by Lizoon Nahar
One of the emerging needs in the educational landscape is to create environmental awareness among young students. Many students worldwide complete their high school education without sufficient understanding of environmental degradation, climate crises, and sustainable practices. It is crucial to equip them with the knowledge and skills to address current environmental challenges, which is where environmental education plays a vital role. However, providing effective environmental education at the K-12 level presents challenges, as it requires teachers with multidisciplinary expertise and strong school support. In addition, there is a scarcity of educational resources that can effectively engage high school students in local and global environmental issues.
To address these challenges, we initiated the project “Know Nature: Local to Global” in March 2023. The objective of the project is to develop curriculum materials and lesson templates for high school environmental projects. The project aims to involve 15 high school teachers and 150 students from the United States, India, and Bangladesh in activities related to local environmental issues. Through their participation, these students will gain an understanding of the environmental problems in their own communities and develop an awareness of global environmental issues.
We followed the project outline: “initiation, execution, and closure” as the three primary phases that make up the project. The initiation phase begins with a teachers’ training and sharing sessions. The project coordination team, participating teachers, and speakers joined virtual sessions using a Zoom platform. In the beginning, the participating teachers learned about the goal and objectives of the project, the main project outline, and the framework for the environmental project curriculum. They also learned about the practices and policies of environmental education guided by the United Nations to develop a sustainable world. The training session also showed teachers how to use iNaturalist, Google Lens, Google Maps, and other tech-based applications for environmental projects. Additionally, they learned from other Fulbright environmental educators’ first-hand experiences through the training session. The project website provided project guidelines, training materials, and other project resources for teachers and students.
We planned to conduct the execution phase in two sub-phases. The first sub-phase is the learning phase. In this phase, all teacher and student teams were asked to identify a local environmental problem and design an activity to conduct an investigation suitable for high school students. At the beginning of the learning phase, teachers took the necessary actions for student selection and team formation in April 2023. For designing environmental project activities, teachers invited students to inquire about regional environmental issues from local newspapers, television reports, and internet searches. They also engage students in brainstorming to finalize the project activities they chose to carry out in their locality.
In Indiana, Pennsylvania, two schools, Seeds of Faith Cristian Academy and Homer Center Jr. Junior High School, participated in this project. Both schools decided to install security cameras to observe the visit of birds to the bird feeders they placed on their school campuses. Six teams from these two schools investigated the effect of different environmental factors, namely noise vs. quiet places, the presence vs. absence of human activities, and places rich in vegetation vs. man-made structures, on the bird population of their school campuses.
In Bangladesh, a group of teachers and students from Robersonganj High School and College in Rangpur conducted three field trips to investigate three local environmental concerns. The initial team focused on examining the green initiatives implemented by a nearby eco-friendly industry named “Karupannay,” located close to their school campus. Their investigation centered on exploring the strategies employed by Karupannay to minimize electricity usage, reduce local waste generation, and promote environmental awareness among the local community.
The second team collected data on rooftop gardening in Rangpur City, a new strategy to make the city green to reduce stress on the environment due to the urbanization process. The third team investigated the status of river fish in Rangpur’s local fish markets. They interviewed local fishermen, fish salesmen, and government officials and collected data on available river fish species from fish markets in their locality.
Indian students and teachers chose to work on diverse environmental concepts. The Garden High School teams conducted a bird survey using the transect method on their school campus. Their investigations made students curious about why some birds are becoming endangered on their campus. They are currently working on re-visiting school policies to take necessary actions to increase bird species diversity on the school campus. A team from Kendriya Vidyalaya, №1 Isapur, Kolkata, West Bengal, India, conducted a plant biodiversity survey on campus. Another team visited a local wetland and conducted a survey of plant and animal biodiversity. Their investigation highlighted the fact that the construction of a local highway caused environmental degradation along with harm to the local flora and fauna.
The project coordination team collected all the reports produced by the participating teams during the learning phase. These reports were translated into Bangla and Hindi and made available on the project’s website, allowing teachers and students to read and learn about the work done by other teams. This initiative aims to provide students with a broader perspective on environmental issues, enabling them to gain insights from global experiences. Furthermore, efforts are underway to compile these reports and publish them as a school magazine, reaching a wider audience. This will help disseminate the knowledge and findings to a larger community beyond the project participants.
The participating schools have now commenced the second subphase of the execution phase, known as the mastery phase. This phase focuses on developing scientific research skills, enabling students to conduct investigations, collect data, and create reports. The objective is to empower students to make informed decisions and take practical actions to protect the environment at the local level, emphasizing sustainability. As we approach the closure of the program in August 2023, we are eagerly anticipating the growth and empowerment of both teachers and students throughout this mastery phase.
For more information, please visit the project website here: https://knownaturelocal2global.weebly.com/
Lizoon Nahar is an alumna of the 2018 International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP) and participated in the April 2022 Alumni TIES seminar on Environmental Diplomacy and its Impact on American Society in Denver, Colorado.
Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).