Preparing the Next Generation of Problem-Solvers through Environmental Project-Based Learning
What is E-PBL?
Environmental project-based learning (E-PBL) offers opportunities for students to actively explore and address environmental challenges while building skills in teamwork and communication, research, data collection and analysis, community engagement, and reflection. E-PBL enables and requires students to delve deeply into their academic content while investigating issues in their own backyard.
Learn more about project-based learning in this short video, Project-Based Learning: Explained, produced by the Buck Institute for Education.
PBL has been shown to help students develop critical skills while delving deeply into their academic content. Studies show that students who are engaged in PBL score higher on standardized tests than their peers learning in a more traditional classroom. Further, PBL students develop higher-order skills that enable them to apply what they have learned in more meaningful ways.
The local environment provides an ideal setting for project-based learning. Young people are highly concerned about the state of the environment; in fact 92% of teens report that they are concerned about the environment, and 99 % of pre-teens believe it is important to care for the environment. Tapping into students’ curiosity and concern for the natural world, E-PBL offers students the opportunity to identify and develop solutions to environmental and sustainability challenges in their local communities while developing valuable 21st century skills.
What does E-PBL look like?
The educational philosophy behind PBL emphasizes the need for students to become actively engaged learners by tackling real-world challenges, while teachers shift to coaching from the sidelines. The core elements of E-PBL include real-world problem solving, local environmental issues, multidisciplinary learning, leadership skills, community engagement, and academic rigor. Examples of E-PBL include:
High school students at Channel View School for Research in Queens, New York spent two years investigating the inhabitants of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and developing a field guide for the public on the species found there.
Seventh grade Wetland Watchers at Hurst Middle School in Destrehan, Louisiana cultivate trees from seed to be planted in the nearby LaBranche Wetlands, helping to slow the loss of the valuable wetland ecosystem.
Students at Apple Valley, Minnesota’s School of Environmental Studies study and monitor several nearby lakes and ponds, establishing “pond profiles” that they then present to local water commissioners.
NEEF partnered with the Buck Institute for Education and the Pacific Education Institute to develop a guide to help teachers dive in to E-PBL. The Schoolyard Habitat Project gives students an opportunity to positively impact their local environment by meeting a challenge to improve habitat for wildlife on the school campus. Download the guide to get started!
Click here to access PBL-U's Schoolyard Habitat Project guide.
(Sources: Edutopia, The Buck Institute for Education, Expeditionary Learning)
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NEEF is the nation’s leading organization in lifelong environmental learning, connecting people to knowledge they use to improve the quality of their lives and the health of the planet. NEEF sees a future where by 2022, 300 million Americans actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the well-being of the earth and its people. Learn more at neefusa.org.