Research Summary

An elementary school environmental education field trip: Long-term effects on ecological and environmental knowledge and attitude development

Just One Day Results in a Lasting Impact

Journal of Environmental Education

A year after fourth graders from Indiana spent just one day in an environmental education program at Great Smoky Mountains National Park nearly all recalled specific information they learned and consistently used correct terminology and recalled ecological principles. It yielded longterm memory retention, environmental awareness, understanding of the relationship between human action and environmental issues.

They retained ecological knowledge longer than students using conventional curricula. The principal researcher, who has been an environmental educator for decades, stated, “Experiential activities that infuse content with meaningful experiences help students retain knowledge longer. I’ve done a lot of work with memory models that shows how people retain information better when the content is integrated into a meaningful issue or context. What could be more meaningful or relevant than your surroundings?”

A year after their trip, over half of the children reported that they were more aware of their impact on the environment and were continuing to work on altering their behavior. These results would be impressive in a longterm program, but to see such results in one day is pretty mind blowing. Study author Dr. Doug Knapp explained, “The most important thing EE (environmental education) provides for students is passion and interest in learning.”