Date of Award

Summer 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eleanor Abrams


In recent years, the Environmental Science course has become increasingly integrated into the high school curriculum as a component of the core curriculum, an AP course, or as an elective (Edelson, 2007); however, little research has been conducted to evaluate the course's effectiveness in developing students' understanding of their relationship with the environment (Zelezny, 1999). Therefore, this ethnographic study at a public high school in the Northeastern United States focuses on the teacher's goals for the Environmental Science course, how students respond to the enactment of these objectives during activities in the classroom, and how the class impacts students' views of their relationship with the environment and their pro-environmental behavior. A sociocultural approach is utilized to explore how students' environmental identities, their interactions with the course content, as well as their social interactions affect their experiences in the Environmental Science classroom. The study's conceptual framework is based upon Kempton and Holland's (2003) stages of environmental identity development, as well as symbolic interactionist theories of emotion. The participants in this study are an Environmental Science teacher and the 10-12th grade students (N=17) in her semester-long elective, "Environmental Science." The researcher collected data for a period of six months during the spring semester of 2009, attending class on a daily basis. Data was collected through participant observation, videotaping, interviews, cogenerative dialogues, and various surveys. The objectives for the Environmental Science course explored in this research include the role of science content knowledge and critical thinking as students are exposed to new environmental information; developing students' emotional connection with environmental issues; influencing students' environmental behavior; and empowering students to feel that they can make a difference through their own actions. Through presentation of the students' reactions to their experiences in the classroom, the results of this study provide new information for educators working with students to help them define their relationship with the environment by illuminating the elements of various activities that are effective for individual students, as well as factors that may be prohibitive. Findings therefore provide insight for science teachers designing and incorporating environmental activities into the high school curriculum.