Children, teachers and nature: An analysis of an environmental education program
Environmental education is an important tool for providing knowledge, supporting positive attitudes toward nature, and building skills to protect and improve the environment. Because of limited funding sources and increasing environmental challenges, it is important to provide effective environmental education programs. Program evaluation is one strategy to engage stakeholders and increase program effectiveness. An evaluation of a fourth grade environmental education program, Lagoon Quest developed by Brevard Zoo, provides an unique opportunity to answer several questions about implementing an effective environmental education program.
The first question is about the effectiveness of Lagoon Quest. Evaluation data are reported in a case study that provides details about the development of the evaluation questions and evaluation instruments. The pre/posttest comparison suggests that participating in Lagoon Quest effectively increases students’ knowledge of Indian River Lagoon (mean increase = 5.03, p<0.05). This program is effective among students’ from different socio-economic background. Moreover, teachers and parents indicate that the program positively influenced the students and are supportive of it.
Lagoon Quest is now a required program in the fourth grade curriculum in Brevard County, which raises the second question: how do teachers react to a required fourth grade program? Teachers’ prior experience in environmental education, science education, Lagoon Quest and their attitudes toward Lagoon Quest were examined. A teacher survey was conducted to explore teachers’ attitudes, but the low response rate necessitated a process to explore non-respondents’ attitudes. Follow-up focus groups at schools with few respondents suggest that teachers who had prior experience in teaching science were more likely to be highly supportive of Lagoon Quest and were more likely to use additional resources to support the program. Also, teachers’ interest in Indian River Lagoon is positively associated with their attitude toward nature.
The third question uses Lagoon Quest to explore how to measure children’s attitudes toward nature and the long-term development of conservation ethics. A Connection to Nature Index was developed and validated with fourth-grade students. A correlation analysis was conducted, and Connection to Nature was linked to other variables to explore its predictive ability. Four major elements were in the Connection to Nature Index: enjoyment of nature, empathy for living creatures, sense of oneness and sense of responsibility. The results suggest that measuring connection to nature (β=0.38, p<0.05) is a promising strategy to predict children’s interest in participating in nature-based activities. Also, connection to nature (β=0.30, p<0.05) can predict children’s interest in performing environmental friendly practices.
Children & youth;
0714: Science education
0768: Environmental science