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Imaginative Ecological Education

Originally appears in the Winter 2016 issue

weave |wēv|

  • make (basketwork or a wreath) by interlacing rods or flowers.
  • make (a complex story or pattern) from a number of interconnected elements:
  • (weave something into) include an element in (such as a story or pattern): interpretative comments are woven into the narrative[1]

Imaginative ecological educators are weavers. They weave relationships that connect knowledge, the body, and the natural and cultural contexts. They also weave wonder into the everyday experience of students in schools. Thinking about teaching as weaving can contribute to understanding what is distinctive about Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE), as a pedagogical approach. Imaginative and ecological teaching requires mindfulness in interconnecting students with knowledge and place. Weaving also requires artistry; each cloth is a work of art that reflects the diversity of the context in which it was created. There is a degree of artistry in good teaching that we tend to forget amidst ongoing drives to standardize curricula and universalize the educational experience of students.  Weaving, as metaphor, reminds us of some of the often forgotten dimensions of teaching.

Allow me to briefly introduce IEE, a K-12 imagination-focused approach to ecological education. Like all ecological educators, IEE educators strive to develop students’ sense of participation in human and natural communities and encourage their students to be thoughtful about their impact on the planet. But in IEE, much more pedagogical attention is focused on cultivating students’ emotional and imaginative relationships with knowledge and with place. IEE routinely taps into students’ emotional and imaginative lives.[2] Feeling, Activeness, and Sense of Place are the main principles of engagement in IEE.  Each principle has associated with it learning tools that teachers can use to engage students’ emotional and imaginative lives (see Table 1).

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Gillian Judson is a lecturer at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.  Her 2015 book Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education: Practical Strategies for Teaching was published by UBC Press.  Special thanks to the Press for allowing the re-publication of sections of this article from Gillian’s book.

Interested readers can find planning frameworks and elaboration of detailed examples (for units on Weather and Literacy) in Judson (2015) Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education:  Practical Strategies for Teaching (Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press).  Additional information on IEE and many “teacher tips” are available on the IEE website:  The activities in this practical educators’ guide encourage young people to connect with the natural world and create a more sustainable, ecologically secure planet. It is uniquely designed for use with any curriculum to give students opportunities to engage their bodies, emotions, and imaginations in the world around them.


[1] Apple Dictionary.

[2] Judson, G. (2010).  A New Approach to Ecological Education:  Engaging Students’

Imaginations in Their World.  New York:  Peter Lang; Judson, G. (2015) Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education:  Practical Strategies for Teaching. Vancouver, B.C.:  UBC Press.

[3] Naess, A. (2002). Life’s philosophy: Reason and feeling in a deeper world. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

[4] Ardoin, N. M. (2006). Toward an Interdisciplinary Understanding of Place: Lessons

for Environmental Education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education,

11, 112-126.

[5] Tuan, Y. (1971). Man and nature. Washington: Association of American Geographers,

Commission on College Geography.

[6] Seamon, D., & Mugerauer, R. (Eds.). (2000). Dwelling, Place, and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World. Malabar: Krieger.

[7] Smith, G. (2002). Place-Based Education: Learning to be Where We Are. Phi Delta Kappan, 83, 584-594. Smith, G. (2007).  Place-Based Education:  Breaking Through the Constraining Regularities of Public School.  Environmental Education Research, 13(2), 189-207.

[8] Smith, G. (2013).  Place-Based Education. International Handbook of Research on

Environmental Education, 213; Smith, G., & Sobel, D. (2010). Place- and community-based education in schools.  New York:  Routledge.

[9] Judson, G. (2010). Imagination in Mind:  Educating for Ecological Literacy. Seminar Series Paper 198 (September 2010).  Melbourne: Centre for Strategic Education; Fettes, M. & Judson, G. (2011). Imagination and the Cognitive Tools of Place-Making. Journal of Environmental Education, 42(2), pp. 123-135.

[10] For K-12 examples visit or see Judson, (2010) A New Approach to Ecological Education or (2015) Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education; Practical Strategies For Teaching