In some of my recent posts, I might have gone a bit deep into outdoor technical topics such as climbing and abseiling. But as I have shared about my perspective of outdoor education, the activities or “doing-it” portion just forms a subset of outdoor education along with environmental education and personal and social development. In this article, I will share three reasons to help you teach about the environment.
In my MSc Thesis, I explored the preparedness of outdoor educators on teaching about ecological literacy. The key findings were that fellow practitioners understood the concept of ecological literacy (knowing, caring and positive actions) and believed in its importance and supported the notion of developing ecological literacy.
However, they felt unprepared to teach about the environment due to a range of factors including lack of training. I personally could comprehend the apprehension especially with the world, not only Singapore, getting highly urbanised. Due to the reduced interaction with the natural environment as compared to the older generations, younger outdoor practitioners may not find it their second nature to dwell deep about the environment.
So the question to ask again is “Are we (outdoor educators) REALLY unprepared to teach about the environment?”
I would say….NO.
You can already teach about the environment.
Here are my three reasons.
1.We are generally more aware of the natural environment.
The special thing about outdoor educators, be it a group trainer, instructor, rope specialist or any other role, are that we are super comfortable being in the outdoors. “Being” could only mean to be physically present but could also mean emotionally and spiritually present. In other words, you are to a higher degree more aware of the natural environment.
So what is the big deal of being aware?
If you are not aware of the natural environment, then you will not be able to talk and share about it. If I am not aware of the rain-cloud forming, I will not be able to share with my participants of the thunderstorm that is brewing and discuss topics such as the water cycle.
2.We actually have learnt a lot in school about the environment
In my MSc thesis, lack of training programme accounts for one of the main reason for outdoor educators not feeling prepared to teach about ecological literacy. I do agree but to a certain extent.
Regardless if you are a degree holder or vocationally trained, there were loads of environmentally-linked topics that were covered in school. Some topics that could come off my mind are the water cycle, food web, energy transfer and photosynthesis. So, you already know a lot to begin with.
Based on the ecological literacy framework, the demands on the three components (knowing, caring and positive action) are similarly equal. Hence, fret not if you only know a bit but instead use that tiny bit of knowledge to inspire your participants to make some positive actions for the environment.
(Let’s give due credit to our teachers who have passed the knowledge down to us by passing it on to our participants in our outdoor programmes.)
3.We can let nature be the instructor instead
Research by Ballantyne and Packer (2002) found that educators and teachers should be careful not to over-structure the activities in an outdoor environmental programme. Feedback from students included them preferring more freedom in deciding what they want to do be it in a national park, forest or even wildlife reserve.
In addition, worksheets, note-taking and reports were not in the students’ favourite things to do list. That does not mean you cannot have those things but you need to not over-do them. In the long run, those notes that the students take may be useful in the future when the students run through them again. Just use them sparingly (just can’t find a more appropriate term).
So, based on the research finding above, outdoor educators can leverage on the natural environment to teach our participants about nature. We can fall back on basic facilitation to scaffold our participants’ thinking. Questions such as:
- What can you observe about this plant or animal?
- What do you think this animal feed on?
- How do this group of plants and animals interact?
The questions can be endless but you do not have to be the cauldron of knowledge. Let the students practice their untapped observation and reasoning skills to make sense of the experience. You could also let them do a quick google search to find information about what they are seeing and share with their peers.
I hope you feel more empowered to teach about the environment. I hope to share more ideas of how you can teach the environment in my subsequent posts. Stay tuned and do share this article to our fellow outdoor practitioners.
Ballantyne, R. & Packer, J. (2002). Nature-based Excursions: School Students’ Perceptions of Learning in Natural Environment. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 11(3), (pp.218-236). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10382040208667488