Date of Award

Summer 8-13-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Dr. Maggie Renken

Second Advisor

Dr. Ann Cale Kruger

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Patico

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Bridget Dever

Abstract

The present research involved two studies that considered ecology-centered experiences (i.e., experiences with living things) as a factor in children’s environmental attitudes and behaviors and adolescents’ ecological understanding. The first study (Study 1) examined how a community garden provides children in an urban setting the opportunity to learn about ecology through ecology-centered experiences. To do this, I carried out a yearlong ethnographic study at an urban community garden located in a large city in the Southeastern United States. Through participant observations and informal interviews of community garden staff and participants, I found children had opportunities to learn about ecology through ecology-centered experiences (e.g., interaction with animals) along with other experiences (e.g., playing games, reading books). In light of previous research that shows urban children have diminished ecological thought—a pattern of thought that privileges the relationship between living things—because of their lack of ecology-centered experiences (Coley, 2012), the present study may have implications for urban children to learn about ecology.

As an extension of Study 1, I carried out a second study (Study 2) to investigate how ecology-centered experiences contribute to adolescents’ environmental attitudes and behaviors in light of other contextual factors, namely environmental responsibility support, ecological thought, age and gender. Study 2 addressed three research questions. First, does ecological thought—a pattern of thought that privileges the relationship between living things—predict environmental attitudes and behaviors (EAB)? Results showed ecological thought did not predict EAB, an important finding considering the latent assumptions of previous research about the relationship between these two factors (e.g., Brugger, Kaiser, & Roczen, 2011). Second, do two types of contextual support, ecology-centered experiences (i.e., experiences with living things) and environmental responsibility support (i.e., support through the availability of environmentally responsible models) predict EAB? As predicted, results showed that ecology-centered experiences predicted EAB; yet, when environmental responsibility support was taken into consideration, ecology-centered experiences no longer predicted EAB. These findings suggested environmental responsibility support was a stronger predictor than ecology-centered experiences. Finally, do age and gender predict EAB? Consistent with previous research (e.g., Alp, Ertepiner, Tekkaya, & Yilmaz, 2006), age and gender significantly predicted EAB.

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