OF REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS CAN BE TAUGHT
by Whit Gibbons
October 20, 2003
education involves teaching people that the natural world is exciting
to know about and worthwhile being a part of. Taylor Edwards, a conservation
biologist at the University of Arizona, has a highly successful environmental
education program. Taylor, who is president of the Tucson Herpetological
Society, focuses on the desert Southwest but his research has led him
as far away as China and Brazil. His message is as follows:
have been giving educational programs to children for almost a decade
now. The vast majority of presentations are for one hour in a classroom,
so I have only a brief amount of time to convey information that took
me years to accumulate. Therefore, I have refined my program and thought
deeply about the messages I send. Typically, my presentations begin
with a slide show and end with a live animal demonstration.
what do I expect to accomplish in an hour? My basic assumption entering
a classroom is that few, if any, of the students will grow up to be
biologists. It is doubtful even that they will retain any of the factual
information that I give them. However, if they walk away saying that
these animals are `cool' or `interesting,' then I have accomplished
something, and my input may potentially shape their future experiences
and expectations. With this in mind, my ultimate objective is to foster
an appreciation of nature.
I believe appreciation is achieved through positive experiences, I try
to create an atmosphere for the students where nature, and particularly
the act of discovery in nature, is fun. Facts alone do not necessarily
translate to appreciation. Although I am a scientist, I view science
as only one of many ways that we can relate to the natural world. Myths,
stories, music, art, and literature are also valuable ways in which
people relate to the world around them and can be extremely efficient
in affecting people's perceptions. (Look at how many fears about wolves
have been evoked by Little Red Riding Hood!). The manner in which I
prefer to convey factual information is through asking questions. Instead
of telling students that `this type of turtle lives on land,' I ask
them, `where do you think this turtle lives?' I encourage them to ask
me questions about what interests them. My role is to develop curiosity
and help them find the answers.
I bring out live animals at the end of the session, I begin by just
letting the animal move around so the students can watch. Only after
they have focused on the animal instead of me, do I begin telling them
about it. After I leave the classroom, I encourage the teachers to have
the students express their experience with the animals not by being
tested on the material, but by using their creativity to express what
they have learned in some imaginative way such as by drawing a picture
or writing a poem. I hope the experience has helped the students appreciate
the animals as unique, interesting, and important.
always end my slide presentations with a conservation message. I ask
the students if they know what endangered species are and if they can
name any. They call out pandas, whales, elephants, and just about anything
that would make a nice cover for National Geographic. I then take the
opportunity to discuss some of the protected species of reptiles and
amphibians that occur in our area and remind them that sometimes the
small and less charismatic animals need our protection, too.
children have a natural interest in and attraction to reptiles and amphibians.
When I ask a group of fourth graders if they like reptiles and amphibians,
generally they ALL raise their hands. However, when I ask a high school
class the same question, only half the students might raise their hands.
Each time I go into a classroom, I have the opportunity to reverse this
social trend. I tell them to go outside and explore nature. I encourage
them to learn their local fauna, not by collecting it, but by observing
it and valuing its role in the ecological community. It is the job of
educators to develop young people's inherent enthusiasm for and curiosity
about nature into understanding and appreciation."
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