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Educators on quest for widespread environmental literacy

By: Tina Miller-Way / Published: Mar 08,  2018

One of the four areas of focus for Sea Grant is environmental literacy. So, what exactly is environmental literacy?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA), Sea Grant’s parent agency, describes it as

The possession of knowledge and understanding of a wide range of environmental concepts, problems, and issues; cognitive and affective dispositions toward the environment; cognitive skills and abilities; and appropriate behavioral strategies to make sound and effective decisions regarding the environment. Environmental literacy includes informed decision making both individually and collectively and a willingness to act on those decisions in personal and civic life to improve the well-being of other individuals, societies and the global environment. 

With the increasing recognition of importance of environmental literacy to our education curricula, many states across the nation are developing, like Mississippi, or implementing environmental literacy plans, as in Alabama. 

The guiding document for environmental education in Alabama is Alabama Alive! A State Environmental Literacy Plan. In this plan, environmental literacy is defined as “the understanding of how one’s actions and decisions affect the environment. With this understanding, an individual is able to think and act responsibly and effectively regarding the protection and improvement of the environment.”

Last week, Discovery Hall Programs at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab hosted the annual meeting of the Environmental Education Association of Alabama (EEAA). EEAA is a non-profit group made up of classroom teachers and informal educators involved in teaching about the environment and is a regional affiliate of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).  

Kimberly Murray, EEAA president, welcomes attendees to the Sea Lab.
Kimberly Murray, EEAA president, welcomes attendees to the Sea Lab.

The work of EEAA and MASGC’s Education Team overlaps under the umbrella of environmental literacy. While topics of focus may vary (healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and resilient communities and economies for Sea Grant), there are similarities in concepts, approaches and methods in environmental education that make meetings such as this past week’s worthwhile. It is through the combined effort of a number of organizations, such as EEAA and MASGC, and educators, working in a wide variety of institutions and locations, that the next generation of citizens will be more knowledgeable, more engaged and better prepared to make decisions regarding the future of the environment which sustains us all.

The annual EEAA meeting is a chance for educators across the state to share new teaching ideas, deepen their knowledge, renew relationships and make new connections. The 2018 meeting hosted educators from across the state including Cheaha State Park, Gulf State Park, Camp McDowell, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, International Crane Foundation, Cahaba Environmental Center, several middle and high schools, a number of universities around the state and of course, the Sea Lab.

Field learning was part of the event. EEAA attendees enjoyed this field trip to Mobile Bay.
Field learning was part of the event. EEAA attendees enjoyed this field trip to Mobile Bay.

Attendees learned about the red snapper population issue from Dr. Bob Shipp, the plenary speaker, and attended field trips and presentations and enjoyed a beautiful weekend at the coast. 

The meeting included, among others, presentations on Alabama’s invasive species, outdoor applications of technology, the microfauna in lichens, the story of the Cahaba River “dam,” Alabama’s freshwater mussel fauna, and even environmental mystery books for young readers. 

Attendees saw many denizens of a local wetland, including some of the more reclusive ones.
Attendees saw many denizens of a local wetland, including some of the more reclusive ones.

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