Sunday, September 23, 2012

Measuring your Environmental Education Effort


Measuring your Environmental Education Effort


It may be statistically meaningful to talk about the number of students exposed to Environmental Education, but it is educationally meaningless.

The real unit is NOT the number of students but the total number of contact hours for the total number of students. That is the total number of students multiplied by the number of hours each student has been exposed to this class. This index can help to evaluate the program.


The main objective of this paper is to provide you with a measuring tool regarding exposure to the subject and length of program.

A conscientious Environmental Education Program should include, pre-classes, field trips, data collection, post- classes and the production of a final project report.


One of the most important issues discussed by environmental educators these days is the question of doing short-term vs. long-term programming. Is it really worth our effort doing one-time programs that last only one hour?


Now, and for the last twenty years, I have refused to do “one-shot” deals. By this I mean small programs that last no more that 60 or maybe 90 minute in a classroom or in the field, for no more that 30 students. All my programs are designed to provide students with multiple exposures. I really do not think that the goals and objectives that I pursue in environmental education can be reached in a short time.


In order to explore this question, we need to question ourselves about the goals and objectives of Environmental Education. The EPA states the following in their website:

Environmental education (EE) increases public awareness and knowledge of environmental issues and challenges. Through EE, people gain an understanding of how their individual actions affect the environment, acquire skills that they can use to weigh various sides of issues, and become better equipped to make informed decisions. EE also gives people a deeper understanding of the environment, inspiring them to take personal responsibility for its preservation and restoration. UNESCO/UNEP (1978)

The definition of Environmental Education according to the United Nations Environmental, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1975 states:


 The goal of environmental education is to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones. United Nations Environmental, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1975



Can we accomplish these objectives in one hour? It is possible that our cumulative effort may prove to be successful in carrying out these objectives. It is clear that today’s school children are influenced by a number of inputs and sources (some good and some bad) that may affect their actions in the environmental area. Television for one has done a great job of educating students with a large number of very well produced programs on natural history and exploring environmental issues such as Science Explorer, The Animal Channel and National Geographic. Most textbooks these days have been designed to teach many subjects from an environmental point of view. In addition environmental issues are included in our everyday life in politics, in the newspaper and TV news and in many of our daily discussions. But on the other hand, television news provides less than desirable short bursts of environmental news that lack depth and accuracy in many cases.


In addition to the issues stated above, we also need to explore the realistic economic reasons why most nature centers can only provide student groups with a one or maybe two-hour programs. Schools often could not pay for several programs and afford the bussing required to bring the students to the environmental centers. There is a cost of the program for each child and the cost of substitute teachers and teacher aids.


In December 1996, the National Environmental Education Advisory Council submitted its first report to Congress on environmental education. The report made a number of policy recommendations. One of these recommendations was to develop measuring tools to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental education.


Develop a framework and tools for measuring the effectiveness of environmental education.


Quality environmental education initiatives are well understood to have catalyzed changes in individuals’ environmental knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Assessment is needed to document these outcomes. These outcomes, in turn, point to which programs, products, and services are working – and why.

The long-term goals of environmental education are to raise the level of environmental literacy among Americans today and to ensure the environmental literacy of each successive generation in order to improve environmental and health protection and economic prosperity. Although it is unrealistic to expect any single environmental education program to achieve these long-term goals, it is possible to measure the short-term outcomes of a program (such as skill development, knowledge gains, attitude changes, and the intent to change behavior) as well as the intermediate outcomes (such as actual changes in behavior related to practices, decisions, policies, and social actions).

Evaluation guidelines must be developed and tools must be disseminated to ensure that measurement takes place and is conducted consistently. In this way, outcomes of individual initiatives can be appropriately measured and can contribute to a cumulative body of results that point to the long-term goals of environmental education – environmental literacy and quality of life.

Comprehensive, long-term evaluation should include both quantitative and qualitative assessment strategies to provide an in-depth understanding of the effectiveness of environmental education programs for adults as well as for youth.



Measuring knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors may not be an easy task. Knowledge and skills can be measured by providing the students with a pre and a post- test. Attitudes and behavior are much more difficult to test as these characteristics are a reflex ion of the student’s day-to-day actions.


I have often used pre-tests to assess the knowledge and skills of students. In most cases I am able to assess how much they do not know but that is often a waste of time. Post-test are essential if we want to know how successful we were in our class. On most cases hand-on and task oriented environmental education classes where students produce a product can be interchanged with the pos-test. As a matter of fact, if one works with students on a long-term project, the production of the product will always be much more intensive and a better indicator than any post-test we can give the students.


The quality of our programs is dependent on a number of things. Apart from the quality of the teacher doing the job, which can not be easily measured, there are number of facts that influence each program:


Ø  The number of students in the class.

Ø  The aid provided by the schoolteacher.

Ø  The location where the program is conducted.

Ø  The resources used to teach.

Ø  The ability of providing a hands-on program.

Ø  The children’s behavior.

Ø  The time used to explore the subject or length of the program.

Ø  The pre- and post- class materials used, including tests teaching aids and more.



You can fill an auditorium with one thousand people, stand in front of the microphone and spend the next ten minutes talking about the great importance of a sustainable environment, but you can be sure that a few hours later these people will not even remember who you were or what you were talking about. Only a few exceptional people such as Jane Godley or E. Wilson can in ten minutes make an impression on a thousand.


A regular teacher needs to use a very different approach, one that will provide the students with lesson that will nurture the students’ interest and comprehension of issues, and encourage a sense of ownership and stewardship of the environment.


Here in Connecticut, and for a number of years, we have provided high schools with a water quality program called the SEARCH program. Teachers are trained once, during the summer, to participate in the program. In many cases we have provided teachers with equipment and other resources so that they will be able to complete the program.

Students are introduced to mapping, water chemistry, aquatic entomology, mathematic matrices, and other analytical methods, data analyses, use of computers to write papers and use of spread sheets, and we also provide them with a forum at the end of the year to present their conclusions. Teachers can provide the data to our agency and we also have set up quality control protocols to evaluate the quality of the data. Students enrolled in the program spend more than two weeks working on the project. In some cases, some of the schools complete several field visits, and collect a considerable amount of data.


In January 1999, Dr. Todd W. Rofuth and Dr. Sue Holloway submitted a five year final evaluation report were they found significant behavioral changes in students due to their participation in the SEARCH program.


Several summers ago I completed a new program with the SOUND SCHOOL in Hew Haven, Connecticut. During the two-week program fifteen 9th grade students completed lectures and classes on primary and secondary productivity. They took a boat and collected five sets of samples in the sound at three different locations within the New Haven Harbor and tested the samples for chlorophyll a and a vast array of parameters such as Dissolved Oxygen, nitrates, phosphates, pH and much more. Two Environmental Science college students helped the students in their tasks and completed a similar study at the university, so that we could compare results.


The high school students learned about their town, and evaluated historical changes and the environmental issues of New Haven and its harbor. In addition they became experts in water quality testing and water quality issues. They had a great experience a great time and ended their job with a nice tan.


These days I have been involved with two new programs, Project CLEAR and Project Periphyton. Both programs take the students to the field, provide lectures to the teachers and to the students and the information and data collected by the students is provided to several state and federal agencies.


Educating students is not a fast and easy job. It requires structure, patience, individualized attention and experiential exposure. Nothing that you or anyone can do in a short time!


We can evaluate our programs in total number of contact hours and we can also evaluate the impact of each program to each student in number of contact hours per student.


Here is a sample for three different programs:


# Students
# Hours
Program evaluation (# students * Hours)
Student impact in contact hours.
New Haven
Nature Center Program *
Program with field trip Pre and Post Class **


*This would be the classic school field trip to a nature center.

**This would be the same as the Nature Center Program but with added written pre-    and post-lessons for the teacher to use.


It is our job to provide education to as many students as possible and funders are always interested in extending the value of the dollar invested on each program, but some times we may be wasting our time. We need to concentrate on our goals and objectives and not in our ability to reach a large number of students. Quality is not the quantity of students; it is what the students learn and how that learning affects their approach to life.


The future of the earth and the future of mankind are at stakes here. The importance of quality education should not be a question. Education is not cheap and the thread of such things as “Global Warming” or the disappearance of one species is more expensive.




1975. Definition of Environmental Education.  United Nations Environmental, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) The world's first intergovernmental conference on environmental education was organized by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in cooperation with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and was convened in Tbilisi, Georgia (USSR) from October 14-26, 1977. UNESCO/UNEP 1978. ‘The Tbilisi Declaration’ , Connect, Vol 3, No. 1, pp 1-8.


Hollowway, S., T. W. Rofuth, H. Gruner, and A. Mimo. 1998. Can applied science in environmental monitoring transform science education? The Education Forum. (62)4: 354-362.


Mimo, A. 2000. History and Phylosophy of the SEARCH Program. New England Journal of Environmental Education. v. 13, Number 1. 18 – 27.


Coyle, K. 2005. What Ten Years of NEETF/ Roper Research and Related Studies Say About Environmental Literacy in the U.S. Environmental Literacy in America. The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, Washigton, D.C.