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Learning through environmental education : exploring the influences of environmental education programs on student learning and achievement Bartosh, Oksana


The purpose of this study is to examine student learning experiences and outcomes in an environmental education high school program and investigate how these experiences and outcomes differ from those in “traditional” programs. Specifically, I explore how involvement in environmental education influences high school students’ learning and performance across subject areas, their attitude to school and the environment, and their social competency skills. To address these questions I conducted a comparative study of grade 10 students enrolled in two different high school programs in one public school in Washington State, USA: an integrated environmental education program and a traditional science program. The study was undertaken between fall of 2005 and June of 2006. To investigate and compare student experiences in the two programs I adopted a mixed methods research design, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative data included standardized achievement test scores in mathematics, language arts and science, Science Inquiry tasks, GPAs and surveys regarding attitudes, practices and demographics. The qualitative data were gathered through open-ended survey items, student, teacher and staff interviews and observations. The data were analyzed using statistical analysis and qualitative procedures and triangulated to obtain more reliable results and inferences. This study indicates that students who participate in a yearlong integrated environmental education program demonstrate higher achievement on state standardized tests and Science Inquiry Tasks, higher GPA, and better attitudes towards school and the environment than students in a non-EE program. They also experience more diverse learning and report gaining social skills, better understanding of themselves and others, and developing a sense of community and respect for the environment all of which led to active participation in environmental actions and projects. This dissertation contributes empirical information on the impact of environmental education programs on student learning and achievement, thereby filling a gap in the literature. The study suggests that through environmental education programs we can provide learners with a richer, more comprehensive experience that ties learning to the real world, advances thinking abilities and helps students to perform at high levels.

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