Environmental Civic Engagement*

* The Massachusetts Envirothon program encourages youth environmental civic engagement (see our Community Awards page)!  We provide the information below to encourage nominations of programs and projects with a civic engagement component for the Secretary’s Awards for Excellence in Energy & Environmental Education)

Civic engagement is an essential dimension of education for environmental literacy

  • The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) defines an Environmentally Literate person as “ . . . someone who, both individually and together with others, makes informed decisions concerning the environment; is willing to act on these decisions to improve the well being of other individuals, societies, and the global environment; and participates in civic life.” https://cdn.naaee.org/sites/default/files/envliteracyexesummary.pdf
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Environmental Education as “ . . . a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions.” https://www.epa.gov/education/what-environmental-education

One aim of the Secretary’s Awards for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education is to recognize and celebrate projects and programs that include this civic dimension of environmental education. 

The following resources may be helpful for

  • identifying your civic engagement outcomes, and

  • integrating civic engagement into future environmental education projects and programs

From NAAEE:  Brief Descriptions of the Competencies, Knowledge, and Dispositions for Environmental Literacy https://cdn.naaee.org/sites/default/files/briefdesccompknowdisp.pdf

A brief video talk from NAAEE’s website:  “Environmental education is all about helping people develop the knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to participate in civic life to improve environmental and social conditions for themselves and others and to help shape the future. Civic engagement can take many forms—from volunteering to register new voters to working with others in a community to solve a problem. By giving people opportunities to get involved, it can help empower them to become more active citizens.”  https://naaee.org/eepro/learning/eelearn/what-is-ee/lesson-2/civic-engagement

Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements, A research-informed model for measuring, calibrating, and improving your practice.  While not focused exclusively on environmental education, this resource from the Buck Institute includes valuable program and project design ideas, particularly for authentic experiences and for integrating youth voice and youth leadership in learning:  https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl/gold-standard-project-design

According to Gold Standard PBL, the Seven Essential Project Design Elements are:

  • A Challenging Problem or Question – The project is framed by a meaningful problem to be solved or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge
  • Sustained Inquiry – Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, and applying information.
  • Authenticity – The project involves real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact, or the project speaks to personal concerns, interests, and issues in the students’ lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice – Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection – Students and teachers reflect on the learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, and obstacles that arise and strategies for overcoming them.
  • Critique & Revision – Students give, receive, and apply feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product – Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to audiences beyond the classroom.

In fall 2018, Massachusetts enacted Chapter 296 of the Acts of 2018, An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement.  The law states in Section 2.(c) that

“Each public school serving students in the eighth grade and each public high school shall provide not less than 1 student-led, non-partisan civics project for each student . . .  Civics projects may be individual, small group or class wide, and designed to promote a student’s ability to: (i) analyze complex issues; (ii) consider differing points of view; (iii) reason, make logical arguments and support claims using valid evidence; (iv) engage in civil discourse with those who hold opposing positions; and (v) demonstrate an understanding of the connections between federal, state and local policies, including issues that may impact the student’s school or community. Any student choosing not to participate in a particular group or class-wide project shall be offered the opportunity to develop an individual civics project, with approval by the principal.”

The Civics Project Guidebook http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/hss/civics-guidance.docx, compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education “. . . supports and promotes meaningful implementation of the law.  The Guidebook is designed to support educators as they provide all students across the Commonwealth with opportunities to complete meaningful student-led, non-partisan civics projects.”

For example, the Guidebook sets OUTCOME GOALS OF STUDENT-LED CIVICS PROJECTS (page 6):

By completing civics projects, student will be able to…


While the issues and tactics for action will vary greatly across classrooms, each project should provide opportunities for students to practice and hone all of the listed outcome goals.

There are many other resources for designing, implementing, and evaluating environmental civic engagement education.  Your suggestions to add to this list are welcome!  Contact

Will Snyder, ECNext and Mass Envirothon Steering committee,  wsnyder@umass.edu