What We Learned at the NAAEE Conference 2013

This month, several EV staff members attended the 2013 North American Association for Environmental Education conference (NAAEE) in Baltimore. Here are highlights from their favorite sessions.

Integrating Social Justice with Environmental Education

by Eric McKee

We can translate learning materials into different languages, but what if the intended audience doesn't know how to read? Barriers to transportation, health care, and child care, as well as gang violence, can be issues in some communities we serve. By addressing these disparities, educators can work toward a healthier environment in all aspects, not just the natural world. Special thanks to the Utah Society for Environmental Education for assembling the workshop.

Advancing Sustainability Through Environmental Literacy in District of Columbia Schools

by Allan Berkowitz

The District of Columbia has a 20-year plan to make the District the healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the nation. The plan addresses current and future challenges to sustainable solutions in the built environment, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, and water. There are 90 school gardens currently; schools are mandated to purchase 30% of their cafeteria food from local sources (including organic); initiatives exist to teach healthy eating; and more green spaces are being developed. Some of the themes of the plan include: Sustain-ability, Live-ability, Play-ability, Breathe-ability, Work-ability, Recycle-ability. It was truly inspiring to see how much can be accomplished through public education. Learn more at www.sustainable.dc.gov.

Naming Animals: Effects on Knowledge Retention

by Brittany Sabol

Many environmental education groups use live animals in their public programs. Some groups use the species name (e.g. Great-horned Owl) and some also give the animal a "human" name (e.g. Bert). Milton Newberry, a graduate student from the University of Florida, conducted a study to answer the question: Does naming animals help people better relate to the animal and therefore help them retain more knowledge? Newberry's study was inconclusive; he was working with college students in agriculture, so it's likely they already knew a lot about the animals beforehand. However, our round table discussion about the question was very interesting. Many different organizations have different reasons for naming versus not naming animals. Farm programs tend not to name animals that eventually become food. Programs working with "scary" animals, such as bats or spiders, like to name their animals as it makes them less intimidating. One rehabilitation organization allows people who found the injured animal to choose the name, and that resulted in extra connections to the animal and the organization, which in turn resulted in better fundraising. We all agreed that we were looking forward to repeated studies with audiences of different ages and backgrounds.