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Learning about place and the environment through school-based ecological monitoring in the Frenchman River Basin, Saskatchewan



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Community-based ecosystem management (CBEM) is increasingly advocated as a way to conserve biodiversity, monitor, and maintain ecosystem functions in the context of local land use practices through an inclusive management approach. However, while CBEM is based in principles of inclusion, there is very little attention in environmental management and education literature directed to the role of youth in stewardship activities, and the environmental learning outcomes and other meanings that may result from these practices.The purpose of this thesis is to describe participatory and experiential environmental learning carried out in the Frenchman River Basin, Southwestern Saskatchewan. Here, I investigated how students’ participation in an ecological monitoring program contributed to their understanding of their local environment and to their sense of place, and considered how the development of a learning community among students, teachers, community members, and academic researchers influenced these processes.This research adopts a mixed methods approach, employing knowledge-based tests to explore student learning outcomes and using interpretations of place through student photographs and interviews to examine their sense of place. I take a phenomenological approach to defining what constitutes place for students, as well as how sense of place is formed for them, elucidating how their experiences participating in the ecological monitoring program entered the process of meaning construction.This case study found that both experiential and participatory approaches to learning helped foster environmental understanding as well as place appreciation and attachment. The Frenchman River, previously described as a taken-for-granted feature of the familiar landscape and largely associated with its agricultural importance, was re-negotiated as a social space, a place of play, learning, and biological significance. Research findings also suggest that place meanings are deeply rooted in students’ rural identity, and that this influenced their participant experience, independent of environmental learning outcomes. The creation of a learning community was a mobilizing force for school-based ecological monitoring and information sharing, while acting as a source of symbolic significance for student participants, helping students to see their place from the perspective of an outsider.



photographic diaries, ecosystem stewardship, meaningful participation, experiential learning, environmental education, insider/outsider relations, participatory learning



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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