Research Summary

Towards an environmental education without scientific knowledge: an attempt to create an action model based on children's experiences, emotions and perceptions about their environment

Children’s Participation as a Path to Action

Environmental Education Research

Disheartened by the traditional, top-down approach to environmental education in Greek schools, the researcher investigated whether a more constructivist approach could lead children to action. The researcher explains, “I realised that the way that environmental education was being taught in my primary school prevented children from developing their critical thought, their action competence, and their willingness to participate.”

Motivated by thinkers such as Paolo Friere and Roger Hart, who have advocated for a child-centered approach to education in which the educator becomes a co-learner with the students, the researcher created an EE program in which students generated the content and made decisions about what to do, if anything, about an issue that they identified. The researcher explains that the investigation aimed to uncover whether children “can have the will and ability to act, not through the transfer of scientific knowledge, but through the expression and the communication of their own ideas.”

The intervention involved 60 children from 9 to 12 years old in five classes in an Athens primary school. The researcher delivered the program, which was designed to move through cycles of planning, action, monitoring, and reflection. In the first portion, the children participated in a storytelling exercise. They were asked to imagine that they were an extraterrestrial who had landed in Athens. Their stories were to include a description of the city, how they imagined it after 20 years, and changes they’d like to see.

In the next cycle, the students were asked to photograph their neighborhood, noting favorite places, places they dislike, and places where they play. Follow-up written exercises encouraged the children to explain the photos. And in the final cycle, the children worked collaboratively on dramatizations in which the students dramatized the positive and negative aspects of the city.

The researcher analyzed data gleaned from the children’s texts from the storytelling, photography, and dramatic activities; the researcher’s observations; and the children’s written evaluations of the program.

According to the researcher, after the first stage of the program, the students expressed dissatisfaction with many aspects of their city, but felt powerless to effect change. After the second stage, the children began to discuss the possibility of taking action. And after the third stage, the students identified and executed a plan of action that included creating a book of their ideas to send to the Municipality of Athens and developing a performance for students, teachers, parents, and government representatives.

According to the researcher, “My purpose in this educational programme was to establish an adult-children relationship that was as equal as possible.” The students participated fully in each stage, defining the problem, analyzing data, and making decisions about whether and how to take action. “The action model was an attempt to demonstrate that children can develop a willingness and ability to act through the expression and communication of their ideas.”

The Bottom Line

The researcher used a constructivist educational approach to move students to take action on an environmental issue in their community. The researcher, who taught the students, placed less emphasis on the acquisition of scientific knowledge and more emphasis on student-led investigation and action. Inspired by thinkers such as Paolo Friere and Roger Hart, the researcher envisioned the teacher as a coinvestigator and concluded that this type of approach was effective in inspiring action in the students.

Tsevreni, I. (2011). Towards an environmental education without scientific knowledge: an attempt to create an action model based on children's experiences, emotions and perceptions about their environment. Environmental Education Research, 17(1), 53 - 67. presented at the 2011/02/01/. Retrieved from