The Arboretum at Penn State has collaborated with Emily Olsen, a former Arboretum intern and volunteer who now teaches SCIED 112 Climate Change for Educators, to share some examples of a project that her students completed during the fall 2023 semester.

The students in Emily’s class are undergraduates in the Penn State College of Education and are majoring in education or an education-related field. Many of the students will go on to be elementary-level teachers in Pennsylvania and other states. Their fall project showcases a style called Photovoice, where students take photos representing an issue that matters to them and then use those photos to reflect on different aspects of their community and action steps that they can take to help solve the issue.

Photovoice is a method of Participatory Action Research (PAR). PAR, initially created in the 1970s and still in use today, is informed by worldwide perspectives, with an origin in countries considered to be in the “Global South,” including India, Columbia, Peru, Chile, and Tanzania. Original PAR projects have also been conducted in countries considered to be in the “Global North,” including Europe, Canada, and the United States. PAR is a method and tool for bringing out the knowledge that an individual already has, collectively making sense of that knowledge with a community, and taking action on the knowledge that is created to create a more sustainable change.

The students in the Climate Change for Educators class decided as a group to focus on an issue that was important to them: Pollution. This included air pollution, smoke, trash, plastic use, and recycling on campus. They could focus on this issue in State College or the place they call home. They took a photo that illustrated the issue and wrote a reflection about the photo, including why they took it and how they felt about what they were taking a photo of. In class, the students shared their photos and reflections with the whole group to collectively make sense of the issue using multiple perspectives from their classmates and to talk about action steps. We hope you will enjoy some examples of the students’ projects as we highlight them on our News feed over the coming weeks.