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Teaching education for sustainability

Teaching education for sustainability

July 1, 2014

By Avery McNiff

Place-based learning enables students to get out of the classroom and directly interact with local communities. This past winter, Visiting Lecturer in Education Studies Emily Hoyler and students in her course Education for Sustainability in Action ventured off campus and into Vermont schools and communities to experience both learning and teaching.

The term “education for sustainability” (EFS) embodies the kind of education that prepares learners with the knowledge, skills, and understanding necessary to meet the challenges of the future. Through place-based education and service-learning, students become citizens engaged in creating more sustainable communities.

Hoyler’s Winter Term class introduced students to the idea and practice of EFS, giving students an overview of its framework and then getting them out in the field to experience “what it looks like and feels like, and how to create it,” explained Hoyler.

After a week of discussing the readings and forming a solid sense of community, the class made daily trips to Shelburne Farms to both observe and help teach field trips with the farm education staff. During the third week, the students completed their major course project—the design and teaching of a four-day after school "EFS mini-course" for elementary students at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes, a K-5 magnetic sustainability themed school in Burlington. The course included activities based on the diversity of nature, how the health of bodies is related to the health of the planet, and “place” and students’ connections to it.

In the final week of the course, Emily's students spent time reflecting on what they had accomplished—and what might come next. “I intentionally designed the course to teach students about education for sustainability and also to model it,” said Hoyler. “They experienced it both as students and as potential teachers, so they could learn from what they experienced as well as figure out how it fits into their life path.”

Hoyler also helped to organize several major events to engage Middlebury educators and students, including a workshop called “Making Connections: Education for Sustainability Summit” at Shelburne Farms, and the Stone Soup Summit, an annual farm-to-school gathering hosted at Middlebury College in March.

Starting this fall, Emily Hoyler will be teaching 3rd grade at the Bingham Memorial School in Cornwall, Vermont.

View a short video about the Winter Term class.