EE in the Schools Toolkit

Find the tools and resources you need to bring environmental education to your classroom, school, district, or community.  Each section of the toolkit provides how-to information, action steps you can take, and resources to help you.

Check out case studies from Colorado public schools that have implemented exceptional school-wide environmental education programs.


Why is EE Important?

Integrate EE in the Curriculum

Assess and Evaluate EE

EE in the School Building

EE on the School Grounds

EE in the Community

Connect with Others in EE

Professional Development

Learn about the CO EE Plan

What Steps Can I Take?

Educators, schools, districts, and community organizations and agencies have tremendous impact on a student’s environmental literacy.  They can help students make connections, develop a sense of place, and provide the environment for learning concepts and skills. Download a variety of actions you can take to bring environmental education to your school. Choose the strategies that work best for you!


Why is EE Important?

group of children in woods


The need for environmental literacy in Colorado is clear. Today’s students will face many environment-related challenges as they grow into tomorrow’s leaders.  Environmental education helps students learn more about the natural systems we all depend on, and understand what we must do to interact responsibly with our environment and safeguard natural resources for future generations. Moreover, it builds lifelong stewards for Colorado’s wealth of natural resources, spaces, and lifestyle. But these are not the only benefits of environmental education. Research shows that effective environmental education benefits students and classroom learning in a number of ways.


Here are just a few of these benefits:

Learn more about the benefits of environmental education through NAAEE's eeWorks.

Improves Student Focus, Attentiveness and Performance

  • Integrates material across traditional core disciplines, such as science, language arts, math, and social studies
  • Motivates students to be creative and critical thinkers
  • Ignites student curiosity by engaging them in hands-on field activities in an educational setting
  • Stimulates student enthusiasm for learning by incorporating all five senses into daily learning
  • Increases student retention

Develops Life Skills

  • Provides students with opportunities to develop and use critical thinking, problem-solving, listening, and communication skills
  • Teaches students how to gather, organize, interpret, and synthesize information
  • Encourages students to ask questions, speculate, and hypothesize about the world around them
  • Promotes students to think critically about the choices they make and weigh the opportunity costs associated with them
  • Improves student leadership skills such as working in teams, and listening to and accepting diverse opinions

Connects Classroom Learning to the Real World 

  • Helps students understand the interrelationship between humans and the environment
  • Fosters an understanding of how everyday choices and activities impact resources and communities
  • Introduces students to current real-world environmental challenges
  • Provides opportunities for students and schools to engage community and/or business spokespersons in learning experiences
  • Utilizes Colorado’s natural resources—wetlands, nature trails, wildlife, community parks, forests, rivers—to offer real world learning experiences, both inside and outside the school

Fosters Student Engagement with School Buildings and Grounds

  • Utilizes the school building as a teaching tool
  • Students can study and map energy and water use at their school
  • Students can explore purchasing, transportation, recycling, environmental health and safety, food services, and fitness practices at their school
  • Students can use the outdoor grounds as learning laboratories
  • Students can create and maintain gardens on school property
  • Gives students a sense of ownership in their school by allowing them to use the school buildings and grounds for learning
  • Engages students in discussions regarding school building usage and facility planning

Develops Students’ Critical Tools for the 21st Century Workforce

  • Prepares students to address the present and future environmental challenges and innovations that impact our quality of life as Coloradans.
  • Teaches students about the importance of the health of Colorado’s farms, forests, ranches, and wildlife
  • Exposes students to Colorado’s natural beauty and ways to protect it for future generations
  • Introduces students to a number of careers in green jobs, recreation, and tourism—all of which represent a significant source of state and local income
  • Creates an environmentally literate future workforce
  • Prepares students for the complex environmental issues and decisions they will need to make in the future
  • Promotes actions that take the long-term view
  • Shows students how they can make a positive impact in their school and/or community

Fosters Better Cooperation Among Communities, Businesses and Schools

  • Engages students in a variety of community-based projects that promote a sense of appreciation and positive regard for their communities
  • Helps students develop personal connections with their community and community leaders
  • Immerses students in local heritage, cultures, and landscapes
  • Utilizes the community and businesses as a learning laboratory (Parks, Nature Centers, Farms, Food Processing Plants, Museums, Public works, Government agencies, and more)
  • Joins forces with communities and businesses in a number of projects (Community gardens, Clean-up projects, Neighborhood health and safety improvements, and more)

Promotes a Healthier Student

  • Increases the time students spend outdoors
  • Provides students with opportunities to directly experience nature
  • Increases student sense of personal responsibility and self-esteem though involvement in community  activities
  • Promotes healthy habits
  • Engages students in a variety of environment-related activities and recreations, thereby reducing the time they spend watching television, playing computer games, and participating in other sedentary activities

    Integrate EE in the Curriculum

Boys and Skink


In order to achieve environmental literacy in Colorado, environmental education needs to be integrated into all aspects of students’ learning experience. Environmental literacy is a part of Colorado’s Academic Standards, and a tool that can be used to teach concepts and skills across disciplines. Curriculum is the foundation of student learning. If curricula are designed with environmental education in mind students will experience increased engagement with environmental education.

What are the Key Ideas to Integrate into the Curricula?

Schools and districts should infuse environmental education into the curriculum and engage students in environmental education experiences, to ensure that upon graduation from 12th grade; environmentally literate students in Colorado are able to (These ideas were informed by the Project for Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning PreK-12, created by the North American Association for Environmental Education):

  • Connect content across disciplines related to natural and human systems
  • Understand the connections between people and places and the interrelationships between humans and the environment
  • Demonstrate processes and skills including critical thinking, inquiry and issue investigation
  • Participate in proactive decision-making in their community and school

Read More about these Ideas in the NAAEE Pre-12 Learner Guidelines

The knowledge and skills that make up these ideas are an integral part of Colorado’s State Academic Standards. They can be both integrated into existing courses or units of study or inserted as a new course or unit of study depending on school or district needs.

What resources are available?

Curriculum Planning Resources
●    Project for Excellence in Environmental Education Materials Guidelines
●    Project for Excellence in Environmental Education Prek-12 Learner Guidelines and Self Assessment
●    Learn and Serve Colorado Service Learning Toolkit

Standards-Based Resources from the Colorado Department of Education
●    Colorado Environmental Literacy Standards Indentified by CDE
●    CDE’s Online Searchable Colorado Academic Standards

Ready to Use Curricula and lessons

Assess and Evaluate Environmental Literacy

Kids on top of Boulder

Assessment of environmental literacy is a part of the teaching and learning process.  By measuring changes in student environmental literacy over time, we can strive toward continual improvement.  Assessments should be based on mastery of the state academic standards for environmental literacy, competencies, and dispositions.

What can we measure?
Competencies:  What are students able to do?

Competencies are clusters of skills and abilities. Find skills embedded in the evidence outcomes throughout the standards. These include the capacity to:

 •    Identify environmental issues
•    Ask relevant questions
•    Analyze environmental issues
•    Investigate environmental issues
•    Evaluate and make personal judgments
•    Use evidence and experience to defend positions and resolve issues
•    Create and evaluate plans to resolve environmental issues

Knowledge:  What do students know?
Find knowledge embedded in the Grade Level expectations of Colorado’s Academic standards.  Environmental literacy entails knowledge of:

 •    Physical and ecological systems
•    Social, cultural and political systems
•    Environmental issues
•    Solutions to environmental issues
•    Citizen participation/action strategies

Dispositions:  How do students feel?
Dispositions are important determinants of behaviors, both positive and negative, toward the environment.  Learners’ dispositions toward the environment are thought to influence their willingness to recognize and choose among value perspectives, as well as their motivation to participate in public deliberations about environmental issues.  They include:

 •    Sensitivity
•    Attitudes, concern, and worldview
•    Personal responsibility
•    Self-efficacy
•    Motivation and intentions
Learn more about the Competencies, Skills, and Dispositions at

Where can I get ideas on assessment and evaluation of environmental literacy?

EE in the School Building

RMNP Distance Learning Program

One of the most effective ways to illustrate environmental literacy is through the daily practices of the school. By working to make their school sustainable, students will get hands-on experience with environmental education on a daily basis. Whether it be through using a “green” building, greening operations or integrating environmental curriculum, daily practices can advance environmental literacy.

The school building itself is a valuable learning tool, as energy systems, water systems and waste systems can all be studied and used to teach important concepts and skills within the Colorado Academic Standards. Students, educators and staff can also explore purchasing, transportation, recycling, reducing waste, environmental health and safety, food services and fitness practices. These practices will not only provide effective models and examples for learning, they can engage students in planning and proactive decision-making, and potentially provide thousands of dollars of savings for schools and districts.

Where can I get ideas on how to use the school building for EE? 

Kids at Gardens on Spring Creek

Almost every K–12 school has at least some outdoor space that faculty could use (or already  uses) to breathe life into concepts learned in the classroom. Even within tight urban settings,  many schools have had success using rooftops to install safe and secure play and garden  areas.

Research shows that students better absorb and retain math, science, language arts and other skills that incorporate their immediate environment and use all five senses. Outdoor play has been linked to stronger social skills and increased creative development. These positive educational impacts are especially strong when outdoor activities are an integral part of the structured curriculum. Because each school site has unique assets, a prescriptive plan for every building is not realistic. However, schools can create asset maps that include people and spaces that will build meaningful, place-based outdoor experiences for students, teachers and schools.

Where can I get ideas on how to use the school grounds for EE?  

Citizen Science Opportunities for Schools

EE in the Community

The environment is where we live. The environment is our community and our classroom. The people, animals, plants, parks, businesses and organizations that surround our schools are our environment. Learning about the environment around us is not only a relevant and authentic context for learning, it is also rich with resources to support teachers and learning. These environments motivate and energize student learning; whether you are building awareness of the environment we live in or investigating an environmental issue, these places, businesses and organizations have a role in supporting environmental literacy. By utilizing the vast learning opportunities available in our communities, we create schools without walls and allow learners to engage with the places they call home.

One of the most common ways to access the resources of the community is through field trips. Field trips and experiences at nature centers, wastewater treatment plants, power generators, local stores and businesses, natural areas, museums, and state parks, or participation in outdoor recreation, can also be invaluable experiences that enhance student learning:
 A growing body of research documents the power of informal learning experiences to spark curiosity and engage interest in the sciences during school years and throughout a lifetime. Informal science education institutions have a long history of providing staff development for teachers, and enrichment experiences for students and the public. Informal science education accommodates different learning styles and effectively serves the complete spectrum of learners: gifted, challenged, non-traditional, and second language learners.[1]

These experiences can motivate learners, facilitate the development of place-based connections, demonstrate the relevance of the content being taught, and meet different needs and learning styles of students.

Where can I get Ideas on how to involve the community in EE?

[1] National Science Teachers Association. Position Statement: Informal Science Education. Retrieved from

Connect with Others in EE

Educators at Training in Costumes

Environmental education is an inherently collaborative endeavor. Opportunities for networking and sharing ideas exist within the school, within the district and within the community. Working with other teachers or community educators can help build confidence in teaching environmental education. Shadowing, modeling and mentoring with these expert teachers, nonformal providers or other community resources can provide teachers with the tools, techniques and confidence they need to implement environmental education in the classroom.

Concrete learning in authentic or natural settings helps students see interrelationships, form place-based connections and makes learning relevant. As a result, it is critical that teachers work with other teachers, nonformal educators and partners to create environmental education experiences that enhance the school and classroom curriculum rather than merely supplement it. 

How can I connect with Others in EE

Professional Development

Quality environmental education professional development, resources and programming should help educators and students move toward participation and informed decision-making about the environment.

People Discussing

Quality professional development, resources and programming is:

  • Standards-based
  • Focused on 21st Century, and postsecondary and workforce readiness skills
  • Driven by the National Guidelines for Excellence in EE
  • Delivered by a diversity of providers, including members of the following communities: STEM, wellness, nutrition, higher ed pre-service and in-service, liberal arts/sciences
  • Ongoing
  • Available across a range of depth, breath and levels of experience
  • Occurring as close to the school/classroom as possible
  • Inclusive of planning for and applying new ideas and strategies at a classroom level, particularly that educators can start immediately
  • Mindful of providing ongoing support (human and material resources)

Where can I get Ideas on professional development and training in EE?