Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Margaret Zidon


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to describe seven elementary teachers' conceptions of environmental literacy in relationship to a tall grass prairie restoration project and to explore ways in which the tall grass prairie restoration project for third grade contributed to enhancing educational learning experiences. The research questions were: 1. What are teachers' conceptions of environmental literacy for third grade students? 2. How does the prairie restoration trip contribute to teachers' capacity to teach for environmental literacy of third grade students? 3. What is the pedagogical value of the prairie restoration project? The theoretical frameworks underpinning this study were David Sobel's (1996) model for developmental progression in children's relationships with nature, and the North American Environmental Education Association's (2011) framework for environmental literacy.

The first assertion derived from thematic data analysis of interviews, field trip observations, classroom observations, and artifacts was, The participating teachers' visions of environmental literacy for third grade students included components that spanned across a developmentally appropriate progression from cultivating empathy for living things, to fueling discovery of nature, to fostering a sense of responsibility toward the natural world. Components of environmental literacy described by teachers included being at ease in the natural environment, appreciation and respect, wonder and curiosity, awareness and interdependence, sense of agency, responsibility and service, and environmental knowledge.

The second assertion stemming from thematic data analysis was, The prairie restoration project and related curriculum have pedagogical value that included and exceeded addressing state science standards. In addition to addressing state science standards identified by teachers, the curriculum related to the prairie restoration project served as an agent of curricular cohesion to integrate a variety of subject areas, developed scientific ways of thinking, provided life experience for children, and fostered authentic learning experiences through concrete connections. It also provided a means to enhance the presence of science and social studies in elementary curriculum.

Themes emerging from qualitative data analysis resonated with Sobel's model of progressive stages in children's relationships with nature, and resulted in a tool potentially useful for design of elementary curriculum aimed at developing environmental literacy.