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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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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! 🙂

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Tall Tails

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You may have recently seen that the natural history channel, Eden, have released a competition for amateur wildlife enthusiasts like myself to upload a minute long natural history film of their own. Obviously an opportunity far too good to miss!

So after a bit of brain racking I managed to rope in my little sister, who has her own vlog (she’s a clever and entertaining little bean, search ‘kelseydoes’ on YouTube), and the lemur keeper to help me out. So after work one day we filmed with some very mischievous lemurs and this is what we cam up with…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv_qzA1_wKM

If you would like to have a gander please let me know what you think! All feedback would be fantastic; good and bad! Of course, if your friend happens to work in the natural history television industry… feel free to pass it on!

In other news, it was my last day working at the zoo today 😦

I have had an absolutely fantastic summer, learnt so much, been given some fantastic opportunities and will of course miss seeing beautiful animals every single day!

My next adventure is my 4th and final teaching placement. I start Monday and will be at the new school, with year 1, until Christmas. I am very much hoping to use lots of outdoor education lessons during this placement and, if allowed, run a conservation club for year 5 and 6.

Therefore at the end of each week I will post any outdoor or environmentally based lessons I teach, letting you know how they went…whether it be great or terrible!

Wish me luck 🙂

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A Wild Day Out!

Last Wednesday saw a really wild day at Paignton Zoo! I was invited to have a day away from my talks to help out with an educational day involving lots of fascinating things around the zoo!

Gibbon club is run by the zoo education department and is offered to 8-12 year olds, taking place monthly. It gives children opportunities to experience things like forest schooling, pond dipping and rock pooling. ‘Wild Day Out’ is a day in the zoo where the children have special experiences with the animals, have fun with arts and crafts and even get an ice cream!

The first activity for the day was feeding the fish in Crocodile Swamp! This involved feeding bananas to the Pacu fish (yeah I know, fruit for fish!), and fishy pellets for the rest.

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This also gave the children opportunity to have a good look at the crocs and the beautiful range of butterflies which the zoo have recently released.

The children then went to feed the giant tortoises! Turns out they much prefer the carrots to the greens (don’t we all), and very much enjoy a little tickle under the chin.

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Next, time for some arts and crafts in the form of animal masks. I was amazed at the range of animals that came about and the sheer creativity of some of the children. What comes out of a child’s mind will never stop fascinating me!
I know it’s not on to have favourites but I was particularly impressed by a very life like tiger, a beautifully jewelled elephant and a jellyfish that could have swam out of Davey Jones’ Locker!
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And finally off down for one of the zoo’s famous train rides and an ice cream!

All of the children seemed to really enjoy the day, and had a real passion for the zoo and animals. What was really interesting was the fact that not at any point were the children made to sit down and ‘learn’ about the zoo animals or conservation. Yet every child was more than happy to tell me what they had found out in the day, or their favourite animal and what they think needs to happen to protect them.

This shows the true power of informal education. By just being immersed in the Zoo’s surroundings, the children are building on a passion for knowledge and taking it upon themselves to find out new information. This is a truly great example of how conservation education should not be all doom and gloom!

By just enjoying the natural world, children will want to save it.

 

 

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New Job, New Ideas

Firstly I’d like to share something with you , something I’ve worked pretty hard on! It is a project/ piece of coursework where we were asked to present an idea that we would like to implicate into a primary school, as if in a staff meeting. I took this opportunity to be a bit creative and based this project on environmental education. So along came World Conservation Day! I put forward the idea of a school having one day off timetable to look at the world we live in, local conservation issues, world wide conservation issues and finding out about the people who make conservation happen. I have planned and resourced an activity for every year group, linking closely to cross curricular attainment targets from the new Primary National Curriculum.

This is something I have become passionate about and feel sad that I am unable to put this into practice, in the near future anyway. Therefore I have uploaded the PowerPoint that gives a brief outline of the day and why it would be a highly beneficial day for children. I have also uploaded a more detailed essay, explaining the activities in more detail and the underlying theory.

I have done this in the upmost hope that someone takes and uses the idea! If you teach and you like any of the given activities please use them! Or if you are really inspired by the day please implement the entire day! All I ask is that you contact me before hand so I can share with you the resources I have found to go with it; including a fantastic activity from Steve Van Matre’s brilliant book Rangers of the Earth, which is a great way to introduce the day to the children. Also if you do use any of these activities, feedback would be truly appreciated!

Of course, if you aren’t a teacher but like the idea, feel free to pass it on! Any feedback would be wonderful.

World Conservation Day Detailed Summary

World Conservation Day Power Point

On another note. I started my job as a presenter at Paignton Zoo on Friday. A few days in and this job has already brought up many different feelings; honoured, excited, overwhelmed. Firstly the good bits! This is my first ever ‘real’ job (excluding years of babysitting and part time waitressing), so you can forgive me for acting like a kid in a candy shop when I was told that I have my own desk and email address! I met my colleague for the summer, who is incredibly likeable and even more bubbly and excitable than myself (did not realise this was possible)!
However this was also where the feeling of being in over my head set in. My new colleague is far more qualified than myself, with experience in all kinds of positions in zoos. Therefore there is a little bit of me that just hopes I wont be holding him back this summer! My second worry is my university studies. I am writing my dissertation for May and I have to admit, fitting academic studies in around work is going to prove difficult.
But that said, I work hard, I learn quick and I am so honoured be an employee of such a zoo that there is no doubt that I will be putting 100% into this! I just need to make sure that my academic studies do not slip in the process.

A very influential teacher on my last placement once told me that I thrive on stress… Let’s hope she’s right!

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Not your average day at the zoo!

This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to an educators day at Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth, Devon). Dartmoor Zoo is a small BIAZA zoo set in beautiful Devonshire countryside. The zoo used to be better known for the mistreatment of its animals. But since it was bought by Benjamin Mee, who successfully refurbished and reopened it in 2007, this little zoo makes for a great day out with a lovely collection of well looked after animals. I was very much looking forward to seeing if the education side of the zoo matched the successful development of the site.
First off we had a short introduction talk, which is where we got our first surprise! A young Rhea, named Zazu, strutted its way into the room. I can only imagine the excitement of children if this happened during a lesson at the zoo!
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Next we were shown the close encounters room. This room had a wide range of reptiles and insects that we could get close to, hold or feel. This would be a fantastic experience for children, especially to face some fears! I think it is essential that children learn about the importance of the not so cute and cuddly animals such as frogs and cockroaches. The only criticism I have of this room is that it is quite small and maybe would not fit a large class or a child in a wheelchair.
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Next we were taken to the dissection room to watch a sheep dissection. This is something that Dartmoor Zoo are clearly proud of, and rightly so. Andy, who is pictured chopping up the sheep, is interesting, humorous and a natural performer. During the dissection I was so engrossed that I very quickly forgot any nerves I had about feeling uncomfortable or queasy. Unfortunately the sound system used to listen to Andy talking from behind the glass is dated and in desperate need of an update. The system completely cut out during our talk and even though a solution was quickly found I fear that if this happened during a talk with children that their attention would be quickly lost. This would be an utter shame because I can safely say I learnt a great deal in the short time we had and it is a truly unique experience.
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We then had a demonstration from the company which Dartmoor zoo use for bush craft sessions, who were entertaining and knowledgeable. They also demonstrated their ability to differentiate their lessons for all ages, when a stray child walked along and decided to join in with the session! I leant some new fire lighting techniques such as short circuiting a torch with wire wool. Unfortunately the group I was in did not do overly well in the fire lighting competitions, but it was all great fun!
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Finally we were taken to see Grow 4 Good’s section of the zoo. Grow for Good is a project that leases land from the zoo for horticultural purposes. What makes this project special is that their volunteers are usually children who are struggling in society, the work they do helps to ‘reduce the likelihood of (these children) becoming marginalized or offending’. What makes it even better is the salad grown is bought by Dartmoor Zoo and sold in the cafe.
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All in all I was incredibly impressed by what the zoo offers for education. The zoo uses its size to it’s advantage, the selling point being that the experience children will have will be personalised and unique! The zoo provides children with experiences I don’t think they would forget in a hurry.
A truly valuable and interesting day. Thank you very much Dartmoor Zoo.