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Teaching Green: The High School Years Introduction


By Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn

Since 1991, we have had the pleasure of working with a great many inspired educators who have shared their innovative environmental education programs, strategies, and activities in the pages of Green Teacher magazine. This book is a selection of some of the best of those “green” teaching ideas for educators who work with young people of high school age. Virtually all of the 55 contributors have revised and updated their articles based on the comments and suggestions of reviewers. The result is a wide variety of up-to-date activities and teaching strategies designed to engage adolescents in learning the fundamentals of environmental citizenship in the 21st century. Some are strategies for helping young people learn about local ecosystems and what is needed to protect them. Others explore what lifestyle changes may be required if we are lessen our environmental impact and live more sustainably on the planet. Still others help students recognize global disparities in resource use and their own connections with other people and other species. Perhaps most important, many of the activities provide opportunities for young people to develop and reflect on their values and to consider how they might take an active role in solving environmental problems, both locally and globally.

But what exactly does it mean to “teach green”? While definitions and frameworks abound among environmental, global, and outdoor educators, most agree on a few fundamental principles:

Students should have opportunities to develop a personal connection with nature. We protect what we care about, and we care about what we know well. If students are encouraged to explore the natural world — to learn about local plants and animals, to observe and anticipate seasonal patterns, to get their feet wet in local rivers — they are more likely to develop a lifelong love of nature that will translate into a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship.

Education should emphasize our connections with other people and other species, and between human activities and planetary systems. If young people understand our global interdependence and common reliance on having a healthy environment, they are more likely to take steps to reduce global inequalities, preserve biodiversity, and work together to find ways of lessening our impact on the Earth’s life support systems.

Education should help students move from awareness to knowledge to action. Awareness of environmental issues does not necessarily lead to action. When students have opportunities to act on environmental problems, they begin to understand the complexity of those problems, to learn the critical thinking and negotiating skills needed to solve them, and to develop the practical competence that democratic societies require of their citizens.

Learning should extend into the community. Community partnerships and service learning projects provide authentic “real-world” reference points for classroom studies and help students develop a sense of place and identity while learning the values and skills of responsible citizenship.

Learning should be “hands-on.” The benefits of hands-on learning are widely acknowledged among educators, and during the past 20 years brain research has underscored its importance. Learning is a function of experience and the best education is one that is sensory-rich, emotionally engaging, and linked to the real world.

Education should be future-oriented. History helps us to understand the present, but to solve environmental problems we also need to think about the future. As British educator David Hicks has said, “The future is that part of history that we can change.” Students should have opportunities to explore alternatives to our current paths of development, to envision the kind of world they would like to live in, and to think realistically about what is needed to achieve it.

Education should include media literacy. With constant exposure to mass media, our mental environments can become just as polluted as the natural environment. Media studies can help students learn to distinguish between fact and fiction in advertising, to recognize racial and gender stereotypes and to consider the difference between needs and wants.

Education should include traditional knowledge. It is important that young people become aware that our dominant scientific, social, and economic models represent a worldview that is not held by everyone. Native elders can share aboriginal perspectives on nature and ecology, exposing students to a worldview that recognizes the intrinsic value and interdependence of all living things. Further, the stories of grandparents and other elders in our communities can help young people realize that the consumer society is a very recent development and that many people in the past enjoyed satisfying lives with fewer material possessions and less strain on the Earth’s resources.

Teachers should be facilitators and co-learners. An educator’s role is to facilitate inquiry and provide opportunities for learning, not to provide the “answers.” Teachers do not need to be experts to teach about the environment. The natural world is an open book for endless discovery by all. As co-learners alongside their students, teachers both model and share in the joy of learning.

Education should integrate subject disciplines. The division of high school education into separate subjects reflects the Western philosophical tradition of dissecting knowledge into discrete branches and is maintained in large part to meet the entrance requirements of colleges and universities. The emergence of global environmental problems exposes the weaknesses of this subject-based learning. Environmental issues are complex, and addressing them requires holistic perspectives and knowledge and skills from all disciplines. Students need to be able to grasp the “big picture” of environmental problems if they are to find ways to affect change. Integrated learning programs in which students apply expertise from all of their subjects, often through field studies and community projects on issues of importance, offer one way to help students develop that big-picture understanding and provide opportunities for authentic learning.

Whether you are just beginning or are an old hand at environmental education, we hope you will find many ideas in this book to help you to enrich your teaching. The Table of Contents indicates the subject areas with which each article is most closely aligned; and on the first page of each article is a handy summary that indicates the subject connections, key concepts, skills to be developed and, if appropriate, the time and materials needed to carry out activities. With more than 50 individual contributors, the book presents a diverse mix of approaches and styles and a wide spectrum of environmental topics. It only tangentially addresses climate change, a topic now central to many education programs. In response to the anticipated impact of climate change in the coming decades, we have published a separate book, Teaching About Climate Change (2001), which is a collection of some of the best articles and activities on the topic from Green Teacher magazine.

The environmental and social problems bedeviling humankind will not be solved by the same kind of education that helped create these problems. It is our hope that this book — and the companion books for the elementary and middle school levels — will inspire educators to take a leading role in helping the next generation to develop the knowledge, skills, and values that will enable them to enjoy and share the Earth’s bounty while living within its means.

What reviewers are saying:

“Teaching Green: The High School Years is a treasure trove for environmental educators who want to engage teens in developing skjills and abilities to understand and constructively address today’s complex issues.”
— Karen Hollweg, 2008 President of the North American Association for Environmental Education, Boulder, Colorado

“For those teaching in schools or non-formal settings, this jam-packed book is filled with practical innovative activities and ideas. I highly recommend it.”
— Constance Russell, Co-Editor, Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, and Professor, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University

“For those willing to engage students directly in authentic learning experiences, Teaching Green: The High School Years is the most stimulting, useful book that I have seen in the past 50 years.”
— William “Bill” Hammond, Professor Emeritus, Florida Gulf Coast University

Table of Contents



The subject codes shown in brackets are as follows:
A = Art; All = cross-curricular; B = Business Studies; H = Home Economics; L = Language Arts; M = Math; O = Outdoor Education; S = Science; SS = Social Studies; T = Technology

Approaches to Learning

Teaching for the Future: Systems Thinking and Sustainability by John Goekler (L, S, SS)
From Learners to Leaders: Using Creative Problem Solving in Environmental Projects by David Bauer, David Hetherly and Susan Keller-Mathers (S)
Teaching Controversial Issues by Pat Clarke (L, SS)
Integrated Studies in Systems by Pam Russell (L, S, SS)
Tamarack: Responsibility, Community and Authenticity by Bill Patterson (L, O, S, SS)
The Small School: Human-scale Education by Satish Kumar (All)
Environmental Industries Co-op Education by John Perry (L, M, S)
Education for Sustainability: An Ecological Approach by Marc Companion (All)

Learning about Ecosystems

Discovering Lake Management by Matthew R. Opdyke (S)
The Tantramar Wetlands Centre Project by Chris Porter (A, S, T)
Using Epiphytic Lichens as Bio-indicators of Air Pollution by Andrew Kett, Sonia Dong, Heather Andrachuk and Brian Craig (A, M, S, SS)
Carbon Cycle: Measuring CO2 Flux from Soil by Robert Lessard, L. Dennis Gignac and Philippe Rochette (M, S)
Tank Tips: A Freshwater Aquarium in the Classroom by Rebecca Holcombe (L, M, S, SS)
Nitrogen Pollution: Too Much of a Good Thing by David A. Bainbridge (M, S, SS)
Living Systems in the Classroom by Mark Keffer (S)
RiverWatch: Science on the River by Cal Kullman (S)

Living Sustainably

Eco-economics in the Classroom by Susan Santone (B, SS)
Measuring Your School’s Ecological Footprint by Julie Sawchuk and Tim Cameron (S, SS, M)
Choosing Our Future by Jan Cincera (S, SS)
Linking Trade, Human Rights and the Environment by Tricia Jane Edgar (B, SS)
Planet Transit Game: Profit or Survival? by Georgi Marshall (B, SS)
Global Morning: A Consumer Awareness Activity by Mary Gale Smith (B, H, SS, L)
The Debate about Hemp: A Role Play by Sara Francis (SS)
Teaching About Biodiesel by Richard Lawrence (S, T)
Making Biodiesel from Waste Vegetable Oil by Alison K. Varty and Shane C. Lishawa (S)
Small-scale Science by Alan Slate (S)
Green Driving Lessons: Oxymoron or Opportunity? by Tim Altieri (M, SS)

Making Interdisciplinary Connections

Green Mapmaking by Robert Zuber and Wendy E. Brawer (L, S, SS, T)
Connecting Students with Special Needs to the Environment by Lynn Dominguez and Mary Lou Schilling (O, S)
Exploring the Earth Charter by Linda Hill (SS)
Walking into Wonder: Observation Walks by Cynthia Macleod (A, L, S)
Building Green by Jennifer Wolf (T)
Ancestral Arts by Elizabeth Lorentzen (A, S, SS)
GIS in the Classroom by Marsha Alibrandi (S, SS, T)
Voices of the Land: A Course in Environmental Literature by Emma Wood Rous (L)
Social Justice and Language Arts by Christopher Greenslate (L)
Designing a Green City by Iori Miller and Susan Sheard (L, S, SS)

Exemplary Models and Programs

Global Field Trip by Rosemary Ganley (SS)
Tips for Successful Overseas Projects by Alana Robb (SS)
The Earth Community School by Frans C. Verhagen (All)
Soy-powered Learning by Gail Littlejohn (S, T)
The Steveston Fish Hatchery by Bob Carkner and Barry Barnes (S)
The Living Machine at Darrow School by Lisa Riker (S, T)

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