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Study shows lack of national consensus on teaching K-12 students about human-environmental impacts

The destruction caused by natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and human activities such as mountaintop removal mining are powerful examples of how the environment and society are tightly interwoven. But to what extent do, or should, state science curricula in the U.S. seek to investigate or influence the nature of this interaction? That is a question new research being published in a special issue of the Journal of Geoscience Education examines by looking at the degree to which the individual state science education standards encourage study of society and the environment as interrelated systems.

What the researchers, scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, found is surprising for its lack of consensus. Across the nation, there is generally more attention paid to teaching about how human society impacts the environment than for teaching about how the environment impacts humans and society--but support for both vary widely throughout the country. Moreover, in most states there is minimal or no support in the standards for teaching about the ways in which individual actions affect the environment.

"I do think that K-12 students should study interactions between humans and the environment in school," said Kim Kastens, a Doherty senior research scientist at Lamont-Doherty and lead author of the study. "Their generation will have to cope with serious environmental problems, and they should understand the environmental impacts of the decisions they will be making as individuals and in their careers."

The researchers first coded each of 49 state science curriculum standards to assess if and in what manner K-12 educators are being directed by their state standards to direct students' attention and concern to issues of human interactions with the Earth. They then analyzed the standards across education divisions (elementary, middle school and high school) for mentions of the
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Contact: Ken Kostel
kkostel@ei.columbia.edu
212-854-9729
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
29-Jun-2006


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