The Integration of Environmental Education into Two Elementary Preservice Science Methods Courses: A Content-Based and a Method-Based Approach

Oct. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 24, No. 6, October 2013, p. 1023-1047

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors were interested to examine the notion of environmental education (EE) as context for integrating the elementary curricula. They examined preservice teachers’ understandings of EE, their ideas to incorporate EE into their future teaching, and their conceptions of EE as a context for integration.

The authors engaged in a multi-case study analysis (Yin, 2009) of two preservice elementary science methods courses that utilized an experiential reflective approach— case one (University A) through a content-based approach and case two (University B) through a method-based approach.
While both courses also included both content and method, one course emphasized EE content and the other emphasized EE method to gain a better understanding of the importance of each in developing preservice teachers’ knowledge of EE and plans to incorporate EE into their future classrooms.

Data collection was conducted independently at each university.
Primary data sources included pre and post surveys and interviews.
Science notebooks and student work were collected from preservice teachers at both universities.


This study provides insight into how EE may be incorporated into the elementary science methods course.
University A focused on EE content, emphasizing the state standards dedicated to environmental and sustainability education, while University B emphasized problem-based learning as a pedagogical tool for teaching EE as an integrating context.
While the approaches to transitioning preservice teachers as learners of EE to teachers of EE differed, we found that both provided effective means of making that transition.
Results indicate that both foci (content and method) were successful in building EE content, helping preservice teachers to envision EE in their future classrooms, and promoting EE as a context for integrating their instruction.
In addition, the authors found that PLT provides worthwhile and effective activities for engaging preservice teachers in EE as learners.
These findings support the notion that science methods instructors should model for future teachers how to incorporate, integrate, connect, and combine content and practices to promote understandings of content and methods.

As part of this case study analyses, the authors examined the outcomes of the interventions at each university. Both methods courses incorporated readings, activities, and reflection.
While both universities were not able to include a teaching component into the course due to logistical constraints within the field experience, both included reflection on readings and on science as a learner. Since preservice teachers from both methods courses exhibited growth in understanding of EE content and pedagogy for teaching EE, the authors infer that this type of reflection orientation is an effective means to incorporate EE into the methods course.
Results from this study indicate that different approaches to incorporating EE into the methods course can be equally effective. Both emphases may be useful for future teachers, as incorporation of content standards and inquiry (University A) supports the Framework of K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012), and PBL (University B) is a research-based pedagogical tool for teaching science. University A preservice teachers stated they would teach EE through inquiry and community engagement, while those at University B emphasized outdoor education, thematic units, and use the PLT guide.
Thus, it is imperative that science teacher educators promote content and methods that are well supported by research. However, the results of this study indicate that regardless of the focus of the methods course, preservice teachers gained an understanding of both content and method.

Furthermore, preservice teachers as both universities were able to conceptualize EE as a context for integrating their instruction.
At University A, through experiences with field investigations and Sustainability Design Projects, the preservice teachers were able to expand their views of EE to include community action and inquiry. This focus on science and social studies content prevalent in the Sustainability Design Projects and the state ESE standards helped the preservice teachers understand how interdisciplinary content can be addressed through EE.
At University B, preservice teachers largely conceptualized EE as a context with which to integrate science with language arts and mathematics. Furthermore, language arts and mathematics received the most emphasis with regard to science integration in preservice teachers’ mini-units. The methods instructor did not emphasize integration within any one content area, so perhaps the focus on language arts and mathematics was due to the national (and subsequently, the university’s) focus on language arts and mathematics in elementary education.
This study found that preservice teachers can learn content, methods, and how to integrate their instruction in a short time when instruction focuses on either content or method.


The results support the incorporation of EE activities and instruction in science methods courses to enhance instruction in science content and teaching methods.
The authors also suggest an explicit focus in the methods course on science and engineering content, inquiry, and cross-cutting concepts as they relate to EE.
Results from this study suggest that elementary science methods instructors can include some of this content and method in elementary science method courses.

Updated: Mar. 20, 2016