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Let’s Build a Zoo!

I can’t quite believe I have now been travelling around Australia in a little van for nearly a whole year! We have travelled the length of the East Coast and have made some unforgettable memories! But as you can see, I haven’t exactly been neck deep in environmental education. Teaching it that is, as I can safely say I have learnt a great deal on my journey from zoos, trips and lots of fascinating people.

This is why I decided to dedicate the last 4 months of our first year in Australia to continue in teaching and trying to be a part of the animal education industry. After lots of enquiring, emailing applying and not much luck, I got my first job in Australia! I was now a kids club attendant at Sea World Resort, Gold Coast. No it wasn’t actually teaching environmental education, but it was a foot in the door in a huge tourism company with 2 different animal parks (Sea World and Paradise Country), so I was a really happy bunny!

As the job was casual, I searched for a day job with a guaranteed income. I replied to an add looking for a home school teacher 3 days a week (perfect!) and this is where I met the wonderful Milly and her family. Milly is 11 and wasn’t getting on too well in school, so mum wanted someone to go back over year 5 with her, focusing the work on her specific interests and needs. Much to my delight, Milly loves animals, so this is where the topic ‘Let’s Build a Zoo!’ was born! I worked really hard in planning a topic where Zoos and animal education were involved in as many usual school subjects as possible, linking closely to the year 5 Australian Curriculum. (http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Content_for_Year_5_-_Learning_area_content_descriptions.pdf)
I was really proud of the outcome, Milly did some fantastic work and we both really enjoyed the topic. Therefore I thought I would share it with you all on here in case anyone would like to use this topic, or any of the individual lessons in their teaching!

Literacy
In literacy we firstly looked at the non-fiction topic of information texts. Milly’s overall task was to create a sign for an animal enclosure in her zoo.
To become familiar with information texts we looked at many animal fact books, aimed at different audiences, to look at common features. We then looked in more detail at how to use these features in the text. E.g. Captions, titles, sub headings, bullet points etc. To help Milly picture what an animal enclosure sign in particular might need to include, we took a trip to Sea World to have a look! Milly took pictures of the enclosure signs she liked and pointed out all the text features we had been studying.
Back in the classroom Milly chose her animal to create a sign about, stingrays, and then carried out lots of research, both in books and online. After creating a plan together she independently created her information sign. This was the finished result, I know I’d like to see that hanging up in a zoo!!
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The second literacy text was persuasive writing. Again we looked at all the features of a persuasive writing text, and learnt them in detail. Together we planned and practiced writing a persuasive writing piece. Her independent work for this text study was to write a piece either for or against zoos, she chose to write for zoos (phew!). Together we researched many arguments as to why a zoo is good and important. Milly was then able to independently plan and write an effective piece of persuasive writing.

Maths
There were so many year 5 study areas that we were able to cover in a zoo topic! First of all we looked at graphs, this would link to our scientific study (see science).
Secondly we studied area and perimeter. By doing this we were able to map out the size of our zoo, the size of the different animal enclosures, and then how to best fit those enclosures into our zoo.
Lastly, and Milly’s personal favourite study, was money. We looked at the financial costs of running a zoo. We worked out how many enclosures, staff and facilities our zoo could have with a given budget. We decided on pricings for entry, gifts and food based on our visit to Sea World and finally how many people would need to visit the zoo a day to be able to make a profit.

Science
When I first arrived, Milly had just gotten a new kitten, so I spotted a brilliant investigation opportunity. We planned a scientific investigation to measure the  kittens growth and then measured his weight and length for the next 8 weeks (the kitten was often not best pleased with our project!). We then plotted our results on a graph and concluded what we had discovered. We then also discussed how this could inform us when raising cubs of big cats in our zoo.
During this time we also looked at animal adaptations. As well as discussing different adaptations we also carried out experiments to help Milly physically see the benefit of the adaptation. My favourite being; 1.putting your hand in oil in an ice bucket to demonstrate the effectiveness of blubber. 2. making giraffe spit out of corn starch and water, to demonstrate how they are able to eat leaves off of spiky trees! We also touched on evolution and natural selection, but this is an incredibly hard topic for adults to grasp, let alone 11 year olds!

Art
Again this study was inspired by our trip to Sea World. Milly was fascinated by the little penguins, so we decided to design an enclosure! Milly researched, in great detail, what little penguins need to survive, and what other little penguin enclosures look like. I then helped her with a design and she got making. I could not have been more pleased with the outcome! We even got the approval of some little penguin zookeepers!!
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Geography
After a reminder on what a continent is and where places are on a world map, we researched using books, the internet, and documentaries, animals from Europe and North America (these are the two continents recommended for study in the curriculum). Milly then made a lovely fact file about the animals she had learnt about.

Milly then noticed that a threat common to a lot of these animals was direct or indirect poisoning. Therefore, using her information and persuasive text knowledge, made a poster to inform people about the dangers of animal poisoning.
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I really have loved my time teaching Milly, and I am proud of how successful this topic has been. She has really enjoyed it and has come on in leaps and bounds. Obviously this was just a snapshot of the work, so if you would like any more detail or copies of planning please feel free to ask! As always please feel free to share to anyone you think may find this useful.

Our following topic was dinosaurs (also super fun!) so to finish, here is a picture of us on my last day, sporting some pretty scary masks!!
Speak soon, lots of love 🙂 x
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Environmental Education, Aussie Style!

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So our exciting Australian adventure has been ongoing for 2 1/2 months now and we have just started our second year visa work on a farm an hour west of Gympie, QLD. I am nannying for a 4 & 2 year old which is turning out to be a challenging and testing experience that I will admit I was certainly not prepared for. But that’s not what this blog is about so I won’t bore you with my issues of adjusting to Aussie farm life. What I will tell you about is the fantastic opportunity I had last week whilst the children I am looking after were away.

The children had gone away for a week and I was really struggling to find worthwhile activities to fill my time, especially as this week was not paid or counting towards my second year visa. I tried the school to offer volunteering but due to not having a working with children (blue) card I was unable to go in for the week. Luckily on my drive into town one day I noticed a sign for an environmental education school around 40Km away (a short drive in Australian terms!). So I rang up the school, explained who I was and my situation and they were happy to take me on for a day to experience their school!

After conquering the bumpy dirt road in our old school 1984 caravan I arrived at a little school set deep in thick forest. I was greeted by the lovely Sue Gibson who instantly made me feel welcome to the school. I could tell that this was safe, familiar and comforting territory for me…something I had been seriously craving! Sue explained to me that they had a full day of activities running all about traditional Aboriginal Australia, with a large group of year 5s from Bundaberg.
First I was taken down to where a group of children were shelter building, a lovely familiar activity for me to start with. The children were busy with their wonderful looking wooden tipis, so I took the opportunity to chat to the environmental ed teacher and the teacher from the Bundaberg school. Both were great to chat to and it was nice to hear about their experiences and opinions of environmental and general Australian education. I then got stuck in with the children! All were more than happy to explain to me how their shelters were built and I sat with a group discussing the best and safest way for a fire pit to be made. Once the groups were finished the environmental education teacher invited the children to ask each other questions about their shelters and to explain their techniques. Again it was comforting to see familiar teaching methods that one would instinctively use in a similar way back home. Finally the teacher tested the shelters for durability (giving them a good kick) and waterproofing, giving each team a score out of 10. A healthy bit of competition.

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This was followed by morning tea where the teachers were kind enough to let me try some of the fantastic bush tucker (all the better as i’d forgotten my lunch!). This included wonderful new tastes such as wottle seed damper bread, sunset lime marmalade, bunya nut, macadamia nut & lemon myrtle tea.
Next was weaponry! Here the children were able use spears to catch bush turkeys, kangaroos and wallabies…don’t worry these little critters were made out of cardboard! What I thought was really great about this was the teacher explaining to the children about how the aboriginals would have hunted because they needed to, else they would have nothing to eat. This then lead to a discussion about where our meat comes from and how this is just a modern day version of hunting for food. After the children had all had a go at throwing a boomerang it was my go, and I’m ashamed to say that all of the children did better than me!

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After lunch the children were shown a range of aboriginal artifacts and were able to discuss and present in partners what the different artifacts were, who used them and what they were used for. The most interesting for me was a stone which was used as an axe that was found nearby the school, even though the stone it was made from does not originate anywhere near this area. This is incredible as it shows that either the aboriginal people would have had to travel thousands of kilometers to reach where the rock was left, or that they would swap and trade objects with other tribes. Fascinating!

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Then the last exciting part of my day (the children still had a couple further activities) was a walk through the forest identifying trees. Not did this activity clearly make use of the children’s observational skills but also got them to realise how different all of the trees really are! Although not directly linked to the traditional theme, I believe this was my favourite activity of the day. This was also when I saw my first snake! We were walking along and one of the children spotted something in the grass coming towards us, unfortunately it was long, slithery and black with a red belly! At first I was excited but then suddenly aware that I had 6 children with me! We just moved slowly forward and luckily the beautiful creature just crossed the path right in front of us! Truly exciting.

I am so appreciative of the Barambah Environmental Education Centre and Bundaberg school for letting me share a day with them. It reminded me of the job I really loved and restored some of the motivation to try and stay in the environmental education industry. I learnt a lot and enjoyed talking to all the children and staff. To top it all off there were a few wallabies and kangaroos out to say hello on my way home! A truly lovely day.

Unfortunately the next day I was quickly brought back down to earth when the children came home and I was reminded of what I am actually supposed to be doing here. But the 3 months here gives me time to apply for my teaching registration in Australia so that once we are finished and have done some more traveling I can begin applying for teaching positions. I have come up with some lovely animal and nature related activities to do with the children, so if they are interested in these at some point, I will upload pictures and let you know how they go!

G’day for now 🙂 x

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Posters to Help Protect Primates.

In the last few weeks of Monkeying Around we looked at the primate pet trade. Now this is arguably the hardest topic I wanted to teach in the 8 weeks of the club and would have to go about it carefully so as to inspire the children rather than upset them.

I looked online and found some great teaching resources from Wild Futures in Cornwall. This gave me some really good info and statistics which I was then able to turn into a PowerPoint full of interesting info suitable for my Year 6s. They learnt all about the current laws for keeping a primate and what this tends to actually mean in reality: What they are fed, the cages they are kept in, the injuries that can cause and what can happen to them when they don’t ‘behave’ and the illegal pet trade taking monkeys from the wild. The children then watched the video about Joey, a rescued capuchin monkey at Wild Futures and were very much moved by his story.

(Wild futures: http://www.wildfutures.org/)

We had a big discussion about whether primates should be kept as pets. The children came to a conclusion that most people cannot keep primates as pets as they do not understand their needs. The children think that UK laws need to be tightened to stop just anyone owning a primate as a pet and to stop primates being trafficked from the wild. They also decided that they would like to help educate as to what it’s really like to have a monkey as a pet…

So they made some posters to do just that!

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The posters have information about the reality of keeping a monkey, discuss how they feel about it and talk about Joey the Capuchin as an example.

I was sad that this was the last thing I would be teaching the children but was also really proud about how enthusiastic the children had become on the subject of primate conservation!

One of girls had done a whole piece of descriptive writing about a macaque during the classes big write. Two more girls surprised me with books they had made in their own time, full of facts about different animals, including notes telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the club!

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Tad emotional but job well done I feel!

On another note. This will probably be my last post for a long time as I am back to university for my last 6 months of study and to ensure all concentration is on my essays and passing, I will be slowing the voluntary/ part time work right down. However my other half and I have an exciting move planned in June…to Australia! I am very much hoping to carry on this environmental education journey out there. So if anyone has any contacts out there in this field of work, please do send me a message!

Thanks 🙂

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Save the Macaque!

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I may have mentioned previously, yanno maybe once or twice, that my favourite animal in the world is a Sulawesi Crested Black Macaque.

So for the last couple of weeks, conservation club have been learning all about these majestic little critters. 😀

The year 6s researched the monkeys looking at their behaviour, habitat and diet, leading to them also falling very much in love with the mohawked characters! The children also looked at why they are so critically endangered and what people in Sulawesi are doing to help. So this clearly included the fantastic charity, who I am in upmost support of, Selamatkan Yaki. ( http://selamatkanyaki.com/ )

The children learnt about how education is so important for the children in Sulawesi and that Selamatkan Yaki teach them all about their local monkeys! They were so inspired by the work that of course, they wanted to help! So we decided that we could make an education video, to help teach others about the Sulawesi Crested Black Macaque.

After some more research and working very hard on an effective script, this is what they came up with…

(Please bare in mind the children only had 2 half hour sessions to make this video)

The children have been very brave in making this video, so any feedback for them would be very much appreciated. Thank you 🙂

Save the Macaque!

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Palm Oil Activists!

Palm oil is a vegetable oil which is found in 75% of our weekly shop; from bread to shampoo. It is a natural ingredient, which is cheap and quick to grow, so understandably companies love the stuff! However it is having an absolutely detrimental effect on the environment. The palm tree from which the oil is produced was originally found in Africa but companies discovered it also grows very well in Asia’s rainforests. Therefore, in Indonesia in particular, the huge growth in demand for palm oil is now one of the main causes of deforestation. Huge areas of forest are cut or burnt down to be replaced with row upon row of the palm tree, destroying areas rich biodiversity.

Therefore this industry is exactly what Monkeying Around, my year 6 conservation club, have been learning about for the last couple of weeks.

Firstly we talked about what palm oil was. So we looked it up and found out all about the oils history and where it came from. Once they were clued up on the basics I gave them a challenge! I had brought in lots of items that children might see in their weekly shop: bread, shampoo, biscuits, soap, chocolate etc. I then asked the children to try and sort the objects into two piles; items that they think that contain palm oil and items that they think don’t contain palm oil. This activity has a varied result with every group of children using it, but these children divided the items quite clearly to say that the more cosmetic items did contain palm oil, whereas the food did not. How shocked they were when I revealed that every single item contained palm oil!

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Next we began to look at the damaging environmental effects of palm oil. I explained to them the nature of the rich biodiversity of rainforests; full of numerous animal and plant species, and then what might happen when you remove this range of plant species and replace it with one repeated over and over. They quickly understood that this would mean that not as many animals would be able to survive in that area. We focussed on Orang-utans in particular, looking at how they rely on the forest to survive.

To reinforce the idea of how deforestation effects the wildlife in a rainforest, I used an activity shown to me by a very knowledgeable education officer from Monkey World, Rebecca Short (http://whobrokewho.wordpress.com/).

First we laid out a large bed sheet on the ground, representing a rainforest. I then picked 5 children to be orang-utans and stand somewhere on the rainforest (sheet), nicely spread out. Next I picked some children to be loggers and asked them to stand around the edge of the rainforest. Finally I asked the remaining children to tell me some of the things that they found out had palm oil in, each time they said an item, the loggers folded in a bit of a sheet to represent planting the palm trees to make that product. The area of the sheet soon began to get small, with my 5 orang-utans getting closer and closer together. They started saying things like “but I don’t have room to move”, “I’m going to have to step off of the rainforest”, “we can’t all fit in this tiny space”. Suddenly the children were very quiet, it was very clear that a fun game had turned into a realisation of what was really happening to wildlife out in Indonesia.

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So naturally, the children wanted to help!

The Rainforest Foundation UK have designed a fantastic database, ‘Appetite for Destruction’, which has different product categories such as biscuits, bread, chocolate, hair care and makeup. These categories then list companies that produce them in a traffic light system: Green for companies who use no or transparently sustainable palm oil, Red for companies who use great amounts of non-sustainable palm oil and orange for everywhere in-between. I asked the children to have a look at the database to see if they can spot companies who always seem to find themselves in the red sections of each category. The children very quickly spotted Asda as being a repeat offender.

I quickly explained to them that this does not require them to stop shopping at Asda altogether… as I could just imagine the complaints from parents when their children tell them they have to change all their shopping habits! Instead I suggested that we write to the CEO, Mr Andy Clarke, explaining why we are worried about Asda’s use of palm oil and whether they have any plans to switch to more sustainable ingredients.

Liking this idea the children went away and wrote some fantastic letters (luckily they had been studying persuasive writing the week before!), which I have now sent away to the Asda head office. Fingers crossed we get a response!

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When it comes to palm oil I always explain that it is impossible to expect people to completely change their weekly shop to not include palm oil, shopping would take hours! Although it is easy to just swap one or two things you would normally get to a similar product which doesn’t use palm oil. The Rainforest Foundation UK’s database makes this even easier to do; just swap a red to a green, or even an orange is better!

If you do chose to swap an item, like the children, why not write a letter to the company explaining why you have stopped buying their product? Companies will not stop using a product unless they know consumers are unhappy about it!

After all, the customer is always right!

 

Here is the link the Rainforest Foundation UK’s palm oil product database:

http://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/rainforest-foundation-uk-publications/appetite-for-destruction-palm-oil-guide/

As always, please feel free to use these lesson/ activity ideas for yourself. But if you do, please let me know how it goes! Feedback is always greatly appreciated. 🙂

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Woodland Wonderers

As we get older we forget the joys of just being able to experience an environment, big or small, and just explore. The answer to most questions can be presented far too easily with a lazy click of a mouse. Therefore it is essential that even in this modern, technology and concrete filled world that we let children immerse and discover.

In light of this I decided to use a lesson on ‘materials and their properties’, with my 30 year 1s, as a perfect opportunity to let the children explore their environment and ‘work scientifically’.
This lesson relied heavily on 2 resources: 1. egg boxes 2. whatever mother nature provides in the local field/wood/park. After an introduction on materials and their properties; how do our clothes feel? Etc., children were given an egg box in chosen mixed ability pairs. In each section of this egg box was a label of a different material property, using language they will have used in the intro.  E.g. Soft, hard, rough, smooth and spikey!
I then took the children to the school’s small tree covered area, asked them to find things to go in the different sections and just let them go and explore!

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The children were completely engaged! So much so that when one or two of them slipped down the bank you did not hear the crying that you would expect, instead they just got up, dusted the mud off, and carried on. The variety of things that the children found amazed me. Smooth chestnuts, their spikey shells, soft flowers, hard wood, grass, stones, moss and much more.

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Once back in the classroom this variety of materials and the children’s enthusiasm made for a fascinating discussion. We were able to ask why? Why is the wood hard? Why does the flower need to be soft? Why is the chestnut’s shell spikey?

I can honestly say I think this is one of my favourite lessons I have ever taught. The next day I taught it to the other year 1 class who seemed to enjoy it just as much.

Working in a non classroom environment allows you to see your children in a completely different light and could just be the moment where the one child who cant stand a pencil and paper, absolutely blossoms.

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New challenges mean new adventures…

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I strongly believe life is an adventure. If you do not see every new event as an adventure it can definitely drag you down. This is because all adventures have challenges, high points, low points, emotional moments and can be completely exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

Now if this doesn’t describe the motions of teaching then I don’t know what does. So yes, just started my final school placement, meaning the start of another adventure!

I have been incredibly lucky with my placement and have a lovely year 1 class with very supportive teachers. I have also already had the chance to be involved in and teach education outside the classroom.

So here’s what’s happened in terms of outdoor education so far…

A coach journey back in time…

Last week I got to go on a school trip! Those amazing days where you get to really know the children but seem to spend 95% of your time counting heads. This particular school trip was to inspire their topic of Castles and Dragons, so fittingly it was a trip to a castle!!

Powderham Castle is an incredibly beautiful castle in Devon surrounded by breath-taking grounds filled with plants and wildlife such as deer! There were certainly lots of ‘ooo’s and ‘aahhh’s on the wander up to the grand castle front.

The first activity for the children was quite fittingly, a tour around the castle itself. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable but older gentleman and I have to be perfectly honest it crossed my mind as to whether he would be able to keep the attention of our rather excitable rabble of 5 year olds. He was very friendly and the children found him very interesting, as did the adults! He was also very aware of their age so did not give too much information and showed them exciting features like amazing secret doors! What the children maybe did not take in was the stunning quality of the building. The outside is grand, but the interior blows your breath away!

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Next onto an exciting tractor ride to an amazing playground which is just like the castle, turrets and all! The children were able to run around pretending they were knights, princesses and dragons; very much drawing on what they had seen inside the castle. I think every game involved a secret door! This play allowed them to mentally live the castle life!

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Finally Powderham Castle also has a very impressive selection of animals; from donkeys, to geese, to tortoise! This allowed the children to gain hands on experience with new, unknown animals, to learn about how to treat animals and what well looked after animals look like. It also got them talking about which species of animals may have always been at the castle and why.

It was such a worthwhile trip for the children and perfectly demonstrated how taking children outside the classroom can stimulate their minds, allowing them to reach their highest potential back with work back in class. In this case the trip produced some wonderful key words for a big write.

 

Encouraging excitement for reading with LA boys…

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Over the next week I am working with a LA group on the topic of labels and captions. These 4 boys are incredibly kind hearted and sweet natured, but are very reluctant and struggling readers. I thought this group work would be a brilliant opportunity to see if outdoor education could help combat their reluctance to read.

The learning objective of the first session I taught them was ‘to be able to, with assistance, sound talk simple labels and stick them to the correct object’.
I began by taking the boys out onto the school field and let them have a quick run around the place. I find this is really helpful as it gets the excitement of being outside and just wanting to play out of their system.
Next I showed the boys a large (half a4) piece of paper with my name on it. I asked them what this said, they are used to seeing my name in the classroom so new it was my name. I then stuck this paper on my shirt. They asked why I was doing that, amongst giggles, and I explained that it was my label as it explained who I was. I then showed them 4 other labels with their names on. They then found their name by recognising the letters and sound talking them, once found I stuck their names on their jumpers.
Next I showed them a label with the word ‘tree’ on it. We sound talked the word together and I asked them where this might go? They all shouted on the tree! Fantastic! Finally I put them in pairs and gave them 5 simple labels each and they had a race to see which team could stick their labels on the right objects first. However, they were not allowed to take the label unless they have sound talked the word to me first.

This sense of competition encouraged the boys to try really really hard to recognise letters and sound talk their words, with clear attempts at blending. What was incredibly rewarding for myself was seeing the joy they were having in doing so! The learning objective was achieved and it is a session that I will certainly use again.

Please feel free to give this session a go! But as always if you do, please let me know how it goes!

 

More school updates to come, including my first conservation club next week!

Here’s to adventure! 🙂