Environmental literacy the focus of upcoming faculty forum

December 2, 2013

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PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education will host its third faculty forum of the fall semester, “Educational and Social Variables that Impact the Development of Environmental Literacy,” on Thursday, Dec. 5, from 5-6:30 p.m. in Lundeen Lecture Hall, 103 Doudna Hall, UW-Platteville. The event is free and open to the public.

Dr. William McBeth, professor of education at UW-Platteville, will be presenting and Dr. Leigh Monhardt, associate professor of education at UW-Platteville, will be responding.

McBeth's presentation will address the wide variety of educational and social variables that can have an impact on the development of environmental literacy in students, including teacher age and licensure and environmental program sequence.

McBeth's presentation will be based on environmental literacy research he has conducted since 2005, when he and a team of researchers and colleagues were awarded a grant of more than $290,000 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the North American Association for Environmental Education to complete the first portion of a six year project designed to help environmental educators across the nation evaluate environmental literacy rates of their students.

McBeth and the research team developed the “Middle School Environmental Literacy Assessment,” that educators can use to measure their students' current state of environmental literacy. It is the only assessment of its kind in the United States.

“Almost everything we do is dependent, in one way or another, on the environment,” said McBeth. “The ability to make informed decisions concerning the environment increases the quality of life for everyone now and in the future.”

The team of educators worked with the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research to find a national sampling of 50 schools with sixth and eighth grade students and then used the “Middle School Environmental Literacy Assessment” to gather baseline data about the students' current state of environmental literacy.

In the assessment, students were asked 18 questions to determine their ecological knowledge, such as the relationship between predator and prey; their affect – their environmental sensitivity and intention to act; their cognitive skills in identifying environmental issues; and their environmental behavior, which was self-reported. McBeth said that in the Phase One study, all scores were considered to be at moderate levels of environmental literacy.

Over the next few years, McBeth and the research team reviewed specific environmental education programs and gathered information from other researchers throughout the United States about their own discoveries on the topic. Then, they compared the findings from all the schools, investigated those schools where students were excelling in environmental literacy to identify what they were doing differently, and compared those programs to national samples.

The research team then conducted a purposeful sample, or expert sample, of sixth and eighth grade students from those schools that had been identified as doing an excellent job in environmental education.

In both the initial random sample study and in this expert study, cognitive skills were the lowest component of assessment. McBeth said that cognitive skills such as critical thinking skills appeared to be the literacy area in which the most immediate gains could be made.

In both studies combined, McBeth and the research team compared and contrasted the results from more than 10,000 students from 112 different schools, analyzing more than one-half million data points to statistically determine which variables were helping account for the difference in environmental literacy scores they had seen.

The study's results have been compiled and reported in a monograph that will be published and used by educators and policy makers to make curriculum recommendations for environmental education. McBeth has presented this research at the North American Association for Environmental Education.

“While we are still analyzing the data, the most important finding so far is how much positive impact environmental programming can have on environmental literacy when it is sequenced in 6th, 7th and 8th grades,” said McBeth.

Monhardt's response will focus on how the research is helping advance the cause of environmental literacy in the United States. A 30-minute question and answer period will follow Monhardt's response. Refreshments will be served.

Contact: Dr. William McBeth, School of Education, (608) 342-1284, mcbeth@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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