During laboratory sessions devoted to ecology, 182 preservice K——8 teachers participated in a Project Wildlife in Learning Design (WILD) workshop. Participants rated the workshop highly, indicated they would use more inquiry-based activities, and were more interested in teaching ecology following the workshop. Post-test scores indicated an increased content knowledge of ecology.
In the United States, environmental education (EE) in preservice teacher-education programs has not been institutionalized and is often driven by one person who teaches a specialty course in the topic or integrates environmental education into existing classes (McKeown-Ice, 2000). Teacher-education institutions are forced by state legislatures and state boards of education to include numerous courses in general and professional education, which leaves little time for specialty courses such as EE (Powers, 2004). Because of these factors, EE is in a precarious position at many teacher-preparation institutions, its implementation varies greatly, and preservice teachers are not systematically prepared to teach this subject (McKeown-Ice, 2000). Barriers to the incorporation of EE into preservice education programs include limited course time, low faculty interest in or commitment to EE, lack of faculty knowledge of the subject and pedagogy, limited faculty preparation time, poor access to EE resources, little administrative interest or support, limited financial support, student' aversion to science and to being outdoors, and low student interest in EE (McKeown-Ice, 2000; Heimlich et al., 2004; Powers, 2004; Mastrilli, 2005; Van Petegem et al., 2007). In preservice elementary education programs in Pennsylvania, the two positive factors noted most frequently in implementing EE into preservice education programs were state certification guidelines and standards that included EE and high levels of faculty interest and knowledge (Mastrilli, 2005).
Among 18 faculty surveyed about including EE in preservice education, most used prepackaged, nationally disseminated EE curricula, and most agreed that infusing EE into teaching-methods courses is preferable to offering a new course and that preservice is an important place in the educational system to infuse EE (Powers, 2004). Elementary teacher-education programs at 42 Pennsylvania institutions most often had EE components incorporated into science methods, biology, or general methods classes (Heimlich et al., 2004; Mastrilli, 2005), and nationwide preservice EE is usually integrated into existing coursework, primarily in science methods courses (McKeown-Ice, 2000).
Institutionalization of EE into preservice programs, as in other subjects like reading, science, and special education, is rare. Most programs in Pennsylvania do not offer required courses in EE, and many states have numerous external mandates for teacher accreditation as well as a legislative call for decreased numbers of credits required for graduation (Mastrilli, 2005). This lack of institutionalization is apparent nationwide in the few faculty with specialization in EE and the small number of colleges and universities that offer majors, minors, specializations, or concentrations in EE (McKeown-Ice, 2000). Because EE coursework is often prepackaged and of short duration, most preservice elementary-education students in Pennsylvania are introduced to some broad environmental topics but must pursue any depth of understanding on their own (Mastrilli, 2005). Because of this lack of depth, some argue that to enhance preservice teacher' EE competencies, teacher training institutes must make long-term EE implementation a priority and that EE must become part of the initial teacher education program rather than an add-on to an existing course (Heimlich et al., 2004; Van Petegem et al., 2007). Examples of more comprehensive approaches to EE for preservice teachers occur in Maryland and Texas (Haines, 2003; Haines & Blake, 2005; Crim et al., 2008).
In Maryland, professors have developed a semester-long field biology course for preservice teachers, worth 3 hours of college credit. The first third of the course examines ecology, the middle considers the human impact on the environment, and the final component is devoted to the teaching of these two concepts (Haines & Blake, 2005). This comprehensive course is complemented by another course that also requires a service learning component (Haines, 2003). This second course meets once weekly for 3 hours and begins with discussions about EE, local and national EE organizations, use of the environment as an integrating context in life science activities, and state and national science standards. Students then visit local science and nature centers to observe K——12 school groups being led through EE programs. After the site visits and training, students lead group nature walks three times at the Irvine Nature Center in Baltimore. Students were also certified in a number of nationally recognized EE curricula, including Project Wildlife in Learning Design (WILD)/Aquatic WILD (Council for Environmental Education [CEE], 2000, 2001) and Project Learning Tree (American Forest Foundation [AFF], 2000).
In Texas, Strengthening Awareness and Valuing the Environment (SAVE) is another example of a relatively comprehensive EE program. SAVE is a partnership between the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), and San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department (Crim et al., 2008). The goals of SAVE were to increase preservice teacher' knowledge of and interaction with the abundant and accessible natural areas in the region and to provide hands-on professional development experience in EE. Project WILD (CEE, 2001) serves as the cornerstone of the program by providing for hands-on activities in regional parks. The regional park setting for the EE activities has provided awareness of natural areas for preservice teachers (Crim et al., 2008). Twelve faculty members who teach methods courses have completed Project WILD facilitator training, and this participation by a large number of faculty members allows for additional class assignments as preservice teachers do their field work in the public schools. An acknowledged weakness of the training is the one-semester implementation, but SAVE is gradually using the Project WILD training as a springboard, to be followed by additional EE opportunities in other courses as well as implementation in field-based courses required of all preservice teachers (Crim et al., 2008).
A long-term curricular goal of science education in the Department of Biological Sciences of Tarleton State University has been the addition of a relevant ecology and EE component to a life science class required for K——8 preservice teachers. Two positive factors noted previously in Pennsylvania (Mastrilli, 2005) stimulated this decision. Texas state certification guidelines and standards include some EE and large amounts of ecology. Because I am a plant taxonomist and field botanist with research experience in plant ecology and conservation, I have high levels of interest and knowledge in EE. However, Texas, like Pennsylvania (Mastrilli, 2005), has many external mandates for teacher accreditation as well as a legislative call for decreased numbers of credits required for graduation. Also because of many of the limitations discussed previously, including limited course time, faculty preparation time, financial support, and student interest in science and being outdoors, I decided to infuse environmental education into an existing biology course required of preservice teachers, using a prepackaged, nationally disseminated curriculum.
Project WILD and Project Learning Tree are the two most common EE training resources used for in-service teachers (Paul & Volk, 2002). Survey data on Project Learning Tree indicate that it is effective and easy to use (Marcinkowski & Iozzi, 1994). Project WILD is most often used for in-service training rather than as preservice, but it is the most common EE training used in teacher preparation programs (Heimlich et al., 2004). Educators feel comfortable using Project WILD resources, and this comfort level is related to the training, the ease of using the materials, and the material' adaptability (Heimlich, 2002). Project WILD workshops significantly improve preservice teacher' attitudes toward teaching science and EE (Crosby, 1991). Because it was commonly used, easy to use, and effective, and because I had to choose only one EE training because of time constraints, I chose Project WILD to infuse my existing course with EE. Project WILD also fit well into the block of time allowed for two of my laboratories. In courses without laboratories, implementation would be more difficult and the instructor would have to weigh the benefits against time costs.
The course, entitled Essential Elements of Life Science, is a biology class designed for nonmajors that are seeking an education degree with K——8 certification. The course was designed with financial and technical assistance from the Texas Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation (TxCETP), a partnership committed to statewide systemic reform of teacher preparation in science and mathematics. The 10 TxCETP universities (see Acknowledgments) annually produce an estimated 3,700 Texas teachers certified in K——12 mathematics and science. TxCETP has four interrelated goals: (1) undergraduate course reform (integrating content and pedagogy), (2) recruitment to teaching, (3) support for preservice and novice teachers, and (4) strengthening the dissemination of successful curricular reforms to TxCETP members. TxCETP participants collaboratively developed the TxCETP's Vision for Effective Learning and Teaching (available at http://www.sci.tamucc.edu/txcetp) and subsequently developed course surveys for instructors and students to help faculty members assess whether students perceive a reformed course as they intended. In the Essential Elements of Life Science class, TxCETP helped to integrate content with pedagogy, provided support for preservice teachers, and through their survey instrument showed that the course has become more inquiry-based and relevant to preservice teachers.
Essential Elements of Life Science meets twice weekly for discussions of life science concepts and has a 3-hour block set aside for laboratory activities. These include a student-directed inquiry on cells, cell reproduction, and bacterial growth; and guided inquiries on protist, fungal, plant, and animal diversity and on animal tissues and organ systems. In the student-directed inquiries, students use microscopes and other laboratory equipment to explore cells, with little assistance from laboratory facilitators. Guided inquiries involve facilitators discussing topics and then guiding students in examining characteristics and adaptations of taxa, life cycles, and systems. This portion of the course is evaluated by practical examinations and essay questions regarding the laboratory inquiries. In addition to these more traditional laboratory activities, I wanted to incorporate ecology and EE activities that were relevant to preservice K——8 teachers. A secondary goal was to have students apply some of the knowledge gained in the first part of the laboratory (e.g., plant and animal diversity) during the ecology and EE-based activities. Project WILD was used to accomplish these goals.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) sponsors Project WILD in Texas. The Council for Environmental Education (CEE, 2001), through various sponsors, offers the program in all 50 states and several countries so that the materials are widely available to interested parties. Project WILD is a K——12 environmental and conservation education program that emphasizes environmental awareness, appreciation, and understanding of wildlife and natural resources. It is interdisciplinary and can be used to teach basic skills in science, social studies, language arts, math, art, music, and physical education. Each lesson includes a set of hands-on, easy-to-use educational activities. Project WILD training is a 6-hour, hands-on workshop that includes helpful background information with all activities, as well as powerful techniques and methods for teaching problem-solving and decision-making skills.
The core of Project WILD is its activity guide, which contains 124 activities concentrating on terrestrial wildlife, habitat, and ecological concepts. Project WILD materials follow a conceptual framework that was developed through a rigorous process to ensure its accuracy, balance, and educational validity. The materials were written by classroom teachers and other educators, university faculty, resource agency personnel, private conservation groups, and other community representatives. The activities were extensively field tested and evaluated for student achievement and scientifically sound materials. The program continues to incorporate new information and is monitored, evaluated, and changed in response to to educator feedback (CEE, 2001).
Training required to implement Project WILD in my laboratory included a 6-hour Project WILD Educator Training workshop and an advanced 12-hour facilitator-training workshop taught by TPWD personnel. After completing the training requirements, Project WILD was incorporated into the laboratory in the summer semester of 2002 and data were gathered through the summer semester of 2003. Similar amounts of training are required for Project Learning Tree, and this time commitment may serve as a barrier to implementation. For example, when I first started working on modifying the course, I wanted to obtain training in both workshops but had the time and resources for just one.
The following activities from the Project WILD K——12 Curriculum and Activity Guide (CEE, 2001) were used for the first 3-hour lab period. The program was introduced using brochures and computer presentations provided by TPWD, which also provided a CD with hundreds of publications and activities that have been specifically modified as teaching modules of the ecology and biodiversity of Texas. Following this introduction, a pre-test and pre-evaluation was given to participants. The workshop then moved outdoors to do the ““Oh deer!”” and ““How many bears can live in the forest?”” activities (CEE, 2001). We then returned indoors to discuss modifications of the activities in regard to Texas public schools and grade levels. Then, the participants received copies of the Project WILD K——12 Curriculum and Activity Guide, participated in the ““Good buddies”” activity, and were encouraged to take a ““hike”” through the guide (CEE, 2001). Participants were then shown wildlife poster sets, items on the CD, and outdoor materials like owl pellets. Following this, participants were divided into small groups and provided with supplies to put together a group activity using Project WILD and classroom materials. The groups, which consisted of two to four students (depending on laboratory enrollment), were given about 1 hour of laboratory time to work on the presentation. They generally met outside the laboratory to finalize the activity and practice the presentation. All students had to do a part of the activity to receive credit for the 20-minute presentation. If four members were involved, one discussed the objectives, another discussed the procedure, one directed peers as they did the activity, and another gave an oral evaluation. Students were graded on completeness in presenting the objectives, procedure, direction of peers, and evaluation as well as the ability to answer questions and manage time.
The second 3-hour block is devoted to student' presentations of their activities, followed by a post-test and final evaluation. Upon completion of the workshops, data were tabulated. Interest in ecology before and after the workshop was analyzed using a Mann-Whitney test, and pre- and post-test results were evaluated using a t-test for independent samples (Hampton, 1994). Seven pre- and post-test questions were used in each session. Questions were in multiple-choice format and were taken from ecological topics including symbioses, limiting factors in an ecosystem, carrying capacity, and habitat components.
Over the three semesters that the laboratories were evaluated (summer 2002, fall 2002, and summer 2003), 182 students were surveyed using questions presented in the following tables (some left survey questions blank, so responses vary from 176 to 182). The same three activities (Oh deer, How many bears can live in the forest, and Good buddies) from which questions were fashioned were used in each semester. Sixty-nine percent of the participants rated the Project WILD workshop as excellent and 31%% rated it as good (Table 1). The number of inquiry activities that the preservice teachers planned to do in their classrooms increased greatly (Table 2). Interest in the subject of ecology increased significantly following the workshop (Table 3). The number of questions answered correctly on a content test before and after the workshop also increased significantly (Table 4). Questions used in pre- and post-testing are given in Figure 1.
Educators have consistently rated Project WILD programs very highly (Pitman, 2004). This is consistent with survey data from this investigation, in which 100%% rated the workshop as good to excellent. Research on Project WILD that focused on student gains found a positive impact on student' attitudes toward wildlife and their feeling that learning had occurred, and that the activities helped meet the objectives of content standards (Pitman, 2004). Preservice teachers in this investigation had improved attitudes in regard to ecology, and all were able to better answer questions on ecological topics such as symbioses, limiting factors in an ecosystem, carrying capacity, and habitat components following the Project WILD activities.
Practicing teachers indicated that attending Project WILD workshops increased the time they spent teaching students about wildlife and the environment, their use of hands-on and higher-order-thinking activities, and their displays of wildlife-related artifacts such as books, posters, bulletin boards, aquaria, bee hives, bird nests, rocks, and plants in their classrooms (Pitman, 2004). Similarly, it appears that incorporation of Project WILD into the laboratory of Essential Elements of Life Science has resulted in students having a greater willingness to use inquiry-based activities in the areas of ecology and EE in their classrooms once they become teachers. Pitman (2004) found that, on average, practicing teachers used six Project WILD activities per year. Sixty-nine percent of my participants indicated that they would use five or more activities (Table 2) when they become practicing teachers. In New Hampshire, most participants in a summer institute that used both Project WILD and Project Learning Tree indicated that they used activities from both programs one to five times per year (Lesure, 2007). Crosby (1991) found that participation in a Project WILD workshop significantly improved preservice teacher' attitudes toward EE. In my workshops, there was a significant difference in preservice teacher' attitudes about ecology after completing Project WILD.
A survey of 228 certified Project WILD (CEE, 2001), Project WILD Aquatic (CEE, 2000), and Project Learning Tree (AFF, 2000) educators in Illinois suggested that there is a critical need for preservice EE in the college system and that it should be infused into all subjects of preservice training so that students can better understand its interdisciplinary nature (Paul, 1996; Pitman, 2004). On the basis of positive evaluations after implementing Project WILD, Project WILD Aquatic was added to the laboratories in the 2008 summer semester. Currently, students receive credit for completing two workshops that can be used for professional development in EE and are also eligible to take facilitator training so that they can train their peers when they become practicing teachers. This infusion of ecology and EE will allow preservice teachers at Tarleton State University to understand the interdisciplinary nature of EE and its importance to society and to convey this knowledge to their students.
I thank the Texas Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation (TxCETP) (NSF DUE ## 9987332) for their help in course design, for funding Project WILD facilitator training, and for helping to evaluate the effectiveness of Project WILD. The 10 TxCETP universities include Texas Woman's University, Angelo State University, and eight in the Texas A&M (TAM) University System: TAM University Kingsville, TAM University Corpus Christi, TAM International University in Laredo, Prairie View A&M University, TAM University College Station, Tarleton State University, TAM University-Commerce, and West TAM University. I also thank Dr. Chris Higgins for help with statistical analyses, Dr. Jim Goetze for comments on the manuscript, TPWD for sponsoring Project WILD, and CEE for developing and continuing to update the materials for the program.