Cultural Studies of Science Education

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 7–31 | Cite as

Learning in and about rural places: Connections and tensions between students’ everyday experiences and environmental quality issues in their community

  • Heather Toomey ZimmermanEmail author
  • Jennifer L. Weible
Original Paper


Guided by sociocultural perspectives on the importance of place as a resource for learning, we investigated 14- and 15-year old students’ understandings of their community and water quality during a school-based watershed unit. Methods included a theory-driven thematic analysis of field notes and video transcripts from four biology classrooms, a qualitative and quantitative analysis of 67 pairs of matched pre- and post-intervention mindmaps, and a content analysis of 73 student reflections. As they learned about water quality, learners recognized the relevance of the watershed’s health to the health of their community. Students acknowledged the impacts of local economically driven activities (e.g., natural gas wells, application of agrichemicals) and leisure activities (e.g., boating, fishing) on the watershed’s environmental health. As students learned in and about their watershed, they experienced both connections and tensions between their everyday experiences and the environmental problems in their community. The students suggested individual sustainability actions needed to address water quality issues; however, the students struggled to understand how to act collectively. Implications of rural experiences as assets to future environmental sciences learning are discussed as well as the implications of educational experiences that do not include an advocacy component when students uncover environmental health issues. We suggest further consideration is needed on how to help young people develop action-oriented science knowledge, not just inert knowledge of environmental problems, during place-based education units.


Science education Place-based education Environmental education Informal–formal connections Community-based learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather Toomey Zimmerman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jennifer L. Weible
    • 2
  1. 1.Learning, Design, and Technology ProgramPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Teacher Education and Professional Development DepartmentCentral Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA

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