Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Environmental Identity Development in a Rural Southcentral Alaska Elementary School Birding Club
by Wallace, Katie, M.Ed., University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2020, 80; 27830825
Abstract (Summary)

Research suggests that birding may help children develop a healthy relation with the natural world, but no prior studies have explicitly explored how children experience environmental identity development in birding clubs. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to investigate the environmental identity development of 3rd grade children participating in an after-school birding club within a rural, isolated island community in southcentral Alaska. Environmental identity is the way that individuals perceive themselves with regards to their environment. As environmental identity develops, children are faced with a series of tensions at the different stages of the model. These stages include trust in nature versus mistrust in nature, spatial autonomy versus environmental shame, environmental competency versus environmental disdain, and environmental action versus environmental harm. Children taking part in this study conducted Sensory Tours at birding club. The Sensory Tours involved children wearing video recorders on their bodies as they went about their activities. The video recorders captured children’s interactions with one another and with their environment during the outdoor portions of birding club. Afterwards, in what is referred to as video-stimulated recall, the children met as a group to discuss the video data they collected. Data gained from the Sensory Tours and video-stimulated recall were sorted into categories based on the different stages of the environmental identity model. The results indicated that the children established trust in nature prior to entering birding club, which is to say that they felt a level of comfort and familiarity with the outdoors. The exception to this was that brown bears made most children feel uncomfortable, which resulted in some disrespectful behavior towards bears. The children also had negative perceptions of pushki due to the plant’s capacity to cause rashes, even though the plant has beneficial uses as well. Spatial autonomy, or the sense of freedom and independence in nature, was supported when children climbed boulders and developed their own methods for navigating boardwalks and descending stairs. Children gained environmental competency from birding club in the form of new knowledge and skills related to birding in the outdoors. These included the ability to identify birds by sight and sound, nest search, identify pushki, and pack for the outdoors. Opportunities for children to care for the environment by engaging in environmental action were limited, although the children did decorate birdhouses and learned to maintain a respectful distance from wildlife. Some children were conflicted about whether or not picking salmonberry flowers constituted environmental harm. In future years, more emphasis should be placed on educating children about living in harmony with brown bears, harvesting salmonberries sustainably, and the traditional uses of pushki. Birding club should also include more structured opportunities for children to engage in action for the environment. This will support children as they continue to form deeper connections between themselves and their environment. Finally, the results of this study have numerous applications for teaching environmental education in the general education classroom. They indicate that teachers should assess students based on their environmental identity development, explicitly teach perseverance and empathy to students, provide students with a greater sense of agency in their schoolwork, and encourage relationship building in the classroom.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Green, Carie
Commitee: Vinlove, Amy, Conner, Laura
School: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- Alaska
Source: MAI 81/11(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Elementary education, Environmental education
Keywords: Birding club, Children, Elementary education, Environmental identity development, Rural, Southcentral Alaska
Publication Number: 27830825
ISBN: 9798643172727
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