Virtual experimentation towards the development of early environmental responsibility skills
Environmental training is gaining momentum in European school education, often starting early on at the primary level. This is partly a result of elevated global awareness on the importance of education towards the development of environmentally aware future citizens. National level curricula in most European countries include high level objectives on environmental education as, for example, building respect towards the living world. However, input from the field demonstrates a lack of supporting deployment guidelines, applied learning activities, and tools especially in digital form. This paper presents an explorative and collaborative learning framework that takes advantage of virtual experimentation towards the development of environmental responsibility skills among young children. To ensure effective adoption, the proposed learning methodology builds upon existing school practices on in-class collaboration and project-based learning taking them a step further through virtual experiments. The approach is designed for deployment in wider blended learning scenarios that integrate in-class instruction, on-line learning, and site visits. Game-based, story-telling, and project-based didactical methodologies are combined towards the development of virtual on-line learning experiments that take advantage of children's natural curiosity to contribute towards the development of critical minds through exploration of alternative solutions and a focus on impact of actions. Mostly graphical interfaces hide underlying computational complexity that is not appropriate for the targeted age group; at the same time they help overcome language barriers promoting European wide deployment of proposed methodologies and tools. The proposed learning activities do not aim to replace existing environmental education practices; instead, they are designed as complementary tools that help enrich in-class instruction. Early validation based on proof-of-concept virtual demonstrators on natural resource management, energy, and pollution have demonstrated positive reaction among teachers and learners on the tools which promote learner engagement and help children build upon each other's knowledge through collaboration under teacher mediation. © 2010 IADIS.
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