Engaging Families in STEM Through Environmental Education

Engaging Families in STEM Through Environmental Education

Sara Hooks (Towson University, USA) and Judith Cruzado-Guerrero (Towson University, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2711-5.ch009
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Family engagement in education refers to a partnership between schools and the community to support children's development and learning. Family engagement has been at the forefront of education initiatives in recent decades as research has shown positive effects on a variety of student outcomes. At the same time, there has been increased emphasis on integrating environmental education into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content areas. This chapter illustrates how engaging families in environmental education within STEM curricula can benefit schools, families, and the community. Existing literature on family engagement in environmental education will be explored, along with strategies to engage families. Specific strategies for engaging families who are culturally and linguistically diverse will also be discussed. The chapter concludes with recommendations taken from the literature for designing, implementing, and sustaining family engagement in environmental education.
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The positive effects that result from families and schools working together on behalf of students has been well documented by numerous studies (Castro, Expósito-Casas, López-Martín, Lizasoain, Navarro-Asencio, & Gaviria, 2015). Some of the many benefits of family-school partnerships include increased student achievement in academic subjects, reduced drop-out rates, and improved post-school outcomes (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012; Jimerson, S., Egeland, Sroufe, & Carlson, 2000; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005). More specifically, students tend to do better when families have high expectations for student achievement, maintain consistent communication between home and school, and support curriculum in the home (Castro et al., 2015). Therefore, family engagement has become a priority in recent educational reform efforts (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). A variety of terms have been used in the literature to label parent/family participation in K-12 education, including parent involvement, family involvement, parental support, and more recently family engagement. For the remainder of this chapter, the term “family engagement” will be used as this term implies togetherness as opposed to “family involvement”, which has been criticized as a term associated with families as an add-on rather than as equal partners in the educational process (Ferlazzo, 2011). Family engagement in education refers to “a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reach families in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.” (Weis & Lopez, 2009, p. 6).

Family engagement in environmental education that promotes Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Mathematics (STEM) is one way to involve families in meaningful ways. Engaging students and families as partners in environmental education within STEM curricula has potential to positively impact the family, school, and community, as issues related to the environment concern individuals of all ages. While the effects of environmental education on child outcomes have been explored, researchers more recently have examined how this translates to the adults in students’ lives (Vaughan, Gack, Humberto, & Ray, 2003). Furthermore, there is potential for greater impact when students’ families are engaged and become active participants in environmental education to influence eco-friendly attitudes and behaviors. This chapter will explore cases of family and community engagement in environmental education efforts that promote STEM from the existing published literature and the impact of intergenerational learning from child to parent and parent to child. Second, themes related to engaging families who are culturally and linguistically diverse will be discussed, including benefits and strategies to promote increased family engagement. Lastly, examples of how schools can partner with families and the community surrounding environmental STEM education will be proposed within existing frameworks of parent engagement, including special considerations that extend beyond traditional partnership models. Specific objectives of the chapter are to: (1) highlight the importance of family engagement in environmental education, (2) illustrate how environmental education can be embedded across STEM curricula while engaging families, (3) discuss barriers and strategies to overcome such barriers associated with engaging families whom are culturally and/or linguistically diverse, (4) explore literature on family engagement in environmental education within models of family engagement, and (5) propose recommendations and implications for the field to promote family engagement in environmental education through practical application and future research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Environmental Dispositions: An individual’s attitudes, values, and concern for the environment.

Out-of-School Time: Activities and learning that occur at locations other than the school property. Examples can include nature centers, environmental centers, hiking trails, or other location where learning can occur.

Environmental Skills: An individual’s ability to perform actions on behalf of the environment.

Intergenerational Transfer: Knowledge, skills, beliefs, and behaviors acquired indirectly by way of observation or interaction between family members. This can be from parent (or other care giver) to child, child to parent (or other care giver).

Intercommunity Transfer: Knowledge, skills, beliefs, and behaviors acquired indirectly by way of observing or interacting with other community members.

Environmental Knowledge: An individual’s awareness of and their ability to acquire and retain facts, concepts, and ideas related to environmental topics.

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity: Individuals or families who have been traditionally underrepresented in the United States and may have a different race, ethnicity, social class, gender identify, or native language.

Environmental Behaviors: An individual’s actions that result from gaining awareness, knowledge, and having a positive disposition toward environmental issues.

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