“Green” school buildings can help students better understand the role that humans have in and on the environment, a small study suggests.
Nearly 40% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings, according to the United Nations Environment Program. As non-renewable resources become more scarce, some school districts are turning away from coal and oil toward alternative sources of energy, such as solar panels.
For a new study, Laura Zangori, assistant professor at the University of Missouri, and Laura Cole, assistant professor of architectural studies, collaborated with the school district in Columbia, Missouri, to examine the impact of a certified green school building on 37 fifth-grade students.
Roughly half of the students went to class in a green school building over the course of the school year while the other half attended school in a neighboring trailer classroom. Both classes conducted similar curricular activities throughout the school year.
When teachers asked the students to draw a picture that reflected how their school building affected the ecosystem, the researchers found that students taught in the green building saw a much more positive relationship between the building and the environment.
“Let’s teach kids to love nature before we ask them to save it.”
“In addition to teachers, buildings serve as a second educator, and where we put our kids tells them a lot about what we think of them,” Zangori says. “By talking about how energy flows through a building to provide electricity or the consequences of cutting down trees to build something that is not sustainable, we can help students start to make those connections at a younger age.”
Environmental factors such as increasing indoor air quality or natural sunlight can have positive impacts on academic learning for young students, Cole says.
“Green school buildings provide an opportunity for students and teachers to learn about sustainability by using the building and environment they interact with every day. Rather than solely using fear-based tactics, such as showing pictures of wandering polar bears to explain climate change, let’s teach kids to love nature before we ask them to save it.”
The study appears in Environmental Education Research. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and the Office of Research, Graduate Studies, and Economic Development and the Margaret Mangel Award at the College of Human and Environmental Sciences, both at the University of Missouri, funded the work.
Source: University of Missouri