Environmental Service Learning

Service learning, as defined by the National Service Learning Partnership, is:

"...a teaching method that engages young people in solving problems within their schools and communities as part of their academic studies or other types of intentional learning activity. Service learning helps students master important curriculum content by supporting their making meaningful connections between what they are studying and its many applications. Service-learning also helps young people develop a range of service skills, from acts of kindness and caring, to community stewardship, to civic action."

Service learning differs from community service in that a student’s community service project may teach valuable skills, but not necessarily offer any connection to content standards.

Examples of service learning

  • Students create a trash reduction campaign after studying the amount of trash that ends up in a local body of water and its impact on humans and the water cycle.
  • Students present posters and a presentation to younger students about what they have learned after studying the impact that water running off their campus has on living organisms.

Key elements of quality service learning

Ideally, when developing a quality service learning project aligned to specific content standards, all of the following key elements should be included:

1. Integrated learning

Service learning projects support the academic curriculum and vice versa.

2. Service to the community

Service learning projects bring together students, teachers and community partners to provide meaningful service that meets community needs.

3. Collaboration

A quality service learning project incorporates many partners (“stakeholders”) in its design and implementation, including students, parents, community-based organizations, teachers, school administrators and service recipients. All partners benefit from the project and contribute to its planning and implementation.

4. Student voice

Students participate actively in every step of the project, including identifying community needs and issues, choosing and planning the project, reflecting on it at each stage, evaluating it, and, most importantly, celebrating its success to reinforce a “job well done.”

5. Civic responsibility

By participating in a service learning project, young people learn that they can have an effect on their community and that their voice counts.

6. Reflection

Service learning incorporates important reflection time before, during and after the project to draw links between the social and personal aspects of the project and the academic curriculum.

7. Evaluation

Evaluation conducted by all partners, including the students, districts and communities, measures progress towards the learning and service goals of the project.

Why is service learning more effective?

Service learning primarily uses the methods of “practice by doing” and “teaching others,” both of which yield the highest learning retention rates. By integrating what’s learned in the classroom with outside-the-classroom community experiences, students retain more.

“The Learning Pyramid” developed by the NTL Institute of Alexandria, Virginia and pictured here, shows various curriculum teaching methods and the learning retention rates resulting from each method. (NOTE: NEED TO INSERT GRAPHIC OF LEARNING PYRAMID)

Join us for service learning training

TreePeople’s service learning training includes teacher workshops held throughout the year. The training also includes education summits offering a deeper study of issues presented by environmental education specialists.

For more information, please contact us at youthleadership@treepeople.org.