Internships with the ELC









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:

·        To foster clear awareness of, and concern about economic, social, political and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas;

·        To provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills needed to protect and improve the environment;

·        To 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) 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 Cycle Model.




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, North Carolina.

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 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 development: sensimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational.




Piaget's Four Stages of Development:






0-2 years

Child 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


2-7 years

Child 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.

Concrete Operational

7-11 years

Child is able to solve concrete (hands-on) problems in logical fashion. Child understands laws of conservation and is able to

classify and seriate. Child understands reversibility.

Formal Operational

11-15 years

Child is 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 concepts.


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.




EcoTeam Lesson

Brief description of activities

Lesson One: River Basins


Students 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

Lesson Two: Soils

Students 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

Lesson Three: Water Cycle

Students 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

Lesson Four:

Predator/Prey Relationships

Students 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

Lesson 5: Symbiosis

Students investigate mutualistic relationships by matching EcoPartner cards. Roots & Shoots Service-Learning Project: Design a pollinator garden

Lesson 6: Pollination

Students 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

Lesson 7: Environmental Citizens

Students 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





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.




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 activity.


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 phenomenon.




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 situations.


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 animals.




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 program.


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.




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.


Environmental Education 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 environmental literacy.


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:


1.     Environmental Literacy

2.     Foundations of Environmental Education

3.     Professional Responsibilities of the Environmental Educator

4.     Planning and Implementing Environmental Education

5.     Fostering Learning

6.     Assessment and Evaluation


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:


3.         Undergraduate students the opportunity to enhance collaboration with local elementary schools.

3.         Colleges and Universities pre-service experience that helps them transfer educational theory into hands-on classroom teaching experience.

3.         Third grade students with expanded science knowledge and understanding of their role in the ecosystem. It also introduces them to college student role models.

3.         Elementary schools with an opportunity to strengthen and integrate school curricula through quality environmental education.




Internships with the ELC

The Environmental Leadership Center
of Warren Wilson College
Campus Box 6323
PO Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000

Phone: 1.828.771.3006
Website Technical Email: