ERIC Identifier: ED259940
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Disinger, John F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.

Instruction in Awareness of Environmental Issues. ERIC/SMEAC Environmental Education Digest No. 1.

The National Commission for Environmental Education Research (NCEER), established in 1980 by the National Association for Environmental Education (now the North American Association for Environmental Education, NAEE) to gather and examine the rapidly growing body of environmental education research literature, has released its second report, A SUMMARY OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 1971-1982 (Iozzi 1984).

This Digest is abridged from a section of a chapter on "Environmental Education Research Related to Issue Awareness" from the 1984 NCEER Report (Wiesenmayer and others 1984). Only the section of the paper dealing with instructional strategies for developing awareness of environmental issues is included.

In the traditional classroom setting, research reported by the NCEER summaries examined the effectiveness of curricula and methods for presenting knowledge of environmental issues using approaches such as an interdisciplinary model, simulations, and games.

Experimental research conducted by Bryant and Hungerford (1977) evaluated a kindergarten unit which focused on understanding the term "environment" and associated pollution problems and their remediation. Results indicated that kindergarten children can form concepts concerning environmental issues and citizenship responsibility with respect to those issues. Not only were these children able to identify actions which they themselves could take, but also many of the children were able to identify actions which adults could take. According to the researchers, environmental education at the kindergarten level can result in some fairly sophisticated conceptual behavior on the part of the students involved.


The effects of an environmental unit on upper elementary students' concepts and knowledge about woodlands and associated environmental problems were studied by Gross and Pizzini (1979). The unit was presented for two months prior to a field trip to a preserve. Seventy fifth-grade students were randomly selected from a population of 295 for pre-testing. The remaining students received the post-test, along with 85 sixth-grade students who had received the treatment one year previously.

The researchers reported that the treatment resulted in a more positive student orientation about use and abuse of wilderness. However, history and maturation effects were not controlled in this study. Also noted was a change in sensory and affective awareness of a natural community resulting from the one-day field trip. To maximize the effects of the limited time spent in the field, the authors recommended classroom instructional activities to facilitate concept formation prior to a field experience.

The effectiveness of a project designed to enhance awareness of environmental issues was researched by DeLuca, Kiser, and Frazer (1978). Seventy-five males and 75 females from each grade level, 10 through 12, and 100 males and 100 females from each grade level, 4 through 9, were randomly selected to participate. A nearby school without a similar program served as the control group. Environmental knowledge and attitude tests were administered at all grade levels following instruction; statistically significant differences, favoring the experimental group, were found between the groups.


The effects of using an interdisciplinary approach as opposed to a traditional approach for examining problems were addressed by Hepburn (1978). Her findings revealed differences in post-test scores between science/social studies modules of instruction involving ninth-grade and slower tenth grade students. Comparisons were made at each grade level across four treatments: a science module, a social studies module, an interdisciplinary module, and a control treatment. Results indicated that the interdisciplinary treatment groups attained the highest mean gain scores.

The effectiveness of a problem-solving module in aiding participants in understanding and solving environmental problems was examined by Andren (1979), who used community college students as the study sample. The problem-solving model consisted of 21 questions grouped into six areas of problem identification, historical context, and proposing and testing solutions. An analysis of the contents of the students' investigative reports indicated that the experimental group discussed economics, law, transportation issues, and population issues to a significantly greater extent than did the control group. It was concluded that this model was useful in systematically focusing students' attention on some of the necessary components of environmental problem-solving.


In a descriptive study by Supreka and Harms (1977), two methods of presenting environmental education were compared to determine their effects on students' knowledge and attitudes toward energy and environmental issues. Eight teachers used an inquiry (non-values-oriented) approach, and eight others used a values-oriented approach to teach a six-week environmental education unit to more than 600 high school students. Both treatments were found to produce significant cognitive gains, compared to the control classes. The authors suggested that there was no difference in students' gains in knowledge between the two approaches and only a slight difference in attitudes toward environmental issues.


Case's study (1979) to determine the effect of an integrated eight-week environmental education curriculum integrated into the regular school curriculum revealed opposite findings, however. In his study, sixth-grade students of a Seventh-Day Adventist School were randomly selected and assigned to three groups.

Group A was treated with an integrated curriculum for five weeks, one week of a resident field experience, and an additional two weeks of integrated classroom curriculum. Group B was treated with only the integrated curriculum for eight weeks; Group C acted as a control, receiving no environmental curriculum activities. A test was constructed to measure environmental knowledge. On the knowledge test, statistically significant differences in favor of the B group were found in comparisons with Group A and with Group C. No significant differences were found between Groups A and C.

Studies that examined the effects of outdoor environmental programs found statistically significant changes in campers' knowledge of environmental issues. Chitwood (1977) found changes in environmental knowledge resulting from a camping experience. In her study, the effects on 58 enrollees of an eight-week session at a Youth Conservation Camp (YCC) were measured to determine the relationship, if any, between and among environmental knowledge, locus of control, and environmental attitudes. Pre- and post-tests were administered to detect the extent of changes in the variables. Statistical analysis indicated that significant changes, in a positive direction, were attained in environmental knowledge and environmental attitudes, but not in locus of control.

A study of Davis, Doran, and Farr (1980) supports Chitwood's findings: 14,796 YCC campers from 194 camps were sampled to assess their environmental awareness before and after their camp experience. Each camper completed a questionnaire either before or after the camp experience. Of the eleven domains of goals developed, six knowledge domains showed statistically significant gains, as did the attitudinal domain. Reliability of the tests and homogeneity of the domains were estimated.


Based on the results of the studies reviewed above, Wiesenmayer and his colleagues concluded:

--Traditional classroom instruction can increase students' environmental knowledge

--Interdisciplinary approaches for examining environmental problems seem to be more effective than traditional approaches

--Simulation games tend to be enjoyed by the participants but may not be as effective in teaching environmental concepts or in forming positive attitudes as traditional approaches

--A combination of classroom instruction and field trips may be a very effective means of increasing students' knowledge of environmental issues

--Field trips appear to have the most impact on student learning when occurring prior to classroom instruction

--Resident outdoor environmental learning activities can increse students' knowledge of environmental issues


Andren, Richard Johnson. "The Use of a Problem-Solving Model in Environmental Education." Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University Teachers College, 1979. DISSERTATION ABSTRACTS INTERNATIONAL, 39 (12):7263-A

Bryant, Covey K., and Harold R. Hungerford. "An Analysis of Strategies for Teaching Environmental Concepts and Values Clarification in Kindergarten." JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION 9 (1977):44-49.

DeLuca, Frederick P., Luther L. Kiser, and Kenneth F. Frazer. "Environmental Education and the Interrelationships among Attitudes, Knowledge, Achievement, and Piagetian Levels." In CURRENT ISSUES IN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION IV, edited by Arthur B. Sacks and others. ED 167 407.

Gross, Michael P., and Edward L. Pizzini. "The Effects of Combined Advance Organizers and Field Experience on Environmental Orientations of Elementary School Children." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING 16 (1979):325-331.

Hepburn, Mary A. "Environmental Knowledge and Attitude Changes in a High School Program of Interdisciplinary Social Studies and Science Education." In CURRENT ISSUES IN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION IV, edited by Arthur B. Sacks and others. ED 167 407.

Iozzi, Louis A., editor. A SUMMARY OF RESEARCH IN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION 1971-1982. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, 1984.

Supreka, Douglas P., and Norris Harms. "A Comparative Evaluation of Values-Oriented and Non-Values-Oriented Environmental Education Materials, Final Report." Boulder, CO: Social Science Education Consortium, 1977. ED 175 177.

Wiesenmayer, Randall L., Maureen A. Murrin, and Audrey N. Tomera. "Environmental Education Research Related to Issue Awareness." In A SUMMARY OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 1971-1982, edited by Louis A. Iozzi. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, 1984.

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