In 1976 the United Nations (UNESCO-UNEP) adopted
the Belgrade Charter. Through this
symbolic act, a majority of the world’s nations embraced the need to support environmental
education on a large scale, awakened the world to this distinct need, and
provided a widely accepted goal statement for environmental education:
The goal of environmental education
is to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the
environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills,
attitudes, motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively
toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones.
Built on the foundation of the Belgrade Charter,
the Tblisi Declaration was adopted two years later in 1978 by the world’s first
intergovernmental conference on environmental education. The declaration established three broad objectives
for environmental education. As the
field evolves, these principles undergo constant research, revision, and
critique. Nevertheless, these
objectives continue to provide much of the framework for the field of
environmental education. The three
broad objectives as defined in the Tblisi Declaration are:
foster clear awareness of, and concern about economic, social, political and
ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas;
provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values,
attitudes, commitment and skills needed to protect and improve the environment;
create new patterns of behavior of individuals, groups and society as a whole
towards the environment.
Environmental education is learner-centered,
providing students with opportunities to construct their own knowledge through
hands-on, minds-on investigations. It
is the guided exploration of the world around us and our relationship to
it. Quality environmental education provides
learners with skills and knowledge that will ultimately create a citizenry that
is better able to address its common problems, environmental or otherwise, with
creative problem solving.
EcoTeam is an environmental education
program of the Environmental Leadership Center (ELC) of Warren Wilson
College. It was developed as a
community outreach project in 1997.
Since its creation, the program has forged collaborative relationships
between higher education and elementary schools with a unique environmental
education curriculum designed for third graders. The mission of the Environmental Leadership Center (ELC) is to raise awareness of local, national, and
global environmental realities and to inspire citizens-especially our youth-to
reflect, to communicate, and to act as responsible caretakers of the earth. EcoTeam is designed to teach third graders
about environmental and ecological concepts while providing undergraduate
students with experience coordinating, delivering and evaluating an
environmental education program to local elementary schools.
In addition to supporting the original EcoTeam program at Warren Wilson College,
the ELC is committed to the expansion of the program to colleges and universities
throughout the South East. To learn specifically how the ELC can help you start
an EcoTeam program at your college or university, please read the “Develop EcoTeam
at Your School” section of the website.In addition to supporting the original EcoTeam
program at Warren Wilson College, the ELC is committed to the expansion of the program
to colleges and universities throughout the South East. To learn specifically how the
ELC can help you start an EcoTeam program at your college or university, please read the
“Develop EcoTeam at Your School” section of the website.
EcoTeam began by sending trained Warren
Wilson College (WWC) students into third grade classes in Buncombe County,
North Carolina to present environmental education lessons. The original EcoTeam concept and lessons
were developed and refined by Warren Wilson College students under the
direction of ELC staff. Beginning in
2000, the ELC contracted Dr. Tom Marcinkowski of the Florida Institute of
Technology to assist in an evaluation of the EcoTeam curriculum. The subsequent two year process of rewriting
and refining EcoTeam has involved ELC staff, WWC students, Buncombe County
School personnel, Dr. Marcinkowski and a diverse expert review panel. The goal of this process was to create an
environmental education curriculum that is now:
regionally relevant. (While some materials may have to be
adjusted for regional relevancy, the EcoTeam program is a template for groups
that wish to build partnerships between their college or university and the
elementary schools in their various communities);
developmentally appropriate for third graders;
multi-disciplinary and correlated with the North Carolina
Standard Course of Study;
Correlated with National Science Education Standards, Content Standards (K-4);
consistent with the North American Association for Environmental
Education’s (NAAEE) www.naaee.org Guidelines for Excellence
and Guidelines for the Initial
Preparation of Environmental Educators;
complimentary of the nation’s leading third grade science text
books (Harcourt Brace, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill and Scott Foresman);
structured on the Learning
Warren Wilson College is a work college, one of 7
work colleges in the US. Each student
is committed to performing 15 hours of work per week for the college along with
maintaining a full academic schedule and completing 100 hours of community
service prior to graduation. The
Environmental Leadership Center (ELC) serves a community outreach function for
WWC. The ELC has an EcoTeam Work Crew
comprised of six students typically majoring in Environmental Studies,
Education or Outdoor Leadership who work under the supervision of the ELC’s
Environmental Education Coordinators.
Annually, the student crew delivers approximately 300 EcoTeam lessons to
1,200 third graders in 21 different elementary schools in Buncombe County,
The EcoTeam curriculum is based upon the experiences of the WWC
EcoTeam program, the success of the Learning
Cycle Model, and the expressed needs of both the formal education sector
and the professional environmental education community.
THE EVOLUTION OF ECOTEAM
The original EcoTeam
program was designed to serve undergraduate students by providing applied
teacher training. The original
curriculum used for this endeavor was well received, but required improvement
to become a program that could be replicated at other institutions. Upon evaluation, it was determined that the
original lessons were developmentally too advanced for the target group, lacked
regional relevancy and were not tightly correlated to the North Carolina
Standard Course of Study.
The revised curriculum maintains its
focus as a tool for pre-service teacher training while improving its integrity
as a series of lessons for third graders.
The topics featured in this curriculum and the way in which they are
communicated to the audience is developmentally
appropriate for third graders.
EcoTeam strives to teach third graders about the environment while
respecting the fact that, as young children, they have a very limited ability
to effect change in their life. EcoTeam
addresses the need for environmental citizenship in a way that focuses on
lifestyle choices that are in a third grader’s control, while realizing that
the children will someday be decision making adults.
The revised curriculum is regionally relevant. Third grade children understand what they
interact with on a day today basis.
They lack the ability to truly understand that which they have not
experienced. Western North Carolina is
a biodiverse temperate deciduous forest ecosystem. Threats to this ecosystem include, but are not limited to
development, resource over-consumption and air pollution. The revised EcoTeam
curriculum includes a lesson on river basins.
In this lesson, children explore the French Broad River Basin, the place
where they live.
The EcoTeam program is aimed at a third-grade
audience. Who are third-graders? How do third graders learn? It’s important to know the answers to these questions
in order to provide effective environmental education through the EcoTeam.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist who studied
intellectual development and reasoning.
He is regarded as the foremost authority on Intellectual and Cognitive
development. A constructivist, Piaget believed that individuals construct their
own knowledge structures or ideas about their world.
Piaget identified four stages of child
pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational.
Piaget's Four Stages of Development:
begins to make use of imitation, memory, and thought. Child begins to recognize that objects do not
cease to exist when they are hidden.
Child moves from reflex actions to goal-directed activity
experiences gradual language development and ability to think in symbolic form.
Child is able to think operations through logically in one direction. Child
has difficulty seeing another person's point of view.
able to solve concrete (hands-on) problems in logical fashion. Child understands
laws of conservation and is able to
and seriate. Child understands reversibility.
able to solve abstract problems in logical fashion. Child’s thinking becomes more
scientific. Child develops concerns about social issues, identity.
While kindergarten and most first graders are pre-operational,
the majority of elementary school students are concrete operational.
Concrete operational students learn through direct experience with a
concept or phenomenon. As a result,
only concrete concepts should be taught in elementary science programs. To grasp these concepts, learners must have
a concrete and direct experience with learning materials in order to learn scientific
To provide direct experiences with the concepts we
address, EcoTeam engages children in experiments that require the learners to
make careful observations and gather specific data. The EcoTeam activities rely on materials and supplies that
provide direct experiences.
Brief description of activities
One: River Basins
examine their local river basin and develop basic mapping skills by
interpreting different kinds of maps. Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project:
Raise awareness about storm drain run-off
examine various soil types through multi-sensory explorations. Students explore the effects of different
sizes of soil grains by pouring water through sand, silt, and clay. Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: Combat Soil Erosion
Three: Water Cycle
examine the water cycle by observing demonstrations of the phases of the
water cycle at four different stations.
Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: Make eco-friendly cleaning products
examine predator/prey relationships by performing owl pellet
dissections. Students identify owls’
prey using bone charts and mammal guides.
Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: Help captive raptors
investigate mutualistic relationships by matching EcoPartner cards.
Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: Design a pollinator garden
examine ways in which flowers reproduce through pollination. Students dissect flowers, identify parts
of flower and describe the role that bees and other pollinators play in
pollination. Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: continue pollinator garden
7: Environmental Citizens
research local environmental citizens and identify positive examples of
human-environment interactions in their local community. Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: Pledge to make a difference
THE LEARNING CYCLE MODEL
Once we understand how third graders learn, it is
time to understand learning models. Models
of teaching are “plans and patterns that organize teaching and lay the
foundation for the interactions that will occur between you and the students.”
Models are a way to fashion curricula in order to
help students learn. The EcoTeam
lessons are designed according to the Learning Cycle Model. The learning cycle is a conceptual-change
model that sequences instruction into learning phases.
As director of the Science Curriculum
Improvement Study (SCIS) Robert Karplus studied science education. Following a visit to the Jean Piaget
Research Institute, Karplus developed an approach to teaching science education
that emphasized the importance of student observation and guided discovery.
Karplus first proposed the Learning Cycle Model as a tool for teaching science
concepts. Conceived in the 1960s, the Learning Cycle Model is anchored in a
thorough understanding of learning theory.
The learning cycle sequences science lessons in phases: Exploration, Concept Introduction or
Invention and Concept Application. Over the years, many models of learning and
teaching have developed. Many of these
models are patterned after the Learning Cycle Model and have similar
phases. Each EcoTeam lesson is designed
as a learning cycle with the distinct phases described below.
PHASE I: EXPLORATION
The first phase of the learning cycle is exploration. In this phase, the EcoTeam facilitator gives oral
directions and provides the students with written directions to guide the
activity in student journals. Oral and
written instructions are specific and guide the children through the activities
but do not hint at the concept being assimilated. Written directions reduce the chance of misunderstanding that
result from oral directions and provide children with practice in reading.
Following brief oral instructions, students are
encouraged to interact with a concept or phenomenon through direct
experience. Instructors supply learners
with materials that will help students assimilate new concrete experiences or
recall past ones. A good exploration phase provides learners with more than one
The exploration phase of the learning cycle is
student-centered. EcoTeam facilitators
provide minimal guidance throughout the activity and allow students to explore
new ideas spontaneously. The
facilitator should be sure to allow adequate time for the children to interact
with the learning materials that help students assimilate the concept or
The second phase of the learning cycle is concept introduction or invention
(CI). In this phase the EcoTeam
facilitator assumes a more direct, active role. The EcoTeam facilitator should move this phase swiftly while
being sure to:
1. Review and summarize the finding of
the exploration activities with the children.
The facilitator does this by asking the children to share the
observations they have recorded in their journals.
2. Draw from students’ findings.
3. State the concept in proper
language. In this phase of the learning
cycle, the EcoTeam facilitator introduces the key vocabulary that define the
concept or phenomenon being explored.
4. Guide children to the importance of
the concept through discussion. The
EcoTeam instructor is prepared to facilitate thoughtful discussion about the
importance of the concept. The
facilitator asks probing questions and carefully guides discussion around the
knowledge students’ have constructed.
In this final, student-centered phase of the Learning Cycle, children
engage in activities that are designed to “apply and extend their knowledge of
scientific concepts.” Concept application activities extend students knowledge
of the various scientific concepts introduced through the EcoTeam and provide
transfer or an opportunity for students to apply their learning to new
In the EcoTeam program, the concept
application for each lesson is fulfilled by completing EcoTeam extension lessons
which connect the concept to a service project designed by the
Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program. Roots & Shoots is the Jane Goodall
Institute’s global, environmental and humanitarian program. Our partnership with Roots & Shoots
provides you with an opportunity to draw off of a wide variety of activities
that demonstrate care and concern for living things through service
projects. As students and their
classroom teachers interact in planning activities that complete the learning
cycle, they broaden their understanding of the concepts addressed in the
EcoTeam curriculum and become part of a global network of youth that
demonstrate care and concern for the environment, the human community and
COMMENTS ON LEARNING CYCLES
It’s important to note that it would be difficult
to implement a true learning cycle in one hour. Hence, the EcoTeam curriculum is divided into two one-hour
lessons plus a service project option for each concept. The first
one-hour lesson is designed to facilitate the Exploration and Concept
Introduction phases of the Learning Cycle.
The second one-hour lesson is the EcoTeam extension lesson which links the content and concepts of the
first lesson to the Roots & Shoots service project. Ideally, these two lessons occur
no more than one week apart.
The Learning Cycle Model changes student-teacher
relationships. While the teacher is
always present, engaged and providing encouragement to students, s/he is more
of a facilitator.
This role change may at first be uncomfortable for
EcoTeam facilitators, students and classroom teachers alike.
EcoTeam facilitators must be mindful to not
overplay or underplay their role as an instructor. It may be difficult at first to take a hands-off approach to students’
learning especially when you may know a more efficient way to solve a
particular problem or to achieve better results. However, if you understand the Learning Cycle Model you also
understand that we deprive children of the pleasure of constructing their own
knowledge when we regard ourselves as “founts of knowledge.” When students invent their own knowledge,
they feel ownership, success, and love for learning.
It is equally important that you do not underplay
your role as instructor. Students are
allowed more freedom and responsibility in this approach to teaching. Although classroom management may look a bit
different, it is still very important.
Like anything, becoming proficient with the Learning Cycle Model
requires patience and practice.
Students may at first be uncomfortable with the
amount of freedom and responsibility they experience in the EcoTeam
lessons. For example, while students
are asked to record their observations in their journals, they are told that
there are no correct answers and that nothing will be graded. Children might feel frustration or shock if
they are not used to inquiry-based learning.
These feelings may even manifest in behavior problems. Nevertheless, our experience has been that
students adjust to this type of learning by lesson three or four. It is encouraging to see children embrace
and enjoy their freedom and responsibility as learners through the EcoTeam
EcoTeam facilitators are guests in other peoples’
classrooms. Most are undergraduate
students at a college or university that are trying to gain experience in the
teaching profession. Third graders are
generally very excited to have a visitor in their class. This excitement coupled with the largely
student-centered approach to learning provide an additional challenge for the
EcoTeam facilitator and the classroom teacher.
For this reason, it’s important that the classroom teacher is familiar
with and supportive of the EcoTeam program.
As a facilitator, it is your responsibility to communicate the
philosophy of the program to the classroom teacher and ask for their continued
feedback on the program and your teaching skills and style.
ASSESSING THE NEEDS OF OUR LEARNING
& TEACHING COMMUNITY
The elementary teachers that participate in the EcoTeam
program expressed a need for a revised curriculum that would deliver
environmental education in a manner that enhances their ability to provide
science education to their classes correlated more closely with the North
Carolina Standard Course of Study. With
increased emphasis on standardized testing, classroom teachers requested an
EcoTeam curriculum that would enhance rather than distract from their
curriculum. To achieve this, EcoTeam curriculum was rewritten to be
increasingly multi-disciplinary and inquiry based so as to engage students in
the scientific process while reinforcing reading, writing, arithmetic and
social studies skills. The lessons also
compliment the four main science textbooks for third graders used throughout
the country (Harcourt Brace, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill and Scott
Foresman). EcoTeam’s textbook
compatibility ensures that EcoTeam is viable in nearly any school system.
The field of Environmental Education recognizes the
immediate need to create a greater constituency of trained and qualified
environmental educators. It is not
enough to have a love for the environment, though that is a trait of virtually
everyone in the field. Environmental
educators must understand the dynamic complexities that they are teaching, they
must deliver the material in a professional manner and they must be able to
evaluate the effectiveness of their work.
is, at its heart, an integrative undertaking.
Instructors teach across disciplines, linking the methods and content of
natural and social sciences, arts, mathematics, and humanities to help learners
fully understand and address complex environmental issues. Environmental educators need the ability and
the commitment to keep the whole picture in mind as they guide students toward
The NAAEE document, Guidelines
for the Initial Preparation of Environmental Educators, outlines six themes
and general guidelines required for competency in environmental education. The themes are:
of Environmental Education
Responsibilities of the Environmental Educator
and Implementing Environmental Education
Undergraduate students who participate in EcoTeam gain
experience in all of these skill areas.
Feel free to view the following paper that was presented at the 2002
NAAEE national conference and that demonstrates how the EcoTeam model at Warren
Wilson College enhances the learning of education students.
The EcoTeam Program of the Environmental Leadership
Center of Warren Wilson College has been successful in establishing itself as a
model standard for environmental education by integrating higher education, the
local elementary school system, and a proven environmental curriculum designed
to provide every participant with the optimal academic learning experience
while creating enhanced, healthy relationships between constituents. Expanding the ELC’s Regional EcoTeam’s
environmental education program to colleges and universities across the United
States, in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots
program, is a direct way to expand and improve the overall professionalism and
effectiveness of environmental education on a national scale.
According to Harold R. Hungerford and Trudi L.
Volk, “The ultimate goal of education is shaping human behavior. Societies throughout the world establish
educational systems in order to develop citizens who will behave in desirable
ways.” Expanding EcoTeam on a national scale addresses the need to promote more
environmentally responsible citizenship by providing:
Undergraduate students the opportunity to enhance collaboration with local elementary schools.
Colleges and Universities pre-service experience that helps them transfer educational theory into hands-on classroom
Third grade students with expanded science knowledge and
understanding of their role in the ecosystem.
It also introduces them to college student role models.
Elementary schools with an
opportunity to strengthen and integrate school curricula through quality environmental education.