Benefits of Contextual-Based Learning

Environmental education is rooted in teaching students about understanding the connection between natural and human systems, identifying environmental issues, problem-solving solutions, and taking actions that promote both individual and systemic change.

Environmental education is rooted in teaching students about understanding the connection between natural and human systems, identifying environmental issues, problem-solving solutions, and taking actions that promote both individual and systemic change. Teaching environmental education is often centered around creating awareness of environmental challenges in the community we live in and participating in activities that further student’s understanding of the world around us. Teachers should integrate environmental education through contextual-based learning because it connects content to real-life and “centers on the belief that both the social context of the learning environment and the real, concrete context of knowing are pivotal to the acquisition and processing of knowledge.” (Source: Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, 2012).  

One of the main ways that environmental education serves as a useful medium for contextual-based learning is that it is often introduced to students through a multi-disciplinary approach that is more reflective of the world we live in. Through this approach, teachers create lesson plans that cover a multitude of subjects, such as science, English, and math with an environmental topic as the foundation. This allows them to dive deep into the issue and uncover how it relates to their lives.  

For example, if a kindergarten lesson investigates how human’s need for water impacts the environment, students can observe and analyze how humans use water through a series of images. They can also watch a video explaining irrigation and discuss with their classmates and teacher how humans affect the environment with their use of water. Students can then discuss the ways that human over-consumption of water affects local flora and fauna that also rely on water to thrive. Finally, students can identify ways that they can decrease their water consumption and begin working towards a solution. In this example, students cover a range of instructional standards and learn about a situation relevant to many students who live in drought-prone areas such as California. Teachers may even explore the outdoors with their students and observe the effects of drought first-hand. Contextual-based learning allows students to see environmental education in a way that is applicable to their daily lives. 

 A few of the strategies behind contextual-based learning include: 

  • Problem-based learning: an approach that engages learners in problem-solving investigations that integrate skills and concepts from many content areas. This approach includes gathering information around a question, synthesizing it, and presenting findings to others (Moffitt 2001).  
  • Cooperative learning: an approach that organizes instruction using small learning groups in which students work together to achieve learning goals (Holubec 2001).   
  • Project-based learning: an approach that focuses on the central concepts and principles of a discipline, involves students in problem-solving investigations and other meaningful tasks, allows students to work autonomously to construct their own learning, and culminates in realistic products (Buck Institute for Education 2001).   

Green Guardians’ mission is to advance environmental literacy by providing teachers with the tools and resources to implement environmental education into their classroom curriculum. This year, in association with California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI), Green Guardians has created the CAELI Community-Based Partner Hub (the Hub). The Hub is a directory of environmental education community-based partners for teachers, and administrators to identify and facilitate local and culturally relevant environmental-based programs for students. Additionally, through strategies such as contextual-based learning, Green Guardians has developed lessons that cover a wide range of environmental topics such as resource conservationwaste management, and pollution while addressing state instructional standards in English language arts, science, and math. The first two lessons are Bananas About Bananas and My Journey to Zero Waste. 

Bananas About Bananas advances environmental literacy through a series of 3 lessons based on English language arts standards and science and is best suited for Kindergarten and First-grade learners. Through readings, games, and discussions, students trace the journey of a banana from the farm to the home and beyond! Students consider the environmental impact of the banana’s journey and envision a greener approach. 

My Journey to Zero Waste is focused on waste management and the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle). The lesson series teaches environmental literacy for Kindergarten and Grade 1 through 5 lessons based on English language arts, math, and science standards.  In the lesson, students explore their environmental impact through two birthday parties and the subsequent waste that is created or not created in each. 

Teaching environmental education is attainable for all teachers, especially those who are equipped with the resources needed to integrate the subject into their curriculum. Teachers can sign up to be a part of our teacher network where we share new lesson plans (as well as pilot programs for teachers to participate in), updates on the Hub, environmental education news, and resources that help advance environmental literacy. 

Sign up today to become a part of our Green Guardians Teacher Network!

Professional Development Programs 

Environmental Educator Certification Program 

California’s Environmental Educator Certification Program (EECP) draws together stewards and educators of the environment into a structured and effective initiative. Certification is a public declaration that a certain individual meets a stringent level of requirements and has a specific set of skills. The EECP enhances the legitimacy of the EE profession by building a uniform foundation in effectively teaching about the environment. Additionally, through participation in the certification program, educators increase their knowledge and skills, expand their professional network, enhance their resumes, and make important connections across the state. and Environteers Weekly Update 

The website and Weekly Update feature and promote all 102 environmental entities in Santa Cruz County. They both publicize environmental education activities and volunteer opportunities with the mission of making it easy to keep informed and in action protecting and restoring our environment. provides the most comprehensive resources for environmental information and action in Santa Cruz County. 


Relevant Links 

CAELI Community-Based Partner Hub

The Hub promotes environmental literacy by building educator awareness of environmental education community-based partners and their products and services and fosters educator-partner relationships for increased student enrichment and engagement.

California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI)

The California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI), led by Ten Strands, works statewide with guidance from a leadership council to create systems change in support of environmental literacy with a focus on access, equity, and cultural relevance for all students.

Ten Strands

Ten Strands weaves stakeholders and strategies together into strong, focused education partnerships, with the goal of raising environmental literacy by providing high-quality environment-based learning and hands-on education to all California K–12 students. Ten Strands acts as an incubator and a catalyst to create collaborations, build capacity, and transform systems to increase their impact and sustainability.

PBS Grade K-2 Lesson: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

In this media-rich lesson featuring LOOP SCOOPS videos, students consider how the concept of “needs” vs. “wants” can help them think about ways to protect Earth’s natural resources by reducing, reusing, and recycling materials. 

LEGO Grades 1-5 Lesson: Sort to Recycle 

Students design a device that sorts objects using their physical properties, including shape and size. 

CELF Grade 2 Project: Composting 

Students are going to start a composting program in the school in partnership with a local community garden. Students will also create a presentation to share with the school to raise awareness on the issues of waste.

Human Impact on the Elkhorn Slough and its Watershed 

The multiple piece lesson focuses on observing human impacts on the Elkhorn Slough and its watershed and then applying that information to management questions. 

Living with the Land: An Environmental Study through Ohlone Worldview 

Living with the Land allows students to explore human relationships with the natural world from the perspective of Ohlone indigenous knowledge and contrasting western science approaches. By observing the wetland’s past and present, students learn about what wetlands provide and how humans impact this habitat.   

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