This article is the beginning of the 3rd pillar of EcoUniv’s Environmental Education Framework – namely what to learn or what to teach? What are the concepts, what is the subject matter we want to impart to the learner as they go through a holistic environmental curriculum?
To get started, let us review how a learner’s brain learns subjects (or topics within a subject). The science behind learning is part of neuroscience, and many questions about how learning is actually achieved, are still open.
Broadly, our brain learns subjects through concepts, skills, values, facts, or events all in the form of context-specific memories, action steps, and sequences that build on each other. The brain forms a neural net which stores all this information for the long term (the connectionist view). However, there is also recent emphasis on fast adaptations that neurons must do, to switch contexts and apply concepts in new situations.
Learning a concept is
- the ability to relate multiple experiences (relevant to the concept in question)
- to find out what is common among them and what is different among them
- to store it in memory in way it can be retrieved efficiently
- to apply it when needed, to new experiences or new questions (about the concept)
Since each experience has it’s own context, concepts are remembered in their contexts. Storytelling as a learning technique does really well on contexts. Hence, we recommend strong use of storytelling in learning concepts, especially for younger learners.
Concepts are also learned well when they are presented as patterns or sequences of steps (e.g. arithmetic manipulations), facts, events or other concepts.
It is now known that traditional subjects like math or language can be learned better through experiential and immersive learning, because they reinforce better learning of concepts.
What does the above mean for holistic environmental learning?
- We should have a focus on concepts, appropriate for each age level
- We should present concepts along with contexts and also add that context can change, but a concept can stay the same
- We should also focus on sequences of concepts.
- The concepts as a whole should enable the learner to form a value system on their own for leading the world towards sustainable co-existence and become an agent of change
In the articles that follow, we will review environmental learning concepts appropriate to a given age level. We will also relate them to concepts being learned in other subjects like math, language, physical sciences, social sciences, or art. Finally, we will make some suggestions on contexts and sequences of key concepts.
Environmental learning concepts learned at each level can be co-related or can build on each other and we can view the whole subject as a rich, continuous web of ecological concepts from kindergarten through 12th.