Environmental EducationUsing the environment as a context for learning changes student outlook and results in better academic performance across grades K—12 compared with traditional schooling. according to Environment-Based EducationCreating high Performance Schools and Students, a report issued in September 2000 by the American National Environmental Education  Training Foundation (NEETF).

Environment-based education uses the environment as a thematic focus for Interdisciplinary hands—on learning. Students in environment-based programs not only raise their reading and math scores but also perform better In science and social studies and are better able to transfer knowledge front familiar to unfamiliar contexts, according to the report. Classroom discipline problems also decline.

The report examined a diverse group of schools and grade levels in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Florida. It includes case studies at five individual schools with environment-based program, a model school program, and the statewide Kentucky public school system. “The fact that environment-based education boosted achievement regardless of geographic location arid socioeconomic status is most significant,” says Mary Smith, director of environmental education with the National Audubon Society.

According to the report, students’ natural interest in the environment motivates them to learn and understand the complexities of their world, which translates into higher test scores.

For example, the report describes the case of Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, North Carolina, where fourth— grade students saw a 31% boost in math achievement after just one year of environment-based learning as measured by state achievement tests.

Teachers also observed increased student motivation and improved classroom behavior after Introducing environment-based prog rains. In fact, known troublemakers often find an interest in academics through the hands-on opportunities the environment offers as a classroom, the report says. “Teacher after teacher in Kentucky reported that students previously performing at low academic levels ‘came alive’ when Introduced to all environment-based curriculum,” says the report.

The report suggests conducting demonstration projects in order to improve community outreach programs and attract greater community involvement. It further recommends expanding cooperative educational ventures with resources such as public and private parks, marine sanctuaries, and nature centers.

Author Julie Wakefield