Solving real-world problems

Service learning and environmental chemistry: relevant connections
Elizabeth S Roberts-Kirchhoff, Matthew J Mio and Mark A Benvenuto (eds)
2015 | 246pp | £97 (HB)
ISBN 9780841230088


Service learning (also called community-based learning) involves students working on assignments for academic credit that help meet the needs of a community partner. Learner reflection on personal and professional development is incorporated. In my experience, this can be a high impact pedagogical approach.

This book addresses the application of service learning to environmental chemistry. It should be of interest to environmental chemistry lecturers or anyone applying community-based learning within chemistry. However, the content is also relevant for those involved in context- or enquiry-based learning or schools outreach.

Some projects are designed for early undergraduates while others target later stage analytical chemistry students. Examples include analysing soil to inform planning for a community garden, or supporting local scouts earning badges. Many of the resources and activities presented (eg student debates, blogs, posters and the use of sources such as satellite air quality and census data) could be adapted for use in other active learning contexts.

The first chapter explains the characteristics of service learning and why it is suited to environmental chemistry. Pedagogical change resulting from active learning and the opportunity for social change by raising student awareness and facilitating their work with community groups is discussed. However, the chapter does not highlight links to the rest of the book: my impression is an opportunity has been missed to identify shared themes (environmental justice, analysis of air, soil or water quality) as well as unique aspects (eg exploration of societal impacts of nanotechnology using a board game and science fiction novel).

The remaining eleven chapters provide recent examples of service learning applied to environmental chemistry in US universities. Some well-established projects incorporating all characteristics of service learning are presented, but others are at an earlier stage of development.

Although this book topic is quite specific, anyone seeking to engage learners in actively addressing real-world problems should find it useful.

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