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Imaginative ecological education

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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This research investigates how school-based Ecological Education programs currently develop students’ ecological understanding (an awareness of humankind’s interconnectedness within the natural world) and how these programs may do so more effectively. Insight into how to support the development of ecological understanding may be found in Imaginative Education, an approach to teaching that situates engagement of the body, emotion and imagination at the core of all learning.Three questions guide the research. The first seeks to clarify the goals of Ecological Education and to articulate the kinds of pedagogical practices currently in place to support their achievement. It becomes clear that, among other problems, the means and ends of Ecological Education are misaligned. Despite the fact that emotional and imaginative engagement with the natural world is considered important for nurturing students’ relationships with nature, emotion and imagination play a limited role in the theory and practice of Ecological Education. Similarly, while one often sees students actively involved in experiential types of learning activities in Ecological Education programs, the kinds of activities students are participating in may not be contributing in meaningful ways to the body’s understanding of a topic. How engagement of the body, emotion and imagination in learning may play a more central role in Ecological Education is the focus of the second research question. A description of the theory and practice of Imaginative Education reveals an educational approach in which culturally-based learning tools bring engagement of the body, emotion and imagination together in practice. The principles of Imaginative Education may be used, with some adaptation, in the context of Ecological Education. The third research question asks what form a marriage of Ecological Education and Imaginative Education might take. I outline an ecologically imaginative pedagogy focused on the cultivation of students’ close, personal relationships with the local natural environment and shaped by engagement of the body, emotion and imagination in learning. This framework for Imaginative Ecological Education may be used for teaching any topic and has the potential to support students in forming the kinds of emotional connections with the natural world that underlie ecological understanding.
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