Measuring the broader impact of Environmental Education with Green Calgary

Last week I sat down with Amy Spark, Green Kids & Generation Green Coordinator for Green Calgary to find out how the Green Kids Program measures its impact.

Founded in 1978, Green Calgary is an urban environmental charity that strives to empower Calgarians to green the way they live, work, and play.” For more information on this organization, please visit: http://www.greencalgary.org/

 Environmental Education Matters

Environmental education differs from social marketing as it focuses on building awareness of how to live in a way that conserves resources for future generations.  Environmental education matters as it reconnects youth with nature and contributes to a growing a green work force. In fact, both Amy and I were motivated to join the green work force in part because of our environmental education in high school. The trouble is it is hard to measure these long-lasting effects.

Example: Green Kids Program

The Green Kids Program aims to empower young Calgarian’s to live more sustainably through meaningful education and inquiry based experiential fun. The main component of this program includes an hour-long program which draws on examples in around the community. It also aligns with curriculum. So, it can be brought into any kindergarten to gr. 6 classrooms in Calgary.

Program topics:

  • Waste in our world
  • Worms Love Leftovers
  • It’s Rain Harvest Time
  • Water for Life
  • Clean Green

Green Calgary has a number of metrics to measure the success of Green Kids program internally, such as the number of programs and students engaged throughout the year, and satisfaction rates through surveys and feedback.

They also receive testimonials from the kids and the teachers.  For instance, the Green Kids Program recently learned that “Worms Love Leftovers” program increased participant’s empathy towards worms. This underlines the idea that environmental education matters.

 

What is easiest to count is often the least important

Amy and I agreed that measuring impact, including attitudinal shifts, is a great deal harder than keeping track of metrics, relying on qualitative rather than purely quantitative data. So, consider the following tips when measuring the long-lasting effects of your environmental education program.

 

Tip 1# Evaluate teacher’s commitment

Teacher’s personal commitments play an important role in student’s future environmental behavioural intentions. Hungerford & Volk (2000) and Legault (2000) observed a significant link between continued environmental implication of former Environmental Education Program (EEP) students and highly environmentally committed teachers (Hungerford & Volk, 1990; Legault, 2000). This suggests that opinions and values of teachers influence the ongoing behaviours of students. It makes sense then, that programs like the Green Kids Program measure the teachers’ level of personal commitment to sustainable waste and water practices to assess and leverage a key influencer.

How to leverage teachers as a key influencer:

  • Assess the teachers’ level of personal commitment
  • Identify the champions (environmentally committed teachers)
  • Offer champions additional tools or support
  • Follow up with champions and assess overall impact

Tip #2 Take account of participants’ future behaviour intentions

When Amy was high school, she participated in a Green Calgary program. While she was already environmentally conscious, the program helped her realize that she could make a career in the environmental field. I wonder if she knew then that she would join Green Calgary as the program coordinator…

Environmental education in elementary school may not result in environmental career aspirations. Instead, studentsmight come out with an interest in learning more, or questions around how they can help.  This is important because behaviour intentions increase the likelihood of action (Cincera, n.d.).

The Green Kids Program is focusing on behaviour intentions with their ECO Action Plan. This program takeaway provides ideas for action on one side and asks participants to set goals on the other.

How to use takeaways, like ECO Action Plan, as a behaviour change tool:

  • Frame the take away as a social contract
    • Ask willing participants to make an commitment (something they themselves can achieve without help from adults)
    • Ask willing participants to share their commitment with the class
  • Collect these insights
  • Incorporate follow-up with students

ʺKnowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.” – Claire Fagan

Bio-Kaylyn

Sources:

Cincera J (n.d). Proenvironmental behaviour in environmental education programmes. http://www.rwlnetwork.org/.

Environmental Education. Earthshare (n.d.): http://www.earthshare.org/environmental-education.html.

Hungerford, H.R. & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing Learner Behavior through Environmental Education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 21(3), 8-21.

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