Although education research has established a strong connection between a student's cognitive engagement and affective connection to a learning topic, little research has been conducted on how, and whether, environmental education curricula do this effectively across a spectrum of audiences. Do environmental education curricula reach students from diverse backgrounds and, if so, do they do so effectively?
This study's authors sought to investigate the answer to this question by first exploring how teachers in a workshop responded and related to a well-known environmental education curriculum (Project WILD). However, the researchers added an interesting element that reflected the composition of their audience—for the first time in the history of the curriculum, the entire workshop, which took place in the United States, was conducted in Spanish, and Latino cultural elements were incorporated into the activities.
Project WILD's decision is situated in a rich history of scholarship around incorporating issues of diversity into learning spaces. After the Civil Rights movement, scholars developed Critical Race Theory, which theorized that racism is an inherently structural force and, in order to move beyond it, the dominant narrative must be challenged and troubled by creating a rich counter-narrative of minority stories and discourse. By creating this narrative of Latino culture in the training workshops, the scholars hoped that the teachers, and, accordingly, the students, would find the environmental content relevant and engaging.
In the experiment, researchers followed 24 bilingual and culturally Latino and Hispanic preservice teachers as they completed Proyecto Silvestre (Project WILD in Spanish) training and participated in a 6-hour workshop in a local natural area. The researchers analyzed the participants' blog entries, commentaries on a group website, and media coverage generated by the all-Spanish training. The data were then analyzed and coded for effects around cognitive and affective learning.
The results indicated that participant teachers were proud of the high status the Spanish language was afforded throughout the training. They also felt joy being able to learn about nature in the context of their own culture. Being able to use Spanish enabled them to more effectively elaborate their feelings toward nature. The researchers concluded this study indicates that if language and culture are more effectively valued within the curriculum, they open up avenues through which students can build affective and cognitive connections with the material.
The Bottom Line
<p>Environmental education programs must consider how to effectively reach a range of audiences. In a diverse world, what cognitively and affectively engages one student may not engage another. By incorporating students' language and cultural backgrounds into activities, environmental educators not only increase the chances of conserving and preserving natural resources and the environment, but they also can preserve and celebrate cultural resources.</p>