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Environmental education is tricky. At times, even more so than Run-D.M.C. rockin' a rhyme.
This is a fact which I have known for a while, but has become a constant consideration in my full time work as an environmental education intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During my time in the field and at other programs around Alaska working with youth I have been a careful observer of the educators and their methods of…well, education! Of course, I have also participated as a leader in some of these activities, but it is my observations which are preparing me and teaching me how to be a successful educator.
For example, I have been witness to the most wonderful “ah ha!” moments when an educator finally breaks through to a kid. Eyes light up at a newly learned fact, a mouth hangs open at the sight of a wild animal in its natural environment, hands suddenly develop a mind of their own and no longer care about getting dirty or wet. You never can tell when or what will trigger these reactions, and it is something different for every kid, but the essential ingredient is a great teacher.
On Tuesday I got to work with the ANSEP (Alaska Native Science & Education Program, check them out here) middle school discovery day. One of the favorite activities of the day was an outdoor hydrology station which taught the kids how to be both bad and good engineers when developing along a river. The middle-schoolers were a bit timid as they approached the water table and heard an explanation of the activity they were about to embark on. The group leader invited them to start putting twigs and pebbles into the “river” to make it a more realistic environment and a few brave kids stuck their hands into the cold water as others looked on (enviously I thought!). As the activity went on, the kids were asked to build dams, bridges and culverts in their river. Now everyone was getting into the project and no one seemed to notice that their sleeves were wet and covered with dirt. But how could they while they were scrambling to save the town they had built together from a “flooding” event?! (Photo courtesy of the ANSEP facebook page)
Kids learn by playing, by falling down, and by making a mess of themselves. This activity was successful because it was put on by an educator who cared enough to prepare a unique, hands-on learning experience. Oh yeah, and he didn’t treat the kids like kids. They were future engineers! I can’t stress this point enough because in my observations and experience this is one of the most important ways to connect with a young audience. Kids are not going to care about any issue if they aren’t engaged. When it comes to environmental education this means getting outside and experiencing the environment first hand!
If you have a few minutes, please read this fantastic and inspiring article linked here from Orion magazine. In Look, Don’t Touch: The problem with environmental education, David Sobel dives into the root and some solutions of the “trickiness”, as I put it, of environmental education (EE).
As I sit at my desk working on my own EE project, “Creeks & Critters” (mentioned here in my first post) I find have a lot to consider when designing the kiddos activities. More than anything I want to make this a fun and memorable experience for the kids. I mean, who doesn’t hang on to at least one or two memories of a favorite field trip or classroom activity?! Anyway, to sum up what I am saying is this: The pressure is ON. Over the coming weeks I will be looking for any and all the help I can get to make “Creeks & Critters” a success. Any links or comments about awesome creek-related activities relevant to Alaskan 4th and 5th graders are welcome : )
Alright now stop reading on the internet, get outside and enjoy the weekend!