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Key Terms in Environmental Fields: Establishing a Foundation

Originally appears in the Winter 2009-2010 issue

Terminology commonly confuses students when they are first introduced to new topics. Environmental science is no exception. Compounding this problem are the many misconceptions created by some in our society about the radical and left tendencies associated with the environmental fields. Given this backdrop, it is important to begin a high school or introductory college level class that has an environmental focus with a lesson that helps students clarify misconceptions associated with the key terms that stand as a foundation for the class content. The following activity engages, identifies and clarifies students’ understanding of the basic definitions of the main fields in the environmental disciplines.

Activity 1: Exploring Key Terms

Key terms: Science, Ecology, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Environmental Education.


In this activity, the five key terms listed above are introduced one at a time. As students progress through the list, from science to environmental education, they work cooperatively in groups to construct a shared understanding of each term. The sequence of the terms provides two curriculum structures for the class and students. First, defining the terms in this order provides a historical perspective regarding the evolution of the disciplines one from each other. Second, this order of terms provides a sequence of topics the teacher can follow to guide their course of study.

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Fletcher Brown is Associate Professor of Environmental Education and Science Education at the University of Montana in Missoula.