education in the United States – 1998 update. The Hammond (Eds.), Handbook of teaching and Journal of Environmental Education, 32(3), 4 - policy. New York: Teachers College. 14.Kennedy, M. M. (1998). The relevance of content in Smylie, M. A., Bilcer, D. K., Greenberg, R. C., & Harris, inservice teacher education. Paper presented at R. L. (1998). Urban teacher professional the annual meeting of the American development: A portrait of practice from Educational Research Association, April 1998. Chicago. Paper presented at the Annual San Diego, CA. Meeting of the American Educational ResearchKrathwohl, D. (1998). Methods of educational and Association. San Diego, CA. social science research: An integrated Sparks, D. (2002). Designing powerful professional approach (2nd ed. ) New York: Longman. development for teachers and principals.Krynock, K. & Robb, L. (1999). Problem solved: How Oxford, OH: National Staff Development to coach cognition [Electronic version]. Council. Educational Leadership, 57(3), 29-32. Supovitz, J. A., & Turner, H. M. (2000). The effects ofLieberman, A. (1995). Practices that support teacher professional development on science teaching development. Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 591-596 practices and classroom culture. Journal ofLiederman, G. A. & Hoody, L.L. (1998). Closing the Research in Science Teaching, 37(9), 963-980. achievement gap: Using the environment as an The National Environmental Education Advisory integrating context for learning. State Council (NEEAC). (1996). Report assessing Environmental Education Roundtable. Poway, environmental education in the United States CA: Science Wizards. and the implementation of the NationalLoucks-Horsley, S., Love, N., Stiles, K.E., Mundry, S., & Environmental Education Act of Hewson, P.W. (2003). Designing professional 1990. A report prepared for Congress by the development for teachers of science and National Environmental Education mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Advisory Council, U.S. Environmental Press. Protection Agency, Environmental Education Division, Washington, D.C. NEEAC.~ 36 ~
  • 6. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 2007, 2 (1), 32 – 37Wade, K.S. (1996). EE teacher inservice education: the need for new perspectives. Journal of Environmental Education, 27(2), 11-16. IJESE~ 37 ~