Investigating teachers’ pedagogical approaches in environmental education that promote students’ action competence

Funding year: 
1 year
University of Waikato
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2005
Project end date: 
January 2006
Principal investigator(s): 
Chris Eames
Research team members: 
Barry Law, Miles Barker, Hilary Iles, Jock McKenzie, Rosemarie Patterson, Pam Williams, and Faye Wilson-Hill
Research partners: 
Ngaire Rolleston, Cathy Carroll, Mel Chaytor, Tracey Mills, and Anne Wright

Project Description

In 1999 the Ministry of Education published the Guidelines for Environmental Education in New Zealand Schools (Ministry of Education, 1999). The Guidelines are intended to assist teachers and schools to plan and provide education “in, about, and for the environment” in a way that integrates with learning objectives from the seven mandatory learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum Framework (Ministry of Education, 1993). In 2002–2003 a national research project (commissioned by the Ministry of Education) was conducted to investigate the practice of environmental education (EE) in New Zealand schools (Bolstad, Cowie, & Eames, 2004). This project provided evidence that in teaching EE, some teachers were developing student-centred pedagogical approaches. The study also reported a general underemphasis on the dimension of education for the environment. The project report concluded that further research was needed to “evaluate whether EE teaching practices promote long-term learning value for students (i.e., whether it acts to develop students’ ‘action competence' and ability to be decision-makers with regard to environmental issues in the present and the future)” (p. 72).

An action orientation is seen as a key feature that defines EE (Fien & Greenall Gough, 1996; McLean, 2003; Tilbury, 1995). The concept of action competence acknowledges this orientation (Breiting & Mogensen, 1999; Jensen & Schnack, 1997). Action competence refers to students' abilities to act with reference to environmental concerns, as active participants in EE. It includes the ability to identify problems, make decisions about solutions, and take action that develops the students' competence to participate in future action on environmental issues. Development of students' action competence can be seen as promoting democratic and participative education that can be valuable across all aspects of schooling. This project focused on classroom practices that encouraged the development of student action competence within a unit based in EE.