Environment Education

with Chris Summerville

The Hunger Site


by David W. Orr

A revolution in education is underway and it is starting in the most unlikely places. The revolutionaries are not professional educators from famous universities, rather they are elementary school students, a growing number of intrepid teachers and a handful of facilitators from widely diverse backgrounds. The goal of the revolution is the re-connection of young people with their own habitats and communities. The classroom is the ecology of the surrounding community, not the confining four walls of the traditional school. The pedagogy of the revolution is simply a process of organized engagement with living systems and the lives of people who live by the grace of those systems.
Perhaps the word "revolution" is not quite the right word, for what is captured in the images that follow is more akin to a homecoming. We all have an affinity for the natural world, what Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls, "biophilia". This tug toward life is strongest at an early age when we are most alert and impressionable. Before their minds have been marinated in the culture of television, consumerism, shopping malls, computers and freeways, children can find magic in trees, water, animals, landscapes, and their own places. Properly cultivated and validated by caring and knowledgeable adults, fascination with nature can mature into ecological literacy and eventually into more and more purposeful lives.
A curriculum that enables young people to discover their own homes as described here is not an add-on to the conventional curriculum. It is rather the core of a transformed education that enables young minds to perceive the extraordinary in what we mostly mistake for the ordinary. There has never been a time when we needed the kind of transformation described here more than at the end of a century of unprecedented violence and at the dawn of the new millennium. We need it, first, to help open young minds to the awareness of forgotten connections between people, places and nature. But we need a transformed curriculum and schools as the start of a larger process of change that might eventually transform our communities and the culture beyond. If this occurs, and I believe that it will, it will begin with small everyday things: freshwater shrimp, the trees along the banks of streams, the lives of ordinary people, the stories we tell and the excitement of children.
D.H. Lawrence once said that "Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing that makes it water and nobody knows what it is." It is magic, the kind that can only be found in nature, life, and human possibilities once we are open to them. What is captured in the images that follow is the kind of education that takes young people out of the classroom to encounter the mystery of the third thing. In that encounter they discover what Rachel Carson once called the "sense of wonder." And that is the start of a real education.

David W. Orr is a professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College and author of Ecological Literacy and Earth in Mind.


(All of the contents of this page are the original works of the author unless marked with *)

Seven Key Points of Environmental Education

'How Green Are You'? : An Interactive Quiz

3.  This section introduces a number of interactive internet-based quizzes and calculators that allow us to discover both our level of awareness about a variety of environmental topics and how our lifestyle is connected to and impacting these issues. They are a fun and personal way of introducing quite complex environmental issues to students of all ages in a non-threatening or authoritative way that allows them to reflect on their daily lives and to discover more about what choices they can make to affect positive change. Please note that some calculators are country specific of are more detailed than others so it is advisable to look through the various choices and select the one that best fits your area, students and purpose. Do remember that there is a lot to be learned from the questions themselves as they often address the impacts of daily activities that many of us rarely if ever think about.
    * i.
Interactive Ecosystem Quiz

    * ii. Ecological Footprint Quiz (a)   Global Footprint Calculator (b) (USA and Australia only)
    * iii. Carbon Footprint Calculator (a. The Nature Conservancy: Based on U.S. statistics)  
            Carbon Footprint Calculator  (b. Berekely Institute of the Environment: U.S. inhabitants only) 

    * iv.
Carbon and Lifestyle Calculator (Earthlab:Worldwide)    National Geographic Personal 'Greendex' Indicator

    * v.  Water Footprint Calculator (a. H2o Conserve: U.S. only) b. Water Calculator (BBC)  c. Water Footprint Network

    * vi. As part of National Geographic's 'Green Guide' section, this 'Quiz' page introduces over 20 short interactive quizzes on a range of issues connected to our daily lifestyles such as food, the way we travel, our entertainment, how we spend our summers, salad, plastic, our homes and our eco-anxiety levels, to name just a few!

Green School Activities:

Student-led Campus Eco-Tour
Greening your School Shop  (Eco-Ads & Eco-Products)

Campus Climate Change Challenge
Organic Gardening Workshop and Tour

A year of EE Activities at a Residential School in Maharashtra, India (2007-2008)  

a. Eco- School Board   b. Dining Room Board   c. School Assembly Presentations   d. Guest

Speakers   e.Environmental Education Development   f. Campus-based Environmental

Initiatives   g. Eco-Trips   h. Other   

Students' Comments

6.  Films and On-line Videos for Teaching Social Issues

Free Range Studios <www.freerangestudios.com> uses clever parodies of familiar movie themes (eg Star Wars and The Da Vinci Code) to create short videos on the environment, health and other social issues. Listed here are sample videos on fast food, bio-diversity and toxic plastics. For educators, these provide a more entertaining way to inform (young) people than lecturing. Enjoy and share!

The Good Life  (2008)   3 minutes 
Watch New York Times author Mark Albion's 3-minute animated movie based on his book, More Than Money. The Good Life shows a chance meeting between an MBA and a fisherman. As the MBA tries to teach the fisherman about business, the fisherman teaches him about life.

Grocery Store Wars  (2006)   5 minutes
<www.storewars.org>  or <www.youtube.com>
Store Wars is a great 5-minute movie about a group of organic vegetables, Cuke Skywalker, Ham Solo, Chewbroccoli and Obi Wan Cannoli, battling Darth Tader, evil lord of The Farm. Can these rebels rescue Princess Lettuce and destroy the Death Melon? Or will Cuke be seduced by the Dark Side ... an empire of pollution that has taken over the market with its arsenal of genetic engineering, irradiation and toxic chemicals?

The Meatrix  (2003)   4 minutes
<www.themeatrix.com>  or <www.youtube.com>
The Meatrix is an on-line animation that spoofs The Matrix while educating viewers about factory farming, meat production and dairy supplies. It uses pop culture to explain the food we eat and where it comes from. The film features 3 super hero animals: Leo, the pig who wonders if he is the one, Chickity, the family farm defender and Moopheus, the trench-coat-clad-cow.

The Bio Daversity Code  (2007)   6 minutes
<www.daversitycode.com>  or <youtube.com>
Who killed the polar bear? It is up to Sophie Minnow and Robert Penguin to solve the crime. It turns out the decline of biodiversity is killing us all. Climate change, development and humans are conspiring to destroy the web of life. The (Bio) DaVersity Code parodies The Da Vinci Code to show how our health depends on biodiversity.
The Story of Stuff  (2007)   20 minutes
<www.storyofstuff.com>  or <youtube.com>
Through its extraction, sale, use and disposal, the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption. It exposes the links between environmental and social issues, and calls us to create a more just and sustainable world. It'll teach you, make you laugh, and may change the way you look at stuff in your life forever.

The Future of Food  (2004)  88 minutes
<www.thefutureoffood.com>  or <youtube.com>
The Future of Food offers an in-depth investiga-tion into the truth behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly filled stores for the past decade. Shot on location in the US, Canada and Mexico, it examines the complex web of market forces that are changing what we eat as multinationals seek to control the world's food system. The film proposes sustainable agriculture as the real solution to the crisis. 

The Power Shift  (2004)  26 minutes
<www.powershiftnow.org>  or <amazon.com>
With engaging stories and inspiring visuals, this award-winning film, narrated by Cameron Diaz, explores the potential for clean, renewable energy. It travels the world to illustrate the links among such issues as solar energy, energy efficiency, green buildings, and global climate change. It also offers specific steps that viewers can take in their own lives to create a sustainable future.

Kilowatt Ours  (2005)  35 minutes
<www.kilowattours.org>  or Wikipedia / Youtube
This inspiring film explores the source of our electricity and problems caused by energy production. It introduces individuals, businesses, groups and communities leading the way, using energy conservation, efficiency and renewable power while saving money and the environment.

Sam Suds & the Poison Plastic  (2006)   4 mins 
<www.pvcfree.org>   or  <www.youtube.com> 
Sam Suds, PI (Poisons Investigator) is a hard-boiled bar of soap who protects households from dangerous toxins. Word around the bathroom was that he was all washed up. Until she floated in... Enjoy this film noir parody about poison plastics.
Backwards Hamburger  (2006)   6 minutes
<www.backwardshamburger.com>  or <youtube>
Think you know what's in your burger? Think again! Take a backwards look at how your fast food is processed to find out how that hamburger was made. This film provides an animated look at some of the more disturbing facts and figures surrounding the fast food industry. A comedy that examines the health risks involved in fast food and its environmental and social consequences.

A One Planet Life  (2007)   1 minute
<youtube>  or  <www.Care2.com/oneplanet/> 
If everyone on Earth consumed as much as North Americans, it would take 5 planets to sustain our high-waste, high-polluting habits. A One Planet Life is a 1-minute video that raises awareness of our environmental impact and encourages action so that each of us can make a difference.
The Mouth Revolution  (2006)  5 minutes
Mouths of the world unite! The Mouth Revolution is a 5-minute parody that informs viewers about the importance of eating real, organic food. Narrated by mouths who decide themselves what to eat, the film unveils their "Mouthifesto" that details their demands: No Trans Fats, No GMOs, No Pesticides, No Artificial Ingredients.

A Turkish friend in Istanbul spent a year organizing a Sustainable Living Film Festival. Check out the films that were shown there at:
Sustainable Living Film Festival Website

 Here are some GREAT links sent to me by the students of Deanna Ryan's Science class at La Vida Charter School in the Green Mountains of Vermont, USA. A BIG THANK YOU to the students for their hard work on such an important issue!

Greening Schools - http://istc013.istc.illinois.edu/
Story of Bottled Water (A favorite of my students) - http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-bottled-water/
Environmentally Friendly Cars - http://www.cheapcarinsurance.net/the-environmentally-friendly-car/

Plastics Recycling Guide - http://www.connecticutplastics.com/resources/connecticut-plastics-learning-center/plastics-recycling-guide/