30 SES 12 A JS, Learning through Community Involvement and Place-based Education in ESD
Joint Paper Session NW 14 and NW 30
We are in the midst of an environmental crisis, which worsens every year (Osbaldiston & Schott, 2012). This has led to developments in environmental education, designed, among other things, to help mitigate the crisis (Karataş, 2016). In the past few decades, environmental educators have begun to note the affective elements involved in learning, connecting them to the acquisition of environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviors (Chawla, 1999). This connection is based on the understanding that emotion is a central component in our actions in general (Zins & Elias, 2007), and more specifically in actions taken to protect the environment (Hinds & Sparks, 2008; Kals, Schumacher, & Montada, 1999; Liefländer, Fröhlich, Bogner, & Schultz, 2013). This means that feelings allow students to connect to the content that they learn (Taylor & Cranton, 2013) and serve as a foundation for the learning process (Goralnik, Millenbah, Nelson, & Thorp, 2012). Johnson and Fredrickson (2000) suggest that combining affect and cognition in learning processes is no less important than developing students’ understanding of environmental problems. Moreover, studies have shown that positive feelings toward nature increase motivation to learn and to apply that knowledge by taking environmental action (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009).
Place-based education is one environmental education approach that combines elements of both cognition and emotion (Gruenewald, 2003). It has been cited as essential to addressing the modern social and environmental challenges (Gruenewald & Smith, 2014; Smith, 2007). In practice, place-based education generates an overall understanding of the sociological and ecological aspects of a concrete place, connecting all of these factors to the immediate environment in which a student lives (Glasson, Frykholm, Mhango, & Phiri, 2006). Place-based education, in which “place” is a multi-dimensional concept, seeks to improve the students’ relationship with their environment and help them understand the place’s significance – leading students towards an in-depth understanding of the interrelationship between humanity and nature as part of their sense of belonging to a place (Glasson et al., 2006).
A sense of belonging to one’s environment is defined as an attempt to be personally involved in that environment, so that such people feel themselves to be an integral part of the environment in which they live. This sense is generated through familiarity with the environment, by learning about it and in it (Green, 2012). A strong sense of belonging is forged when environmental involvement begins at a young age and continues uninterrupted over a long period of time. It in turn generates a desire to take action on that environment’s behalf (Liefländer et al., 2013).
In light of the importance of positive affect to the learning process, and in light of the emphasis that environmental education places on the need for students to take action for the environment, place-based education must include components of positive emotion as well as an intellectual experience (Goralnik et al., 2012). We therefore sought to identify the types of emotion that arose in students while engaging in a place-based environmental education program. Data was gathered from 5th graders who were engaged in the program during the study’s run, and from students who had participated in previous iterations of the program in previous years.
This study is based on a qualitative research paradigm, through which we gathered data about and analyzed the emotional response of students engaged in the “Lesser-Kestrel” place-based education program, and of students who had participated in the program in the past. Data was gathered using 20-30 minute semi-structured interviews (Seidman, 2012). During the 2017 school year, we conducted interviews with all 50 of the 5th graders who had participated in the “Lesser-Kestrel” that year, as well as five 6th graders (who had completed the program the year before the study began), and four additional students (two in 7th grade and two in 8th) who had participated two and three years earlier respectively. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed both inductively and deductively. “The Lesser-Kestrel” – A Place-Based Environmental Education Program “The Lesser-Kestrel” is a place-based environmental-education program designed to promote the conservation of this endangered birds of prey. Since 1996, the fifth grade has been charged with leading the initiative for the Lesser-Kestrel’s conservation in the school and in the community. Two lessons per week are devoted to this program throughout the school year. They include inquiry projects, observation, surveys, field trips, peer teaching and spearheading a dedicated activity day for integrating this topic in the community. The program provides an opportunity to address a wide range of environmental and social issues, such as: conservation vs. development, human-nature interaction, public domain, biodiversity, bird migration, and dilemmas associated with combining industry with nature conservation. One of the high points of the program is “Lesser-Kestrel Day,” which takes place at the end of May, before the Lesser-Kestrel spread their wings and leave their nesting area, which is on the school grounds. On that day, the students act as guides to over 1,200 visitors, who come from all over the country to see the falcons and aid in their protection. The students describe the life cycle of the Lesser-Kestrel and the steps that are being taken to protect it.
The categories were determined inductively, based on the emotions raised by the students. The statements were divided into four primary categories: (1) Learning processes included common positive expressions such as ‘fun’, ‘enjoyment’, and ‘affection’ and none negative expressions; (2) Empowerment included common positive expressions such as ‘anticipation’, ‘excitement’, ‘pride’, ‘happiness’, ‘responsibility’, and common negative expression such as ‘pressure’, ‘fear’, ‘anxiety about talking in front of the adults’ ; (3) Outdoor activity included common positive expressions such as ‘fun’, ‘happiness’, ‘affection’, ‘enthusiasm’, ‘enjoyment’, and common negative expression difficult; (4) Attitudes towards nature and animals included common positive expressions such as ‘wholehearted affection’, and common negative expressions such as ‘sadness’, ‘bad feelings’, ‘lack of affection’. The students testified to having a positive learning experience in the program (75% of statements). The negative feelings they expressed primarily reflected feelings of sadness and anger over humanity’s treatment of animals, rather than negative attitudes toward the cognitive aspects of the learning process, towards the pedagogies used in the program, or towards the processes of empowerment undergone by the students. The study also found that even years later, the students were still enthusiastic about the experience of the program. Some had changed their attitudes and behaviors towards the environment, and tied these changes to participation in the educational program. In conclusion, the study’s results support the integration of affect, attitudes, knowledge and the promotion of environmental behavior in environmental education programs.
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