Our results indicated that the curriculum we developed afforded multiple opportunities for CEA development as participants shared their perspectives of the experiences; yet, there were also external and internal constraints that limited CEA development.
3.1. Critical Environmental Agency Affordances
In designing our program, we purposefully created and implemented experiences which would encourage participants’ CEA development. Our goal was to model for our participants experiences and activities they could in turn do with students to cultivate CEA. Our coding revealed that participants’ meanings did align with our goals of CEA integration as all five principles were coded across 18 of our 19 participants. One individual did not have a code for principle e (vision), and in reflecting upon this individual, we realized she was the most disengaged of the group and, during discussions and even her interview, she discussed how hard and overwhelming the PD was. In pulling apart the principles, we were concerned as to whether we would be able to capture CEA development as we realize that the principles work in conjunction with each other and are not isolated points in time. Thus, we were encouraged when coding that most excerpts were coded for more than one CEA principle, which confirmed that the principles supported each other.
3.1.1. Principle A: Knowledge
All 19 participants discussed knowledge they gained during the spring preview and week-long PD. This not only included content in biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, and geography, but participants also identified skills such as observation and data collection. One participant shared how she appreciated a PD that taught science content, “But a lot of our PD is, let me tell you how to work through labs. ADI is big right now. It’s just a way to work through a lab. You have argument-driven inquiry. And it’s all fine, but I need information. I need someone to talk to me about nitrogen fixation. I need more details on my science. So I feel that I got satisfied in my knowledge”. Another participant observed, “We were making new discoveries. We were using the scientific method. We were asking questions, making observations, formulating a hypothesis, setting up some type of experiment. Like when we were listening, we could hear the frog calls, and we were trying to find them”.
In addition to participants discussing the deeper understanding they developed, there was a positive significant difference in the scores from the pre-science content assessment (M = 59.3, SD = 18.87) and the post-assessment (M = 90, SD = 4.60); t(38) = −7.07, p
= 0.000 and on scores from the pre-watershed mapping assessment (M = 35.3, SD = 24.78) and the post-assessment (M = 88.5, SD = 12.78); t(38)= −8.53, p
= 0.000. The watershed mapping assessment also highlighted participants’ desires to learn about their own watershed independently as we did not explicitly teach about each watershed. Rather, we used the Okefenokee as a model for how to learn about a watershed and how to develop a watershed citizen science project. In further analyzing the excerpts coded for knowledge, three themes emerged: knowledge of watersheds, identification skills, and Adopt-A-Stream inquiry practices (Figure 3
In regard to knowledge of watersheds, participants noted how the spring preview set the stage for learning about watersheds, while the use of local swamp guides and Adopt-A-Stream training and monitoring solidified their understanding of the importance of watersheds. One participant noted how his view of water had been altered by the knowledge he gained, “The way that water actually travels around is—really, I never thought about it. It’s water. Just there. I wasn’t sure of where it actually went and it’s cool to actually look at that. I really just want to know where it goes. But I want to go find actual bodies of water and streams and see where they’re actually at and what leads to it. Because I know we have a lot of farms and the chicken plant and all the chicken farms and things. So it would be cool to see actually what we are contributing”. Another participant also discussed how she came to think about local watersheds, “I don’t think people realize the impact of what they throw into the water, what they put into the water, and even on a local scale what it does. What it does on a community scale, what it does on the watershed scale, and then eventually, the watersheds eventually do flow into the Gulf where I’m at. And if we’re already looking at dead zones, how is the nitrogen runoff, or how is the trash that you throw into the river, how is that going to impact the dead zone, which is actually growing this year? How much more is it going to impact it?”.
Identification skills were also continually mentioned as an important part of their experience (Figure 3
), especially in terms of the macroinvertebrate surveys and how this reflected water quality. As one participant shared, “I never realized how much ‘a bug’ can tell me about the quality of the water that’s around me, just because of how some are sensitive to pollution and some are tolerant”. Several participants noted how identifying organisms was new to them, and they highlighted the birds, trees, frogs, and macroinvertebrates we encountered. One participant summarized her experience with species identification by stating, “That’s kind of new to me. I was not comfortable with those before. But now I am. So as far as learning how to identify, and now how to use those in the watershed, knowing how important they are. That was new”. Even one of our seasoned participants who has taught over 20 years and has led macroinvertebrate lessons in her class notes how her knowledge had increased when asked about a wow moment during the PD, “the macro-vertebrate identification, I had tried different activities in my classroom along those same lines. I have a file folder with 10 different ID things through the years, but I never have felt like I had enough expertise identifying. So that was just so exciting to refine my skills on that. And because that particular activity is something that kids really get excited about looking at insects like that is primo. So I loved that”.
Adopt-A-Stream monitoring (water chemistry, macroinvertebrates, and Escherichia coli
) also afforded opportunities for participants to deepen their understanding of water and watersheds (Figure 3
). One participant, who shared she was “not a chemistry person” observed that “having the support of learning the water quality gives me some assurance that when I go back I have better tools to offer the students, I have a little more—a lot more knowledge to take that back and I feel a little more stable in that area”. Participants also shared how the PD enabled them to not only understand the science behind Adopt-A-Stream but also how to implement sites on their school grounds, with one participant noting, “I think the biggest wow for me was learning more about the water quality testing with Adopt A Stream. Several years ago at my school, we got the stuff and attempted to do it, but I don’t think we really knew what we were doing and understood what it was. It makes so much more sense about what we should have been doing, and we definitely were not doing things the right way. So it’s nice to have the training and know what we’re doing now”.
3.1.2. Principle B: Identity
Identity development was discussed by all 19 participants in terms of how they saw themselves and others (lifelong learners/curious, love of nature) and how they viewed what they “were not” (not one who observes or identifies and/or not one who takes students outdoors) to what they saw themselves becoming (smart/comfortable, greater connection to watershed, and outdoor teacher). Questions from the teacher environmental literacy survey [50
] also confirmed how participants viewed themselves prior to the PD and after the PD (Table 4
Over half of the participants shared how the whole group was motivated and committed to learning, as one participant stated, “There was not a single person in this whole group that was not motivated to be here, and once they were here, participated fully until there was just no more time left”. This group-level identity was mentioned as helping participants fully engage and contribute. One participant noted that having this group of motivated colleagues felt like “almost a family environment”. He shared, “I don’t get to geek out with my friends over those things because they’re not science people. I geeked out with a bunch of science teachers over something that most people would look at me like I was crazy for being excited about. A sundew. Most people won’t even ever see one. And we’re a group standing around staring at something the size of a dime, and we were actually excited to be doing it. And then we walked off and each found our own little packs, and we were all super excited to have found our own. And then we would all run over to the person that found their own. I mean, I love being outside. I love the critters. But every once in a while, you just get out in it and you get a renewed appreciation for it. And especially, if you go with people who share similar interests as you. And it’s exciting to be a part of a group that’s excited about this stuff”.
Participants described themselves in terms of how they saw themselves, what they were “not”, and what they saw themselves becoming (Figure 4
One participant shared how “science is always going to start with being curious about something for me. If I’m not curious about it, I’m not learning it”. Another described her cycle of learning that occurred, “And when I’m talking about that I’m learning, not only my learning from you [PD instructors] but I’m learning from others. I feel like I’m also contributing to that teachable moment. So I’m receiving those teachable moments and I feel like there are times that I can actually participate and give some of those teachable moments”. In terms of love for nature, one participant stated, “I’m very motivated to help the environment. I’m a people person, and I really feel as though this workshop is going to help my ability to use science to help people not just to understand science, but to help them understand science and their impact and how they can better themselves in the whole process especially with the state of the world the way it is”.
Participants also noted that participating in the PD highlighted what they were “not”, with the two most common mentioned attributes being not one who observes or identifies and/or not one who takes students outdoors. Yet even in identifying what they were not prior to the PD, all participants who mentioned these also noted how their identity was now shifting and they were starting to become someone who observes and identifies and/or someone who is going to take their students outdoors. The theme of not being someone who can identify organisms to becoming someone who was able, comfortable, and excited to find and identify supported the knowledge theme of identification skills. As one participant shared, “I’ve learned characteristics, how to distinguish things. So that’s something that I was like, “Oh, I can do this”. It’s becoming more and more natural”.
Finally, participants also shared what they saw themselves becoming. Participants discussed feeling good or proud of themselves and connected these feelings to increases in knowledge, particularly in terms of identification and content. In terms of professional growth, a participant stated, “I’m really, really excited to go back and teach. It [next school year] just can’t get here fast enough, even though we just got on summer break. But there’s so much. I’m really, really excited to grow as a science teacher”. Another participant stated, “It made me want to do more fieldwork. I’m going to be honest. I have enjoyed this. And being in the classroom, I’ve only been there 10 years, but even being in the classroom, I was kind of getting burned out with some of this. So being able to come back and kind of reignite my passion for science and what I like, too”.
3.1.3. Principle C: Place
Place was also recognized as an important component of the PD (Figure 5
). One participant summarized it as, “A lot of what I’ve experienced here is specific to the Okefenokee, but a lot can definitely be transferred to my area. So I’m excited to use my experience here to find kind of a similar eye opening experience for them when we go outside. Like I said, going out on the nature trail. Okay. But really digging, and finding those examples, and finding things for them to question and be really interested in”. Another participant shared, “I came to the United States when I was 12. So I really do not know any history of our State or the United States, as a matter of fact. And I’ve heard things through my education, through college but I really have not had a lot of time to get to know where I live, the state where I live. So being able to be here and experience and go back home and tell my own kids of the experience, it’s just a very different perspective on the history. I feel a lot more prepared to talk to my kids about watersheds, birds, to talk to my kids about trees, to talk to my kids about the swamp. It’s a big difference from before I came”.
Participants also indicated that experiencing the Okefenokee first hand afforded them opportunities to make connections between their experiences and knowledge gained. As one participant connected first-hand observations she made with the water quality testing results, “I was watching these fish come to the surface gasping for air, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s odd. I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed that before’. But I didn’t say anything or ask anybody about or didn’t point it out. I just noticed it and went on. And then, when we started actually doing the testing and realized how low the oxygen content was in the water, then I was able to connect that back to what I had seen”. This participant went on to say, “And then it just got me thinking, that water is very different from the water that I’m going to be testing at my home site in moving water in the mountains. I know that it’s going to be very different, but I’ll be able connect that back and relate it back to our local watersheds”.
In addition to pinpointing being in and experiencing the Okefenokee ecosystem, participants discussed their places and spaces in terms of knowing it better, understanding the environmental quality, and recognizing historical/cultural aspects that influence it. These indicate that participants were beginning to engage and develop their critical consciousness of place (42) as they were in the beginning stages of recognizing environmental issues and disruptions in their place (decolonization). For instance, one participant observed how she began to think about her local water quality, “I’m interested historically in going back. Especially during the 1970s because a lot was happening on the coast. And going back and really bringing that history in because I think that makes students relate to it from a historical perspective, but also just knowing more about the place and the harbor deepening and connecting it to environmental law”. At the same time, participants started to re-imagine their places as areas where their students could become more invested in living responsibility within their watersheds (reinhabitation). As one participant commented, “So I’m really interested in doing some of this monitoring and learning about the water that’s in our area. I want to help educate them [students] on the water that they’re drinking that ‘This is the water that you swim in. This is what you use to water your gardens. This is our water”.
3.1.4. Principle D: Action
The actions our participants shared centered around their roles as science teachers (Figure 6
). As one participant stated, “I want to do more with, kind of, big picture down to small picture. I didn’t really do that when I taught watersheds this past semester in environmental, and so I want to do more of looking at the state or even the country as a whole, and then zooming in smaller and smaller and smaller, talking about what are some potential problems we see in our watershed here but looking at it from this perspective. I want to do more visualization with the kids”. Another participant shared that his goal was to use science to “maintain water as a resource” while another planned to use science to “help organisms in our watersheds”.
One participant compared her actions to planting seed, “So help others by putting in your little seed, whether it be by collecting trash, by learning the difference between X and Y or so and so. So by informing my students with information that they need to pass a test or to become better citizens or for them to tell their family and friends about it, that’s helping others”. While another participant wanted to take action with his fellow teachers, “I want to connect with the ninth-grade environmental teacher. I want to connect with the high school biology teacher. I want to connect with the eighth grade for the physical science teacher. I mean we even share a closet. I can literally pop my head into her room at any given point. We do probably five times a week. I want to connect here to what I’m doing so the students have a more consistent understanding of how everything connects”.
3.1.5. Principle E: Vision
In discussing their vision for a more just future for the environment, participants shared a common vision of the future that was two-fold: helping students grow into informed citizens and connecting their local community to science and the natural world (Figure 7
). As one participant noted, “there’s a missing community engagement in environmental science, and saying let’s look in our community. We don’t all have to look at a global scale or anything like that, but what’s going on in our community? How can we address some of these things in our community that might not change on a global scale but it can impact on a smaller scale?”.
As participants shared their visions, one participant noted, “As teachers, if we’re going to get any type of community buy-in, we have to be able to discuss it. We have to be able to show how to use the tools, why the tools are important, how they can impact the local community, and why does it matter in the local community to be able to use science and to be able to engage”. Another participant summarized his intent with, “My goal, as an educator, is to teach them well enough to where they go out and they teach others about it. And by teaching others, then we should be able to hopefully, in time improve our environment”.
Participants also agreed on how showing students that they could contribute to science would empower the students to envision themselves differently. For instance, one participant said, “If I can get them [students] to understand that they can contribute, I think it adds to their self-worth. And again that goal of becoming a citizen, being productive and conscious of what they’re doing”. Yet, another participant also shared, “And it gives you a feeling like you’re part of it. And if you have a personal connection to a bigger whole, it keeps you motivated. It keeps you wanting to go back and do that. You don’t have to be an environmental biologist or a chemist. You just have to want to understand. And once you understand it, you’re not afraid of it. You can do it. You can collect our data, contribute, and feel a part of it”.
3.1.6. Summary of CEA Results
In the co-occurrence analysis (Table 5
), we also noted how principle a (knowledge) and principle b (identity) were frequently coded together (n
= 43), which affirms the framework given developing knowledge/expertise directly influences identity development. Principle a (knowledge) and principle c (critical consciousness of place) also co-occurred most often together (n
= 43); this again exemplifies the CEA framework as the environmental sciences in conjunction with historical and cultural knowledge directly impacts critical consciousness of place development. Finally, principle d (action) and principle e (vision) co-occurred together at the highest rate (n
= 48). These two principles work hand in hand as indicating one’s desire or ability to act enables one to envision opportunities for themselves and others to enact.
In analyzing the emergent themes for each code, three overarching themes surfaced. First, scientific knowledge as the foundation for our PD was instrumental in CEA development. Exposing teachers to the science research and content strengthened their knowledge and identity and helped them to become comfortable enough to take action and envision implementing citizen science with their students. Second, the place-based nature of our PD reinforced the importance not only the importance of the Okefenokee Swamp, as one of Georgia’s most unique ecosystems, but also tethered local watersheds together throughout Georgia and helped participants see how their local areas came together in larger watersheds that eventually flowed to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. Finally, the focus on Adopt-A-Stream as a community program enabled our participants to further connect to their students’ lives as well as to themselves. This is the distinction between CEA development and CSA, in that place becomes of utmost importance, affording opportunities for a more vested committed as participants lived and worked in the impacted communities.
Analysis of the data revealed an additional theme beyond the CEA principles—the constraints felt by participants that impacted their CEA development in some way (Figure 8
There were self-constraints described that pertained specifically to participant performance or engagement while at the PD. Their own lack of knowledge coming into the PD may have hindered their participation. They described situations where the PD provided new opportunities that differed from the way they had previously taught in their classroom; even interacted with fellow participants in a different way than their colleagues at home. Seven participants described situations where they had previously been teaching a certain way, some as a new teacher and some as veteran teachers, but had learned a different method through the PD. Many of the examples they provided included not taking students outside for field experiences, because of the complications that can arise in taking large classes outside. One described her personal reflection following a week of working outside in the swamp, “Why do I not do more of that with my students? Why are they not having those opportunities? And I think just the activities that we did are things that I don’t typically do. I don’t get outside very much”.
Fifteen participants shared how a lack of content knowledge hindered their behavior or a personal awareness of a lack of knowledge. This subcategory included the largest number of participants, and many of the participants expressed multiple examples of lack of knowledge throughout the interview. “It took me longer”; “I couldn’t figure it out”; “I’ve never been in a swamp”. In trying to explain their shift in plans for their classroom, they usually had to start by saying why they could not teach something initially, which started with a lack of understanding or familiarity with some aspect of the swamp or watershed ecology. One participant even stated, “Asking questions in a group of people is really scary. Because I don’t ever want to be seen as the dumb one”.
There were also institutional constraints that participants identified and shared as possible barriers to implementing the actions and visions they had developed. Five participants expressed their frustration with colleagues from their schools not joining them for the summer PD or not being interested in trying something new or lack of willingness to change a current practice in their school. One participant who had mentioned how rejuvenated the PD made her feel going into the following year seemed downcast when she shared, “I’d be excited to show them what all I learned in the swamp. But I don’t feel like it’s going to be really encouraged”. Some participants described situations in their classrooms that had previously impacted the way they taught or planned for instruction. Some even suggested that resistant colleagues missed out on this opportunity; perhaps this resistance would impact the shift in instruction upon return to the classroom.
Five participants shared that the responsibilities or workload expected in their school was too much to add something new to their plate. One participant explained that there had previously been another teacher at her school who had been leading some citizen science field work, but when that person left, “nobody stepped up to take that on. It’s one of those things that nobody wants anything extra on top of what all they’ve already been doing”. Another participant expressed teachers feel that there are expectations at the school level, perhaps from administrators, to adhere to a certain pacing guide or set of expectations that do not allow for a dramatic change in instructional practice. “We sometimes get pigeonholed trying to meet deadlines and standards, and this is just a revitalization of how important it is to step away from that”.
Four participants shared concerns about the students in their local schools—concerned about their students’ opportunities and awareness to engage in science and environmental education compared to peers in other areas throughout the state. These four participants all taught in schools with high poverty and worked with historically marginalized students in regard to access to science and environmental education. One shared her concern for student futures, “I think they are afraid even to express their opinion and I think if they don’t work through fear, whatever they think would never be heard. And if your voice isn’t heard you become frustrated and you limit yourself”.
Finally, participants identified barriers within the PD implementation itself. Five participants shared that the amount of material that was planned for the week-long PD moved too quickly for them to adequately process. This led to missed information and, in some cases, frustration with the missed opportunity. One participant shared how during the chemistry lecture, she started to shut down: “Actually, I got kind of frustrated with it. I kept getting up and going to the bathroom and coming back because I was getting frustrated, but I’m the kind of person, when I get overwhelmed, I need a break, and then I will come back. But even though that happened during the chemistry unit, I think it was a good thing because it reminded me of what it’s like to be a struggling student, because I had forgotten that feeling. In the moment, I was really frustrated, but now, reflecting on it, that was a good experience”. Another clarified, “In the spring preview, we learned a lot, and it was just—it went over my head. So I just wanted to go into more and understand it better. And I feel with the actual experiences and with the lectures we had, it was more like, oh, it finally clicks, type of thing”.