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Environmental Literacy: A Vital Topic in the Modern K-12 Classroom

“Preparing our students to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do. It is for our children, and our children’s children, and generations yet to come.”

—U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, September 2010

 For teachers seeking to find a specialization in their Master’s of Education course curriculum, one subject area has acquired as much classroom relevance as social studies, civics, and U.S. History. That subject is the environment.

The Environment and America’s Youth

Recent studies pinpoint a growing disconnect between America’s youth and the outdoor environment around them. Specifically, the time spent in front of TV’s, computer screens, and cell phones keeps children from interacting with nature. This modern detachment from basic environmental sensitivity can hinder or even prevent the development of a vital appreciation for the natural world. As author Richard Louv points out in his popular book, Last Child in the Woods, “If [children] don’t care about nature now, they won’t preserve national parks, wilderness or farmland tomorrow.”

Environmental Education Online

The E-Learner seeking to obtain on online master’s degree in environmental education can make a significant impact on improving environmental literacy among students. The term “environmental literacy” has become something of a catch-phrase in educational circles and evolved from ideas promulgated in David W. Orr’s seminal book, Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. Over time, environmental literacy has become a core component of National Environmental Education Standards, National Science Education Standards, and the Common Core State Standards. The term has now become an umbrella for curricula and activities that promote the knowledge required to identify, quantify, and ultimately solve environmental problems, and to embrace these concerns in everyday living.

 After successfully completing an online master’s degree program, a teacher trained in environmental literacy can motivate interested students to improve their skill sets in math, science, reading, and social studies. This fundamental knowledge is essential to enter advanced college programs or create sustainable enterprises in such areas as renewable energy, recycling, and waste management.

A Graduate Degree in Environmental Education

Ultimately, master’s degree graduates who stress environmental literacy in their classrooms can expect their students to:

  • Comprehend basic scientific principles, processes, and forces that shape the surface of our planet;
  • Understand Earth’s geophysical characteristics and the spatial distribution of ecosystems;
  • Understand characteristics of human populations as they’ve migrated across the planet;
  • Understand the dynamics and patterns of human settlement;
  • Understand how human actions modify the physical environment; e.g., disposal of waste products;
  • Understand how physical systems affect human systems;
  • Understand the changes that occur in the perception, allocation, and management of resources;
  • Understand the interconnectedness between economic, ecological and social/cultural needs in sustainable systems.

 With a master’s degree in education, the modern teacher can foster in students an understanding of how humans interact with the environment; the importance of sustainability for environmentally sound practices; and instill a sense of stewardship for both global and local ecosystems.

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