CELEBRATE! profile: Amber Adams-Kuebler
An elementary education major explores the potential barriers to integrating environmental education into the curriculum at an Educating Children Outdoors campus.
CELEBRATE! Week offers an annual opportunity to highlight the academic and artisitic achievements of Elon students and faculty. Each day this week, we'll be putting the spotlight on a student scholar's research — what they are seeking to find out, and how they became interested in their project.
Name: Amber K. Adams-Kuebler
Major: Elementary education
Faculty mentor: Scott Morrison, assistant professor of education
Title of research: The Bridges & Barriers to Environmental Education on an ECO Campus
Previous research has shown that meaningful outdoor experiences can be incredibly beneficial for children — academically, socially, mentally and emotionally. While environmental education has been shown to have numerous benefits, there are few teachers who are integrating it into their curriculum.
In this intrinsic case study, based at an elementary school with an ECO (Educating Children Outdoors) campus, I investigated the bridges and barriers faced by teachers who have access to numerous environmental education resources, including a nature trail, outdoor classroom, bird sanctuary, butterfly garden, frog habitat and air quality monitoring station, as well as administrative support to utilize them. Data collection included surveys, interviews, and observations.
The participants indicated that time is a prominent obstacle, including time for transitions, planning, preparing for end-of-grade tests, and fitting things in the schedule. They also discussed feeling unprepared, undertrained and uncomfortable taking students outdoors for academic purposes. Lastly, they mentioned believing that going outside was not relevant to their curriculum, that it was not something they could easily integrate into what they were already teaching.
Findings reveal the importance of professional development opportunities that provide teachers with the opportunities to apply environmental education to the resources available to them and make connections to the standards they are required to cover.
In other words:
The purpose of my research was to investigate the opportunities and challenges that teachers face incorporating environmental education into their curriculum and classrooms, even when the resources and outdoor learning environments are provided for them.
Explanation of study:
There were four main steps in my study. First, I conducted a survey including questions about their use of the outdoor resources and general beliefs regarding environmental education as well as questions from the Nature Relatedness Scale (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009) in order to ascertain their connection to nature. Next, I interviewed each of the participants three times.
The first interview was meant to gain information regarding the participants’ general background and their experiences with nature. The second interview was meant to gain perspective on their views of environmental education and the resources available to them. The third interview had an average was meant to delve further into the participants’ answers in an attempt to discover deeper themes.
Throughout the interview process I was also conducting classroom observations in order to gain a better understanding of how participants interacted with students, what they emphasized inside and outside the classroom, and the culture of the school. Lastly, I analyzed the data for overarching themes.
What made this research interesting to you? How did you get started?
This research has served as the perfect combination of my passions. When I first came to college, I was torn between pursuing a career in environmental science and elementary education. While I have always been passionate about the environment and spending time outside, I ultimately decided that I was meant to make a difference at the front of the classroom working with kids.
As an honors fellow, we are expected to participate in a two-year honors thesis. I first met Scott Morrison, assistant professor of education and my research mentor, my sophomore year. He is incredibly passionate about environmental education and working with teachers and when he mentioned a local elementary school with all of these outdoor resources, I knew it would be the perfect project.
I have been able to combine my love of teaching and my love of the outdoors. Since I have started this project, I not only have had the opportunity to work with teachers of all experiences and grade levels, but I also have started the process to become environmental educator certified and have done numerous workshops to become better educated on the subject.