Primary-And Secondary-School Environmental Health Science Education and the Education Crisis: A Survey of Science Teachers in Ohio

By Morrone, Michele | Journal of Environmental Health, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Primary-And Secondary-School Environmental Health Science Education and the Education Crisis: A Survey of Science Teachers in Ohio


Morrone, Michele, Journal of Environmental Health


Abstract

There is a science education crisis in the United States, with I studies showing that US. high school graduates are not as well-versed in science as graduates in other countries. Studies also suggest that students are better learners when the environment is used as an integrating theme. Therefore, the time is right to discuss opportunities for integrating environmental health science into kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) curriculum. The research presented here takes a step toward developing the use of environmental health science as a multidisciplinary theme in the K-12 curriculum. Almost 500 K-12 science teachers in Ohio were surveyed for their opinions about the science education crisis and the role of environmental health science in their current courses of instruction. These teachers had been identified as having an interest in environmental education because of their participation in the Environmental Education Council of Ohio. Nevertheless, the results of the survey suggest that these environmentally oriented science teachers are currently not aware of existing environmental health science learning opportunities, Environmental health practitioners have work to do to educate science teachers about the field and about the ways in which studying environmental health science could alleviate the science education crisis.

Introduction

The State Education and Environment Roundtable (SEER) is a consortium of 12 states that have come together to improve primary- and secondary-school (K-12) science education by integrating the environment into the curriculum. One of SEER's efforts was to survey schools across the country to evaluate if students who learn science, mathematics, and other subjects with an environmental theme are better learners than those who do not. The survey found that using the environment as an integrating theme "significantly improves student performance in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, and enriches the overall school experience" (Lieberman & Hoody, 1998). The environment and environmental issues offer opportunities to promote hands-on learning, critical thinking, and other skills that lead to lifelong learning. Environmental health science (EHS) also can improve science education outcomes and address what many consider to be a crisis in science education.

Although there is still much discussion over the definition of environmental education, there is general agreement that good environmental-education programs should foster knowledge about the environment and the skills to act on that knowledge. The combination of knowledge and action is a component of environmental literacy as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) in its 1996 Report Assessing Environmental Education in the United States and the Implementation of the National Environmental Education Act of 1990 (U.S. EPA, 1996). That report presented a hierarchical approach to environmental literacy and education encompassing four goal levels: 1) knowledge about ecological concepts, 2) conceptual awareness of how behavior affects the environment, 3) knowledge and skills for issue investigation and evaluation, and 4) environmental-action skills.

Where does environmental health science fit into the education curriculum? Is environmental health science education synonymous with environmental education? Or does environmental health science belong in the science curriculum? Is it possible that environmental health science education resources could fulfill curriculum requirements in an array of disciplines, including environmental education, science, health, and civics? If so, arguments for enhancing environmental health science education efforts in K-12 schools can be framed within the debate about the efficacy of proficiency testing.

Environmental health involves understanding how the environment affects human health and how humans affect the environment. …

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