Conservation education is second nature

Issue: Volume 97, Number 10

Posted: 25 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9jMK

This year’s Conservation Week is running from 15 to 23 September and will provide themes, events and information that will allow schools and communities across the country to get involved in their environment.

Conservation Week is a part of their wider focus on environmental education

Conservation Week is a great opportunity for schools in New Zealand to celebrate and discuss conservation and sustainability.

But for some schools, Conservation Week(external link) is just a part of their wider focus on environmental education – especially for the rising number of Enviroschools across New Zealand.

One of Enviroschools’ earliest members was Hukanui Primary School in Hamilton, which encompasses the philosophy of integrating topics around conservation and sustainability into the curriculum. The school also uses an inquiry learning method to explore conservation within their community, nation and world.

There are many resources available for teachers looking to find ways of integrating conservation into their lessons.

Hukanui School’s education for sustainability teacher Michelle White points to the Science Learning Hub(external link) as a place to research conservation and sustainability topics that tie into the curriculum. Articles and videos on the site explore specific species and locations, such as tuatara and the Waikato River, as well as larger-scale issues, such as groundwater contamination or the roles of native birds in our ecosystem.

Once teachers have decided on a topic, or found it with their students, Michelle says it is important to consider how to deliver the lessons.

“Hands-on is really important to some kids, whereas other kids like to do a lot of research. So, a mix is important.”

In her lessons, Michelle likes to plan a period of research, followed by relevant activities, and finally a reflection on both.

“A great starting point is looking at the Enviroschools kit. It has extended resources for units of learning, but it also has lots of one-off resources for hooking kids in,” says Michelle.

“I like when teachers pick an issue in their school, say, food waste. I recommend they pick something that means something to them, rather than some random activity.”

By leaning into their passion, Michelle says teachers can impart not only the science behind their chosen topic, but also share their enthusiasm for sustainable thinking with students.

Another way to boost interest in sustainability is to identify subjects students are already interested in, Michelle says, or to choose a topic they will connect with and get excited about.

“Anything to do with water and its plant and animal life really captures the children,”
says Michelle.

It is also important to think practically about how much time each topic will need, not just to fit into the class time teachers have, but also the planning time it will take. Because of this, Michelle suggests teachers pick something small and simple to begin with.

Real-life learning

Conservation Week can be a launching pad for environmental learning, which could then extend into integrated curriculum learning and elective inquiry-led research.

“Environmental education isn’t a curriculum area – integration is key so that children can get the benefits of this education, while still fitting into teachers’ planning,” says Michelle.

Hukanui School also focuses on conservation beyond the classroom by creating a range of opportunities for students to engage in practical conservation tasks, both in and outside of school-time. This includes recycling, working in the school garden and composting.

“The beauty is that it is real-life learning,” Michelle says. “With Enviroschools, it is a whole school approach. It is all about the community and the school coming together to work on projects and being aware of what those projects are.”

This year, Hukanui is celebrating its 20th year as an Enviroschool. What makes it particularly exciting, Michelle says, is that they are seeing the children who have gone through the school now living sustainably in the community, or even being champions of conservation in their fields – such as a graduate who is now working as an architect of sustainable buildings.

She believes it is important to explore conservation issues so students have the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions in their daily lives.

“[We need to teach them] to make decisions that will have a sustainable outcome for their future – because it is their future.” 

For more information, visit Conservation Week 2018(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:10 am, 25 June 2018

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