What is Environmental Education?

What is Environmental Education?

Environmental education (EE) [1] is a life-long learning process that increases awareness about the environment and its systems while developing critical-thinking skills that enable responsible decision-making.  EE builds knowledge and skills in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and allows opportunities to apply those skills.  In addition, national guidelines state that quality EE programs are fair, accurate, of appropriate depth, and meet educational standards. 

eeLEARN: What Is EE? - Environmental Education: The Definition from Tamarack Media on Vimeo.


Good Education

Environmental education is good education; EE uses learner-centered instruction, emphasizes critical thinking skills, is interdisciplinary, and addresses multiple intelligences and learning styles.  A study completed by the State Education and Environment Roundtable indicated the observed benefits of using the Environment as an Integrating Context (EIC) for learning include: better performance on standardized tests, reduced discipline problems, increased enthusiasm for learning, and greater pride and ownership in accomplishments. [2]

Civic Responsibility

EE is more than just good education; it also fosters a connection to the community and civic responsibility by developing environmental literacy [3].  Environmental literacy is the capacity to understand the implications of our actions, to critically think about daily choices, and to make informed and responsible decisions.  Reaching this level of understanding and developing these skills on a large scale is only possible through quality education.  We need environmental education if we continue to expect the people of Colorado to make tough choices about environmental issues (i.e., water use, air pollution, development, transportation, etc.).

Environmental Education in Colorado

Colorado schools, non-profits, public agencies, universities, businesses, citizen groups, and volunteer organizations provide Colorado’s environmental education programming.  These programs take place in urban, suburban, rural and wilderness settings and incorporate a wide range of educational approaches from non-formal experiential learning to formal classroom lessons. They reach thousands of youth and adult learners each year.

Characteristics of Environmental Education:

  • concerns environment as a whole
  • interdisciplinary
  • life-long
  • learner centered
  • thought provoking
  • seeks long-term solutions
  • concerns growth in awareness, knowledge, attitude, skills, and participation
  • fair and accurate
  • integrated environmental ethic

Environmental Education is not:

  • scare tactics
  • environmental activism
  • environmental-ism
  • just outdoor education
  • propaganda

EE and You

We are all environmental educators in some way, shape, or form.  The wide variety of EE providers and many different ways EE is provided creates opportunities for the citizens of Colorado to explore their connection to the natural world in many settings and ways. Yet it is not necessary to be part of an organization or formal program to participate in or support EE or to help advance environmental literacy in Colorado. Individuals who share information and ideas about what they have learned can make a real difference. Those who help fund projects and programs make critical contributions. Those who model environmentally responsible choices and actions are especially influential in moving our community toward environmental literacy.

A salient measure of EE's success is the extent to which people of all walks and persuasions incorporate environmentally-based considerations into their daily decisions. Attaining this level of combined awareness and action is achievable only by the combined efforts of all, from global organizations to unaffiliated individuals.

[2] Lieberman, G. and Hoody L. (1998) Closing the achievement gap: Using the environment as an integrating context for learning. Poway, CA:  Science Wizards.  For more information, see http://www.seer.org.

[3] For more information about environmental literacy, see http://www.fundee.org

CAEE works to ensure everyone in Colorado has an opportunity to learn about the environment where they live. We value inclusiveness and welcome everyone to the field of environmental education.

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