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Connecting Environmental Education to STEM

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There is a natural connection between STEM and Environmental Education.  Many of the skills that students employ in STEM studies are effortlessly put to use while studying nature including: making observations, developing hypotheses, and inquiry into system function.  Environmental Education (EE) emphasizes cooperative learning (i.e., working in teams or with partners), critical thinking and discussion, hands-on activities, and a focus on action strategies with real-world applications.

​As a teacher, you can use EE in your science program to:

  • Introduce inquiry-based instructional activities with real-world applications
  • Encourage critical thinking about these activities
  • Allow individual choice about and engagement in the particular problem to be solved
  • Help students make connections between disciplines
  • Foster independent and cooperative group learning

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Incorporating EE into your science curriculum may spark engagement among  students who do not thrive in a traditional classroom setting. Tasks such as making observations, identifying and classifying come to life – literally – while studying trees, birds, insects and mammals.  Subjects including life cycles, metamorphosis and adaptation seem to jump off the page!  Hands-on activities create connections for students who may otherwise seem distracted.  As a side benefit, studies have shown that 20 minutes spend outside is sufficient to elevate attention performance – the residual of which may spillover to the rest of the day in the classroom.


Outdoor environmental education cultivates curiosity and discovery in children; and it encourages students of all ages to make science a part of everyday life!

Sometimes traditional instruction, such as lecturing, is the most practical approach to covering broad content. But when students learn through a problem- or project-based approach—a key strategy in environment-based education—they gain a better understanding of what they learn, they retain it longer, and they take charge of their own learning.


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​Environmental Education crosses many disciplines from math to social studies, to language arts and art.  If you have a garden at your school or a schoolyard habitat, you have a living laboratory at your disposal. Consider analyzing soil, plotting plant growth, doing an insect inventory, graphing rainfall, and studying trees.  Something as simple as dandelions makes an excellent subject for study.  Water and energy resources can tap into math and engineering topics, at all grade levels.


Here at VINS, we focus on meeting the needs of teachers and students in science, inquiry and place-based education.  We work closely with you in a collaborative approach that provides high quality professional development.  Our goal is to bring science investigations to life in your classroom!

Courses We OfferIndependent Study in Science Instruction
This graduate level course supports teachers in the implementation and practice of the Next Generation Science Standards and is delivered as an extension to the VINS School Program.  As an independent study, this course is centered on the needs of individual teachers and is flexible to adapt to their individual goals.  We will focus on how we can use the NGSS to help students engage with the world around them as scientists and engineers.  We will explore the NGSS in depth, identify the implications for instruction, find connections between CCSS and the NGSS, develop lessons aligned with the NGSS and reflect on the implementation of the NGSS in your classroom.  This course is designed for teachers in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade.

Dates:      Flexible and teacher dependent (offered in fall and spring semesters)

Format:   In-person and online

Tuition:  $820 for 2 Graduate Credits through Castleton University
                  $570 for 2 Relicensing Credits – Scholarships Available

Composed by Mary Ellen Kelly 

Contact education@vinsweb.org with questions or comments.