Skip to main content Accessibility help

Connecting Social and Natural Ecologies Through a Curriculum of Giving for Student Wellbeing and Engagement

  • Thomas W. Nielsen (a1) and Jennifer S. Ma (a2)


Using hermeneutic phenomenology to aid the reader ‘experience’ the data collected, this study reports on 18 college students, 4 staff members and the author's trip to a remote island on the Great Barrier Reef. It is a story of the (re)discovery of the social and natural ecologies that bind us together, and of how explicit teaching and learning about these ecologies can make a difference to young people's abilities to consciously be part of, contribute to, and sustain these ecologies. A grounded theory of five dimensions of giving (to self, others, communities, environment, and the whole) is offered as a beginning framework from which to imbue teaching and learning with meaning and social concern.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Jennifer Ma, Centre for Mental Health Research, 63 Eggleston Road, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 2601Australia. Email:


Hide All
Bailey, A., & Russell, K. (2010). A way to wisdom through service and relationships. Journal of Experiential Education, 32, 317321.
Baumann, D.J., Cialdini, R.B., & Kendrick, D.T. (1981). Altruism as hedonism: Helping and self-gratification as equivalent responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 10391046. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.40.6.1039
Beightol, J., Jevertson, J., Carter, S., Gray, S., & Gass, M. (2012). Adventure education and resilience enhancement. Journal of Experiential Education, 35, 307325.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Brown, S.L. (2003). An altruistic reanalysis of the social support hypothesis: The health benefits of giving. New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 42, 4957.
Brown, S.L., Nesse, R.M., Vinokur, A.D., & Smith, D.M. (2003). Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: Results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science, 14, 320327.
Connell, S., Flen, J., Sykes, H., & Yencken, D. (2014). Young people and the environment in Australia: Beliefs, knowledge, commitment and educational implications. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 30, 7887. doi:10.1017/aee.2014.28
Curriculum Corporation. (2006). Implementing the national framework for values education in Australian schools: Report of the values education good practice schools project — stage 1. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.
Curriculum Corporation. (2008). At the heart of what we do: Values education at the centre of schooling — The final report of the values education good practice schools project — stage 2. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.
Cutter-Mackenzie, A. (2014). Where are children and young people in environmental education research? Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 30, 103105. doi:10.1017/aee.2014.32
Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & Smith, R. (2003). Ecological literacy: The ‘missing paradigm’ in environmental education (part one). Environmental Education Research, 9, 497524.
Education Services Australia. (2010). Giving voice to the impacts of values education: The final report of the values in action schools project. Melbourne, Australia: Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Heimlich, J.E., & Ardoin, N.M. (2008). Understanding behavior to understand behavior change: A literature review. Environmental Education Research, 14, 215237.
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2012). World happiness report. Columbia University, NY: Earth Institute.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Climate change 2014: Synthesis report of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). Geneva, Switzerland: Author.
KidsMatter. (2017). About KidsMatter. Retrieved from https://
Midlarsky, E. (1991). Helping as coping. n Clark, M.S. (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology, Vol. 12. Prosocial behavior (pp. 238264). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Mindfulness in Schools Project. (2017). About us. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from
Nagel, M. (2005). Constructing apathy: How environmentalism and environmental education may be fostering ‘learned hopelessness’ in children. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 21, 7180.
Nielsen, T.W. (2011). A curriculum of giving for student wellbeing and achievement — ‘How to wear leather sandals on a rough surface’. In Wright, D., Camden-Pratt, C., & Hill, S. (Eds.), Social ecology: Applying ecological understanding to our lives and our planet (pp. 151164). Stroud, UK: Hawthorn Press.
Nielsen, T.W.(2014). Finding the keys to meaningful living: Beyond being sad and happy is to love. In Batthyany, A. & Russo-Netzer, P. (Eds.), Meaning in positive and existential psychology (pp. 8193). New York, NY: Springer.
Nielsen, T.W., & Ma, J. (2016). Investigating meaningful happiness and wellbeing in college students through a ‘curriculum of giving’ outdoor education program. International Education Research, 4, 113. doi: 10.12735/ier.v4n2p01
Overholt, J.R., & Ewert, A. (2015). Gender matters: Exploring the process of developing resilience through outdoor adventure. Journal of Experiential Education, 38, 4155.
Passarelli, A., Hall, E., & Anderson, M. (2010). A strengths-based approach to outdoor and adventure education: Possibilities for personal growth. Journal of Experiential Education, 33, 120135.
Payne, P. (2014). Childrens’ conceptions of nature. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 30, 6875. doi:10.1017/aee.2014.26
Post, S. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It's good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 6677.
Post, S., & Neimark, J. (2007). Why good things happen to good people: The exciting new research that proves the link between doing good and living a longer, healthier, happier life. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Robottom, I.M. (1984). Why not education for the environment? Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 1, 1113.
Schwartz, C.E., Keyl, P.M., Marcum, J.P., & Bode, R. (2009). Helping others shows differential benefits on health and well-being for male and female teens. The Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 431448. doi:10.1007/s10902-008-9098-1
Seligman, M.E.P.(2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realise your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: Free Press.
Sheldon, K.M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2004). Achieving sustainable new happiness: Prospects, practices, and prescriptions. In Linley, A. & Joseph, S. (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 127145). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Slemp, G.R., Chin, T., Kern, M.L., Siokou, C., Loton, D., Oades, L.G., . . . Waters, L. (2017). Positive education in Australia: Practice, measurement, and future directions. In Frydenberg, E., Martin, A.J., & Collie, R.J. (Eds.), Social and emotional learning in Australia and the Asia-Pacific (pp. 101122). Singapore: Springer.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1997). Grounded theory in practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Strife, S. (2010). Reflecting on environmental education: Where is our place in the green movement? The Journal of Environmental Education, 41, 179191. doi:10.1080/00958960903295233
Tilbury, D., Coleman, V., & Garlick, D. (2005). A national review of environmental education and its contribution to sustainability in Australia: School education. Sydney, Australia: Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES) for the Department of the Environment and Heritage.
van Manen, M. (2016). Researching lived experience, second edition: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
VIA Institute on Character. (2017). VIA character strengths in positive education (and children/youth). Retrieved 25 October, 2017, from https://
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Australian Journal of Environmental Education
  • ISSN: 0814-0626
  • EISSN: 2049-775X
  • URL: /core/journals/australian-journal-of-environmental-education
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed