Teach the Earth > Teaching Methods > Experience-Based Environmental Projects

Experience-Based Environmental Projects

A student holding a seedling plant

Created by Karin Kirk, Montana State University

Get your students involved in their own learning!

This module includes examples of projects, background information and teaching ideas to promote experiential environmental learning. These projects can get your students personally involved and invested, moving the learning experience from the classroom to their own lives.

Every student has an environmental impact.

All of our decisions and actions throughout the day affect our environment. What types of transportation do you use? Is your food locally-produced or shipped from another state or country? Does a product's packaging influence your decision to buy it? Do you go through the day using energy and resources without considering the environmental impacts of each of your actions?

These questions can be explored with an experience-based approach. Experience-based environmental learning is an opportunity to learn through one's own lifestyle and actions. In a sense, each student is their own laboratory. Experience-based environmental projects offer a way for students to apply classroom topics like energy use, global warming, water quality and land use to their own lives, and to realize that although these issues may be global or regional, they ultimately have roots at the individual level.

"It seems impossible to not produce garbage for even one day. At first it didn't sound like a big deal, but after trying it for just this first day I realized just how much garbage I normally produce! It's embarrassing!"

excerpt from a Lifestyle Project journal, Skidmore College

This module includes several examples of projects to get your students involved:
The Lifestyle Project
Design and Construction of an Eco-House
More examples

What are experience-based environmental projects?

A student adding leafy material to a compost pile
USDA Photo
Experience-based learning involves the whole student, meaning not just their intellect but also their senses, their feelings and their personalities [Andresen et al, 2000] . Environmental projects that use experience-based learning allow students to actually live the experiment. Experiential projects can involve local issues such as zoning, land use and local politics. Yet global issues such as resource extraction and greenhouse emissions can also be studied with experience-based projects. This type of learning fits well into courses in environmental science, environmental policy, human geography and physical geology. Moreover, this type of project can be used in any location, even in a distance-learning course. Learn more about experience-based learning

Why use experience-based environmental projects?

Experience-based learning has a tremendous and lasting effect on students. For instance, a global environmental issue such as the Kyoto Treaty may not seem relevant to students' everyday lives. However, if you ask them to calculate their carbon dioxide output and then somehow reduce it enough to meet the Kyoto standards, they will quickly gain a profound understanding of exactly what it means to reduce carbon emissions. Students will realize that nearly every move they make has an associated environmental impact.

Experience-based projects also provide an attractive alternative to traditional assignments and appeal to students with a wide range of learning styles and levels of intellectual sophistication. Many students welcome the challenge to use their own lives as an experiment. Often these projects bring a class closer together and foster an atmosphere of teamwork as students participate in the experience together. Learn more about the positive aspects of experience-based projects

How do I use experience-based environmental projects?

It is important to introduce an experience-based project in such a way that it motivates students to become personally engaged. The last thing you want to do is make students feel guilty about their environmental responsibilities. Students should feel excited about the experiment, not overwhelmed by their environmental responsibilities. Find ideas about how to get started, ways to track the progress of the class, and how to assess student participation. Learn more about how to use experience-based environmental projects

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