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Research, sustainability and learning
Bridging the gap between science and the practice of learning for nature, the environment and sustainability
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Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development (Hardback) - Routledge

Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development (Hardback) - Routledge | Research, sustainability and learning |
The Routledge International Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development gives a systematic and comprehensive overview of existing and upcoming research approaches for higher education for sustainable development. It provides a unique…
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Conversations about learning for sustainability

Conversations about learning for sustainability | Research, sustainability and learning |

Case studies of Scottish schools and early years centres to mark the conclusion of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).


The launch of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) on 1st January 2005 marked the start of a collective global effort to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning, in order to address the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems we face in the 21st century.


Scotland embraced the opportunity and the Scottish Government produced two action plans, Learning for our Future and Learning for Change , to set out its ambitions and targets for each half of the Decade. Within the school sector, the biggest achievements have arguably been the embedding of global citizenship and sustainable development education as themes across learning within Curriculum for Excellence.


As we approach the conclusion of the DESD in December 2014 we are prompted to reflect on how the reorientation of education towards sustainable development has made a difference at classroom level and how has it improved outcomes for learners, their families and school communities.


Education Scotland conducted a series of visits to 20 schools and early years centres between June and September 2014 to seek their views and gather testimonies. Positive outcomes were reported in relation to:

Confidence and skills of learnersLearning experiences and motivation of learnersThe reputation of the centresStaff morale, wellbeing and motivationCommunity partnerships and community spirit.


The full report contains case studies from the establishments. Various sectors were included: early years establishments, primary and secondary schools and schools for learners with additional support needs (ASN).


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Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education

Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education | Research, sustainability and learning |

How can you ensure that people do not only spend time thinking about important global issues like climate change or world food supplies, but also roll up their sleeves and do something about them? Four researchers, including Professor Arjen Wals from Wageningen University, think that the education sector holds the key. Teaching processes around the world could be given more influence and meaning by making pure science subjects, such as biology and physics, complementary to lessons in nature, environment and sustainability. Their article on this new approach to teaching, which is based on citizen science, is published in the 9 May edition of Science.

Throughout the world, ‘pure’ science subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, maths, geography and general natural sciences, which traditionally aim to build up knowledge and understanding, are seen separately from subjects such as nature and the environment, which together with the latest branch ‘sustainability education’ take a more practical approach. Although this certainly makes scholars aware of the current condition of our planet, their lack of practical perspective evokes a sense of powerlessness. For example, what can you do to prevent or respond adequately to forthcoming climate shifts? Affinity with politics, society and the economy are essential in this respect. Conversely, education in nature, the environment and sustainability (aka ‘environmental education’) does not equip scholars with the scientific insight they need to back up their proposed remedies.


When taught separately, natural sciences and environmental education give a disjointed answer to society’s demand for a truly sustainable society. “It’s time these two schools converged,” says Arjen Wals, Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development at Wageningen University. “If we cannot create a firm link between these two educational areas, scientific education is in jeopardy of becoming purely a vehicle for enhancing the innovative and competitive potential of a country’s economy”, he says. “At the same time, without a firm link with the sciences, environmental education will never be able to find a responsible and realistic way of dealing with the contradictions and uncertainties that are raised in the scientific debate surrounding questions of sustainability.”

The authors of the article in Science give a number of examples of environmental education, which cover the area where science meets society. Among them is the American concept of Edible School Gardens, whereby schoolchildren grow their own food in an educational garden while simultaneously learning about the things they grow in science lessons. The Dutch version is known as Groene schoolpleinen (‘green school grounds’). Another good example is YardMap, based on IT and citizen science. Citizens, both young and old, analyse biodiversity in their own neighbourhood by means of digital photos, special apps and Google Maps. The aim is to identify the areas with the greatest potential for boosting biodiversity. Action plans designed to ensure that the YardMaps are kept fully up-to-date are drawn up and implemented on the basis of studies and in consultation with scientists and local partners (including the municipal authority, garden centres and an NGO). The various YardMaps are linked via social media. The Dutch Natuurkalender works in much the same way.


Creating closer ties between citizen science, scientific education and environmental education will help citizens and scientists to take a meaningful and practical approach to the pursuit of sustainability. Wals: “It’s not just about linking up the content; it involves developing new competencies such as dealing with complexity, uncertainty and confusion, and devising and implementing meaningful local solutions”. This method of learning may also help to restore the damage to public confidence in science. The government will have to put more effort into stimulating and supporting the ‘hybrid teaching environments’ that blur the boundaries between science and society, school and neighbourhood, local and global, and shift the emphasis to the wellbeing of mankind and the planet.


Calls for transition and another way of thinking are becoming more urgent, says Professor Wals: “At the end of the day, the climate problem is as much in between our ears, as it is between the North and South Poles”. He backs this up with a remarkable conclusion: to his mind, the role of education and citizen involvement has been seriously underemphasised in the climate debate. In fact he wonders if we will ever be able to bring about a transition without committed, critical and competent citizens, who aspire to values that are not purely based on the material side of their existence but also on care for fellow human beings and, indeed, other species, here and elsewhere, now and in the future.

Join in the discussion on #CitizenScience


Wals, A.E.J., Brody, M., Dillon, J. and Stevenson, R.B. (2014) Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education, Science, 344, p. 583-584.

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Learning outside the Classroom: Theory and Guidelines for Practice

Learning outside the Classroom: Theory and Guidelines for Practice | Research, sustainability and learning |

This book outlines theory and practice that will enable and encourage teachers to systematically and progressively incorporate meaningful outdoor learning opportunities into their daily teaching activities in a wide variety of environments and with diverse populations of pupils. This is the first textbook based around the curriculum for prospective and practising primary and secondary teachers and other outdoor educators. The principles and examples presented are intended to be adapted by teachers to suit the needs of their students in ways that draw upon content offered by the local landscape and its natural and built heritage. Although the focus of this book is ‘the real world’ beyond the classroom, it is also about good teaching — wherever it takes place. While there are chapters on practical issues such as risk-management and supervising groups outdoors, the chapters on curriculum, sustainability, curiosity, responsibility, and educational communities will serve as a valuable guide for anyone interested in applying educational theory to practice.


by Simon Beames, Peter Higgins and Robbie Nicol

August, 2011

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URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND SENSE OF PLACE | Research, sustainability and learning |
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by Alex Kudryavtsev, PhD


Cornell University 2013


Urban environmental educators are trying to connect students to the urban environment and nature, and thus develop a certain sense of place. To do so, educators involve students in environmental stewardship, monitoring, activism, and outdoor recreation in cities. At the same time, sense of place has been linked to pro-environmental behaviors and other desired educational outcomes. However, the related literature from environmental psychology has rarely been applied to environmental education research, particularly in cities. In this dissertation, Kudravtsev applies the sense of place framework to environmental education, and explore the development of sense of place among high school students in seven after-school and summer urban environmental education programs in the Bronx, New York City.


First, Kudravtsev reviewed the academic literature on urban environmental education in the United States to better understand educational programs in the Bronx. He found that urban environmental education programs may pursue several goals, and one of them is teaching about cities as social-ecological systems in which both social and natural components are essential.


Second, Kudravtsev reviewed the literature on sense of place, including its role in environmental education. He conceptualized the idea of ecological place meaning, i.e., viewing environmental and nature-related phenomena as symbols or valued elements of places.


Third, in 2010, Kudravtsev explored the impact of urban environmental education on sense of place among students. He conducted pre/post surveys with 87 urban high school students (mean age = 16), including 64 students in 6–week urban environmental programs (experimental group), and 23 students in non-environmental, summer youth employment programs (control group). Results showed that urban environmental education programs significantly strengthened ecological place meaning but did not influence place attachment among experimental students; no changes were found in the control group.


Fourth, Kudravtsev collected and interpreted nine educators’ and five students’ narrative profiles to explore the reasons for and approaches to developing ecological place meaning in the city. The narrative analysis showed that educators are trying to cultivate ecological place meaning among students to help them understand and appreciate urban nature and places, and imagine how the urban environment could be improved. Narratives also demonstrated that ecological place meaning is nurtured among students through direct experiences of urban places, social interactions with educators and environmentalists, and the development of students’ ecological identity.


This dissertation raises questions about how nature-related phenomena in cities — including wetlands and terrestrial ecosystems, green infrastructure, and nature-related outdoor activities such as environmental stewardship and outdoor recreation — are valued by urban residents. Urban environmental education strengthens students’ appreciation of the urban environment and nature, and experiences in these programs themselves become part of students’ ecological place meaning.

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Child-orientated environmental education influences adult knowledge and household behaviour - IOPscience

Child-orientated environmental education influences adult knowledge and household behaviour - IOPscience | Research, sustainability and learning |

Environmental education is frequently undertaken as a conservation intervention designed to change the attitudes and behaviour of recipients. Much conservation education is aimed at children, with the rationale that children influence the attitudes of their parents, who will consequently change their behaviour. Empirical evidence to substantiate this suggestion is very limited, however. For the first time, the researchers used a controlled trial to assess the influence of wetland-related environmental education on the knowledge of children and their parents and household behaviour. They demonstrate adults exhibiting greater knowledge of wetlands and improved reported household water management behaviour when their child has received wetland-based education at Seychelles wildlife clubs. The research team distinguishes between 'folk' knowledge of wetland environments and knowledge obtained from formal education, with intergenerational transmission of each depending on different factors. This study provides the first strong support for the suggestion that environmental education can be transferred between generations and indirectly induce targeted behavioural changes.


P Damerell, C Howe and E J Milner-Gulland

Published 12 februari 2013


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Nature and Sustainability: An Educational Study with Foucault and Rousseau

Nature and Sustainability: An Educational Study with Foucault and  Rousseau | Research, sustainability and learning |

This new book by EdD Lili-Ann Wolff gives a historical and philosophical view of education that deals with nature and sustainability and highlights the ethical dilemmas that arise if we expect education to be the main promoter of sustainability. The discussion makes a loop starting from contemporary educational problems and the quest for sustainability and continues to the era of Enlightenment. There it brings forward the thoughts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and finally it returns to the present time.


This study also employs Michel Foucault’s historical research methods, and even brings him in as a speaker with his own voice. Rousseau's writings offer excellent examples of the role of both ethics and education in dealing with sustainability. And Foucault sets the stage for understanding such fundamental ethical and educational issues as matters of power that act in complex networks on both individual and social levels.


The conclusion of the discussion between the three voices: the author, Rousseau, and Foucault, is that the sustainability enigma calls for an education that makes a profound difference, in order to be able to bring about mindfully responsible actions. The education has, therefore, to face three basic challenges: firstly, the promotion of self-transformation through self-understanding and self-training; secondly, the development of social relations and collective responsibility; thirdly, the promotion of understanding of the natural world and life on a global scale.

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Earthworm research spurred pupils to action | The Research Council of Norway

Earthworm research spurred pupils to action | The Research Council of Norway | Research, sustainability and learning |

Earthworms were last year’s topic for the Research Council of Norway’s annual research campaign, launched to generate interest in research among children and young people.


Researchers were thrilled by the findings submitted by 142 schools. In the course of the autumn of 2010, school pupils from all across Norway identified 15 different species of earthworm, including some finds rare in Norway. Scientists were surprised and delighted.


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Making Connections at Grantown Grammar School

Making Connections at Grantown Grammar School | Research, sustainability and learning |

This is the story of a fascinating secondary school project that was launched in 2007. "Making Connections" is an interdisciplinary programme encompassing themes of global citizenship, sustainability, international education and enterprise linked to practical outdoor learning experiences within the Cairngorms National Park.


The initial focus was on developing global citizens, sustainable development education, enterprise and the four capacities (Curriculum for Excellence). It has been improved and extended each following year. It can no doubt inspire other schools considering whole school approaches to outdoor learning!


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Education for Sustainable Development in Eco-Schools

Education for Sustainable Development in Eco-Schools | Research, sustainability and learning |

This PhD thesis by Jo Anna Reed Johnson explores the extent to which Eco-schools were able to develop whole school approaches to education for sustainable development during the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). Current educational systems in many countries do not always allow schools to engage in pedagogies of participation (Lotz-Sisitka 2004, O’Donoghue and Lotz-Sisitka 2006), democratic styles of learning and critical thinking (Sterling 2003), which this study highlighted.

The aim of this study was to examine the vision for education for sustainable development (ESD), being driven by UNESCO, and its reality in practice in two eco-schools, in England and in South Africa. Cultural stories were compared as idiosyncratic cases through a common reporting structure based on aspects of communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991) and whole-school approaches (Shallcross 2006a, Shallcross et al. 2006). This book should be especially useful to policy makers, educational scholars, academics and students in the field of environmental education (EE/ESD) in England and South Africa and those in the field of global education agendas.

July 2014

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What Educators Can Learn From Pete Seeger

What Educators Can Learn From Pete Seeger | Research, sustainability and learning |

Courtney Hanes has some interesting ideas about current education. She shares her thoughts on things we can learn from Pete Seeger (1919-2014). Mrs. Hanes is an online Literature teacher at the Riverside Virtual School in Riverside, Ca.


"Pete Seeger had a public life. He was a critical pedagogist who questioned the status quo, and through his music, attempted to make sense of cultural situations and circumstances. He was active politically and socially, and once said, “The world will be saved when people realize we all have to pitch in. You can’t just pay your money and hope that someone else will do the job right.” With all the current talk about Common Core Standards, I can’t help but wonder why there is not a larger focus on civics education, on creating thoughtful and informed citizens who care enough to get involved, and are liberated to make a difference. This is what educators can learn from Pete Seeger."


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Education as a response to sustainability issues. Practices of environmental education in the context of the United Nations Decade of education for sustainable development

PhD Dissertation by Katrien van Poeck

University of Leuven, October 2013


"The United Nations designated the decade 2005-2014 as the ‘UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development’ (ESD). Practices of environmental education (EE) are facing this changing policy discourse and practice and are challenged to find new ways to relate to it. Drawing on an empirical analysis of the policymaking process in Flanders as well as of seven very diverse EE practices we aim at grasping the educational dynamics emerging in concrete practices within a policy-context focusing on ESD.


Throughout the history of EE and ESD education is pre-eminently framed as an instrument to tackle social and ecological challenges through a narrowly conceived process of socialisation. Sustainability appears as a goal that can be reached by applying the proper learning strategies and, thus, education is reduced to the acquisition of those skills, competences, knowledge, or dispositions that are regarded vital so as to qualify people for sustainable behaviour or for active, democratic, and sustainable citizenship.


Our analysis of the scholarly discussion about EE and ESD shows how this narrow focus on ‘learning’ is inadequate so as to grasp what is at stake in educational practices addressing sustainability issues. Researchers on EE and ESD point at the importance of educational practices that, in one way or another, take into account the far-reaching implications of sustainability issues. Yet, all the same criticism is raised about the expectation that these educational practices can solve social and political problems. A variety of different opinions exists simultaneously centred around the paradox between acknowledging pluralism and taking into account sustainability concerns. The insights of Bruno Latour and Noortje Marres about ‘public issues’ inspired us to develop a conception of EE and ESD that moves beyond normative socialisation without falling into a sheer plurality of opinions, values, interests, and points of view. Thus, this doctoral research aims at deepening our understanding of what it means to approach sustainability issues as public issues within educational processes.


Our analysis of the interaction between policymaking and educational practices shows the emergence of a regime that fosters the ‘privatisation’ rather than ‘public-isation’ of sustainability issues within EE practices. That is, policymakers as well as practitioners and participants are somehow expected to be willing and able to see these practices, think and speak about them and act in/toward them in a very particular way and, as a result, EE practices tend to contain (instead of proliferate) contestation and controversy and to limit (rather than broaden) the public around sustainability issues. Yet, this regime to which ESD policymaking contributes does not force EE practices to the privatisation of sustainability issues. It is ‘merely’ appealing for such practices. As our case study reveals, at particular moments EE practices do create a space for public-isation and, thus, resist the appeal for privatisation. By bringingthisforward in our descriptions we want to invite and inspire the reader to be attentive to different ways of seeing, speaking, thinking, and acting."



Nick Maidment's OHS Quest's curator insight, June 11, 2014 6:24 AM

Definately think environmental studies should form part of childrens learning @ school...... we need to educate to assimilate........ make informed decisions

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Desettling Expectations in Science Education

Desettling Expectations in Science Education | Research, sustainability and learning |

Calls for the improvement of science education in the USA continue unabated, with particular concern for the quality of learning opportunities for students from historically nondominant communities. Despite many and varied efforts, the field continues to struggle to create robust, meaningful forms of science education.


We argue that ‘settled expectations’ in schooling function to (a) restrict the content and form of science valued and communicated through science education and (b) locate students, particularly those from nondominant communities, in untenable epistemological positions that work against engagement in meaningful science learning.


In this article we examine two episodes with the intention of reimagining the relationship between science learning, classroom teaching, and emerging understandings of grounding concepts in scientific fields – a process we call desettling. Building from the examples, we draw out some key ways in which desettling and reimagining core relations between nature and culture can shift possibilities in learning and development, particularly for nondominant students.


Bang M.a · Warren B.b · Rosebery A.S.b · Medin D.c


aUniversity of Washington, Seattle, Wash.

bChèche Konnen Center, TERC, Cambridge, Mass.

cNorthwestern University, Evanston, Ill., USA


Human Development 2012;55:302–318



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ECO classrooms: teaching environmental literacy in schools (infographic) - EdTech Times

ECO classrooms: teaching environmental literacy in schools (infographic) - EdTech Times | Research, sustainability and learning |
ECO classrooms: teaching environmental literacy in schools (infographic) #edtech #education

Via Education 4 Conservation
Sam Hollings's curator insight, March 25, 2013 8:37 AM

This site explores through an infographic (plus links to supporting evidence) as to how Environmental Literacy is being taught in schools. Also includes some good teaching resources in 'being eco'

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Integrating Environmental Education in Primary School Education in Tanzania | Teachers’ Perceptions and Teaching Practices

Integrating Environmental Education in Primary School Education in Tanzania | Teachers’ Perceptions and Teaching Practices | Research, sustainability and learning |

By Lydia A. Kimaryo

Åbo Akademi University (2011)


The study focuses on primary school teachers’ perceptions of environmental

education, its integration into primary school education and teachers’ teaching

practices in Tanzania. The thesis is based on empirical research. The theoretical

underpinnings of the study are based on Palmer’s (1998) model of

environmental education. According to the model, meaningful environmental

education should include education about, in or through and for the



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