Areas of research that would help advance environmental, energy, and climate education in Alberta

 

Here at ACEE we take an evidence-based approach to our work.  In the past we have partnered with researchers whose work has helped inform and shed valuable insight into many areas of inquiry as we seek to deliver on mission: to advance environmental, energy, and climate change education in Alberta. ACEE staff have served as external project advisor to Masters students, connected researchers with field practitioners, and even helped secure funding to support the research.  Below we list some potential topics and areas of interest that we – and our education partners – have identified as high priority.  Please contact Executive Director Gareth Thomson (Gareth [at] abcee.org) if you would like to contribute a new topic to this list – OR learn more about these areas as a researcher, consider collaborative work with us or our partners, and discuss constructive and creative ways of sharing your findings with educators!

 

Encouraging student action on climate - through energy education We believe that climate change is composed of a solutions space and a problem space– and we encourage educators and students to spend as much time as possible in the solutions space, which includes exploration into the use of low carbon forms of energy, including energy efficiency, energy conservation, and energy renewables – which is why we’ve developed a suite of education programs to support this.  Our hypothesis is that involving students in energy education improves their knowledge and attitudes, helps them take action on climate, and helps them feel more positive about the future.  We need to know if this hypothesis is correct!

 

How does environmental education support student wellness and mental health? Alberta schools are rapidly realizing the importance of wellness and mental health as a precursor to success in the classroom.  It is widely accepted that going outdoors has a positive impact on mental health - but can environmental education and student wellness be linked? Is there a correlation between environmental education and performance in student grades?  

 

What is Excellent Energy Education?  Educating students about energy is important - whether it is driven by the need to reduce greenhouse gases, or the equally pressing reality that Alberta students should better understand how energy works in our resource rich province.  Yet teachers commonly tell us they view energy topics as dry, boring, and a traditional area of difficulty when it comes to motivating students.  How can we turn this around?  What do we need to do to better motivate students and teachers on this front? What does excellent energy education look like?

 

What happens when youth are put in a position of environmental leadership and advocacy?At ACEE, we have seen firsthand the impact of youth leadership programs, and we have seen youth leave education leaders speechless as they create environmental programs in their communities, and call for changes to help the environment. The impact is undeniable, but there is a lack of documentation of how youth are impacted when put in a position of power and leadership. We believe that our youth leaders from across Alberta could provide a fascinating case study, and that following these students through a school year and evaluating impact - on schools, communities, decision makers, and the youth themselves - could be an extraordinary opportunity to raise the voice of even more youth advocates.  

 

What outcomes result when students engage in energy efficiency? We believe that our Energy Revealed program has the potential to help students roll up their sleeves and see the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency measures they take in their schools – in the process giving them valuable workplace skills that could be used in a low carbon future, and improve their attitudes and action competencies. Research could help us determine if our hypothesis is correct!

 

Unpacking the new curriculum proposed for Alberta.  What potential does it create for excellent environmental education? What are the pros and cons of draft curriculum – and what changes should immediately be made to increase its potential vis-à-vis environmental literacy and stewardship?  What does discourse analysis tell us about this new curriculum? In the case of approved curriculum, how might motivated educators ‘hack’ the new program of studies to help their students increase environmental literacy? 

 

What approaches, strategies, and campaigns can optimize environmental education?  Every province and territory could do more when it comes to environmental education - but what can we do to make this happen? Initiatives to ‘move the needle’ on this front have borrowed from system thinking, coalition building, grassroots campaigning, seeking to create a movement and a ‘tide that lifts all ships.’ Yes, context changes from place to place –notwithstanding, there may be best practices in this area, or at least a toolkit that we can draw upon to advanced environmental education in our area?

 

How can we help students become system thinkers? The ability to understand how systems work is central to navigating  the complexities of systems, the separation of root causes from symptoms, and creating lasting solutions to problems - be they problems in the environment, or in human systems, or both!   What lessons, activities, and pedagogical approaches can best create systems thinking?  

 

Do environmental education certification programs increase environmental literacy – and how might their design maximize environmental education?  Includes a cross-Canada analysis of environmental certification programs for schools:  pros, cons, and success stories or best practices. 

 

How can we maximize the impact of inviting professionals into classrooms?  Inquiry learning calls for ‘experts’ from the community to support student learning – what are best practices when it comes getting the most out of this investment?

 

… Below we list some other important and relevant questions - due to lack of capacity, we have not yet added a paragraph to elaborate on the topic – but they are still high value questions in their own right!

 

What is going on in terms of environmental education in Alberta schools, and how do we compare to other provinces? 

 

What does excellent environmental education look like in the age of COVID-19?

 

When is the best ‘curriculum’ and approach to use when it comes to supporting youth leadership and advocacy?

 

Unpacking the intersection between education seen through different lenses: e.g. environmental sustainability, climate change, and social justice - what efficiencies and might synergies exist?

 

How can we best encourage student action on climate through climate education?

 

Please note that students contemplating research projects might be interested in our research-based list of the  benefits of environmental education.