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Getting Out Gets Results: Environmental Education Research from Boston and Beyond


Student Engagement
Environmental education programs immerse students in their physical surroundings. A field-based urban ecology program in Boston helped students (especially girls) connect to their community through scientific investigation.4 Students in research from across the country, have shown more interest in learning when their programs used the environment as a context for integrating math, language arts, social studies, science, and/or the arts. Extensive research exists documenting the link between enthusiasm for learning and subsequent academic achievement. It is little surprise that kids learn better when their hands and minds are actively engaged.

Academic Achievement
At least a dozen recent research studies have documented positive associations between environmental education and student academic achievement. These collectively represent 16 states and nearly 300 schools. Many of these studies have included extensive analysis of standardized test scores. Boston schools with renovated schoolyards were associated with higher MCAS scores in Math. Other research has shown that students involved in environmental education demonstrated improved critical thinking, a better ability to apply science to real-world situations, and improved science knowledge.  Some of these studies also showed environmental education to be associated with higher GPA, better attendance, and/or other measures of academic achievement.

Environmental Stewardship
Children's involvement in environmental education can provide a foundation for environmental stewardship behavior. A study that presented data from several schools across New England, including Boston, showed that students with more environmental education were more likely to report taking action to help the environment.  An evaluation of a Boston-based program emphasized the importance of providing young people with initial and repeat outdoor experiences. Early adolescents in another study reported more confidence in their own capacity to make a difference and displayed more optimism for the future as they worked with other students on environmental issues. Yet, education is only part of the story of getting kids outside. Adults (in or out of school) can be a significant influence in nurturing children's interest in the environment. Feelings of safety and security have been identified as being important to a child's ability to bond to a place. Childhood experiences of special natural places, often with the companionship of a caring adult, have been reported by adults as top reasons for their continued involvement in environmental engagement and activism.

Connections and Collaboration
Environmental education is about understanding the interconnectedness of our surroundings, and it is about studying local places. These features create excellent opportunities for making connections between new groups and ideas. Environmental education can encourage connections across generational lines when projects have children become the experts and then teach their parents. Projects involving school grounds can be used as opportunities for collaboration with people working in other related fields and to promote involvement in issues of children's physical, social, mental, and spiritual health. A Boston study provided several useful recommendations for ways environmental education programs can build connections across cultural lines through increased cultural competency. The Boston Youth Environmental Network is a prime example of how environmental education brings people together.

The four page report also includes extensive references for each of these findings.


Label Value
Author Boston Youth Environmental Network
Pedagogical Area
  • environmental education
  • outdoor education, experiential education
Delivery Area
  • school based
  • on site day programs (nature center, farm, etc.)
Outcome Area
  • academic performance
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
  • stewardship behavior
  • environmental change
Participant Area
  • student
  • community
  • environment
Demographic Area
  • urban
Age Area
  • early childhood (2-5 years old)
  • elementary (6-11 years old)
  • middle school (12-14 years old)