Salamanders and Science: Place-based Environmental Education in Rural Appalachia
Stephenson, Jessica R.
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The opportunity to learn science by doing authentic science in a rural community is not a common occurrence, yet for over thirty years, a group of dedicated educators have provided the experience of learning field biology and ecology to students in a geographically isolated area of the Appalachian Mountains. The over-arching research question in this study is: how does a Field School program in Appalachia use a place-based environmental education approach to teach students about their local community and environmental issues, while also extending their understanding of global environmental issues? Foundational literature includes work in place-based education, critical pedagogy, critical pedagogy of place, and Appalachian studies. This qualitative, ethnographic case-study examines the experiences and reflections of three instructors and four students throughout the program. As a high school student, I was a participant in this program, and my own experiences and perspectives are included as an ethnographic chapter in the data analysis as well. The teachers in the program share a deep commitment to environmental education and ecojustice, and the students gain valuable insight into what it means to be a scientist, how local environmental issues relate to global environmental and economic issues and move towards becoming advocates for the environment.
General Audience Abstract
Environmental education is often overlooked and under-researched, particularly in rural areas. The purpose of this study was to examine a long-running summer educational program in Appalachia that teaches students about local environmental issues through hands-on scientific field research. This study examined the long history of the program, how the curriculum has changed throughout the years, what teachers believe is important about the curriculum they teach, and ultimately what students learn from the program. In this rural community, the opportunity to learn science by doing science is an important aspect of this program, as is the opportunity to learn about local environmental issues that ultimately have global consequences.
- Doctoral Dissertations