This paper is an outline for an environmental education program that would be taught to sixth grade students as their science course for the year. It would be designed as an inclusive, student-centered learning program and be mostly an in-classroom program, with eight-ten educational trips to an environmental learning center throughout the year to reinforce what is being taught in the program. The main goals of the program would be to educate the students about their local environment and also encourage students who do not already use environmentally friendly practices in their homes to help their families to make the changes needed to do so.
In this program, there are five factors that will be studied. These factors will be integrated throughout the course of the year, as they cannot truly be separated, but when appropriate, one area at a time will receive a concentrated effort from the others as a specialized topic. The five factors of focus for this course are pro-environmental behavior, personal and planetary well-being, sustainable behavior, conspicuous conservation, and environmental attitude. After these five factors have been taught, it is the goal of the program that it will be the intrinsic nature of the students to use environmentally friendly practices when at home and in the community.
Practicing pro-environmental behavior is a natural instinct for many families; it is just their way of life. In other households, there is no attempt made, one person’s changes do not matter. In this sense, pro-environmental behavior is altruism is practiced. Forty years ago, children did not know what it meant to recycle. There were many adults who did not understand the concept or word either. Within a generation, children’s programming had segments about recycling helping to protect the environment, skits, and songs to encourage children to participate in this simple practice.
In the mid-1970s, Earth Day was established in the United States to call attention to the need for attitudes to change about the environment. Pollution was beginning to become evident to the common person. The amount of trash that people were throwing out on a weekly basis was growing, and environmental groups were forming to call attention to the harm that humans were doing to their home, the planet Earth. Some people were easy to convince that changes needed to be made. Most people did not want to change the habits that they had developed.
Environmentalists soon realized that it was children who were the easiest to convince to make changes in how they affected the environment. Many schools were willing to take positive steps and set up paper recycling buckets to encourage the practice of being environmentally friendly. Schools, scouts, and other children’s groups commonly were holding newspaper collection drives in the late 1970s and early 1980s when paper companies were willing to pay money for used paper as they began to use this resource to make new paper. About a decade later, it had become a common practice in many areas in the country to have curbside paper recycling since it was an easy way to make an impact. Often times, it was children who influenced a family’s decision to initially participate in these programs since the children had learned about recycling in school.
Jacob, Jovic, & Brinkerhoff, (2009) explain how a small effort, such as beginning a recycling program, is a fundamental step to help get people on board to the concept of creating an environmentally friendly community. The eventual goal is to draw participation from community members so that the behavior becomes routine and that participation becomes second nature. If this is the case, participation in each household that incorporates as a part of their routine will be at almost 100%. By having 6th grade students participate in an educational program aimed at creating households that practice recycling, at least this segment of the population, the one’s with 6th graders, will be added to the population participating, each year.
This aspect of altruism is important to me because I practice environmentally sound practices instinctively. I know many people who do not bother. These people do not believe that the actions of one person matter. I never say or do anything to try and influence or change their behaviors. I realize that I should discuss how every time a person keeps something out of a landfill, the rest of the people on Earth benefit, albeit in a small way. Each small victory slowly gets incorporated into a giant win for all people, globally.
Personal and planetary well-being and responsibility are both characteristics that would be incorporated into the 6th grade educational program. Personal responsibility is the individuals need to take action and protect his or her environment through positive actions. The focus of the personal responsibility would be the focus of converting their households into ones that do recycle if they do not do so already. If their households do recycle, it should still be emphasized that it is important that the students are compliant at all times with the program so that these students are not negatively influenced by their peers if their peers choose not to participate in recycling for the good of the environment. Personal responsibility was discussed in the article by Chawla (1999).
The planetary well-being and responsibility of the program would focus on the compounding effect of each household doing its share to contribute to the overall good of society as well as some focus on industry following safe environmental practices. Planetary well-being is the individual promoting positive environmental behavior and practices to promote behaviors to save the Earth. This point is discussed in the article by Schultz (2000). Schultz discusses the egotistical response, in which resources are depleted; the socially altruistic individual, which views the overall effects of environmental damage and benefits; which is how I classify myself; and the person who has concerns for the biosphere, or the animals.
Another aspect of the educational program is teaching sustainable behavior. Sustainable behavior is using the knowledge of environmentally positive programs consistently so that there application does make a difference. In an article by McKenzie-Mohr (2000), it is noted that there has been little research done regarding psychological expertise in changing peoples’ behaviors, especially about sustainable behaviors. There are environmental psychologists and they should work with people who plan environmental protection programs to help people realize their importance to increase the likelihood that people will participate in the programs.
In the 6th grade program, the buy-in is simpler. Students are more willing to make changes than adults, especially if their peers are making the same changes. The challenges for these students would be convincing their families to make the changes. In order to do this, students would be encouraged to talk about the environment at home often, daily if possible, until their families were willing to at least test the program. If neighbors are already recycling, families might be more willing to try the program in their own homes as well.
For me, the sustainable behavior is easy. I have always practiced recycling and will continue to do so. I am now noticing more packaging that says items, such as paper towels or napkins, are made with recycled materials, and I am making this change too. I am trying to use cloth napkins instead of paper, sponges instead of paper towels, refillable filtered water bottles instead of plastic, disposable ones, and other small changes on a daily basis. These seemingly insignificant changes add up over time.
Conspicuous conservationism might help to win over some 6th grade students and their families’ as well. Some people might recycle just so others notice that they are doing something to help protect the environment. Peer pressure for the students is common for this age group. Social pressure to fit in to being a part of solutions for social problems is also important for families. As far as this educational program is concerned, is conspicuous conservationism is the initial draw to take action to better the environment, that is fine. The end goal, hopefully, is that it becomes a way of life, an intrinsic action, a part of the routine that remains with each of the family members. As stated in the article by Griskevicius, Tybur, & Van den Bergh, (2010), using green products can be a sign of status, an indicator that one will spend more to use recycled goods. That being said, if it becomes a habit, than it is working for the family. For myself, I am making the change to better myself as a person and lessen my carbon footprint on the planet.
Since 6th graders are focused on fairness, that will also be a key part of this program. The environment benefits everyone, is shared by everyone, and harming it harms everyone. If one chooses to act in a way that damages the environment, one is choosing a negative environmental attitude, which is disadvantageous to everyone else. Kaiser, Wolfing, & Fuhrer (1999) discuss how we are all affected as natural resources are consumed, the greenhouse effect continues to harm the planet, the ozone is depleted, and we should all be taking actions to help reverse these damages. Why should only some people make changes while everyone benefits? Why should some people not change and harm everyone else? For myself, I am a firm believer in this principle. I feel that I must do my part, and I feel that others should be doing their part as well, That is why, as I stated earlier, I am going to start speaking up when people I know are being wasteful and practicing behaviors that have no regard for the planet, its resources, or the environment. This educational program would involve trips to the environmental center so students could see the impacts of a created landfill and a composting pile and experiment with its uses.
Chawla, L. (1999). Life Paths Into Effective Environmental Action. Journal Of Environmental Education, 31(1), 15.
Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., & Van den Bergh, B. (2010). Going green to be seen: Status, reputation, and conspicuous conservation. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology,
98(3), 392-404. doi:10.1037/a0017346
Jacob, J., Jovic, E., & Brinkerhoff, M. B. (2009). Personal and Planetary Well-Being:
Mindfulness Meditation, Pro-Environmental Behavior and Personal Quality of Life in a Survey from the Social Justice and Ecological Sustainability Movement. Social
Indicators Research, (2), 275. doi:10.2307/27734932
Kaiser, F. G., Ranney, M., Hartig, T., & Bowler, P. A. (1999). Ecological behavior, environmental attitude, and feelings of responsibility for the environment. European
Psychologist, 4(2), 59-74. doi:10.1027//1016-9040.4.2.59
McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2000). Promoting sustainable behavior: An introduction to community- based social marketing. Journal Of Social Issues, 56(3), 543-554. doi:10.1111/0022-
Schultz, P. W. (2000). Empathizing with Nature: The Effects of Perspective Taking on Concern for Environmental Issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 391-406.