Outdoor education helps minority students close gap in environmental literacy

Mar 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —Environmental education programs that took middle school students outdoors to learn helped minority students close a gap in environmental literacy, according to research from North Carolina State University.

The study, published March 22 in PLOS ONE, showed that time outdoors seemed to impact African-American and Hispanic students more than Caucasian students, improving minority students' ecological knowledge and cognitive skills, two measures of environmental literacy. The statewide study also measured environmental attitudes and pro- such as recycling and conserving water.

"We are interested in whether outdoor experiences can be part of a catch-up strategy that can help in narrowing the environmental literacy gap for ," said lead author Kathryn Stevenson, an NC State graduate student who has taught outdoor education in California and high school biology and science in North Carolina.

Researchers tested the environmental literacy of sixth- and eighth-grade students in 18 North Carolina schools in the fall and spring. Half of the schools studied had registered an environmental education program with the state.

Using a published environmental curriculum, such as Project Learning Tree, Project WET or Project WILD, helped build students' cognitive skills, researchers found. Learning in an outdoor environment improved students' ecological knowledge, environmental attitudes and behavior.

"This is one of the first studies on a broad scale to focus on environmental literacy, which is more than mastering facts," said co-author Nils Peterson, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife in NC State's College of Natural Resources. "Being environmentally literate means that students learn cognitive skills so that they can analyze and solve problems, and it involves environmental attitudes and behaviors as well."

Girls and boys appeared to have complementary strengths that contributed to environmental literacy. Boys scored highest on knowledge, while girls led in environmental attitudes and cognitive skills.

Sixth graders showed greater gains in environmental literacy than eighth graders, suggesting that early middle school is the best window for environmental literacy efforts, Stevenson said.

Teachers' level of education played an important role in building environmental literacy. Those with a master's degree had students with higher levels of overall environmental literacy.

Teachers who had spent three to five years in the classroom were more effective at building students' than new teachers. Efforts are needed to engage veteran teachers in environmental education, Stevenson said.

In a follow-up to the study, Stevenson is studying coastal North Carolina ' perceptions of climate change.

Explore further: Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The coal hard truth

Feb 04, 2011

Coal has long been synonymous with America's industrial heritage and economic expansion. That doesn't have to change: The United States has a 300-year supply of coal waiting to be tapped, a predicament that is at the heart ...

Hold the Calculators: Let's Talk About Math!

Aug 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many children, when learning to read, are encouraged by their teachers to retell all they remember about a story in order to build their comprehension skills. But can similar comprehension strategies be applied ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

15 hours ago

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

16 hours ago

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

16 hours ago

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

Consumer loyalty driven by aesthetics over functionality

Dec 17, 2014

When designing a new car, manufacturers might try to attract consumers with more horsepower, increased fuel efficiency or a lower price point. But new research from San Francisco State University shows consumers' loyalty ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

plaasjaapie
1 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2013
I wonder how many thousand years are going to pass before earnest social engineers are able to "close the gap"? :-/

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.