Anyone who knows me well knows about my time “in the forest.” In all reality, this forest was not a forest, but in fact several nature reserves spread throughout California. I saw, lived in, and studied a range of habitats, from profoundly golden grasslands, to an alpine meadow at 11,000 feet that featured the world’s oldest trees, to one of the few remaining old-growth forests of the West Coast.
I walked away from this experience with a number of lessons, but the loudest and most resounding question in my mind was why do people not care about saving these places?
It is clear to climate scientists that now is, more than ever, a critical moment in conservation. This fact has been clear to climate scientists for at least the last two decades. And yet, we are only now seeing this concept begin to matriculate into mainstream consciousness. This disconnect between the knowledge of scientists and the world of the lay person has long been concerning to me, so much so that I have now dedicated myself to bridging this gap. My modality of doing so is through education and within this modality, it has become clear to me that it is absolutely critical for us as educators to include field work in our curriculum.
By allowing learners to study nature in organic and authentic ways, we as educators begin to inspire a lasting, genuine care for the environment. I’d go so far as to say that field work is perhaps one of the only ways to create this lasting, genuine care that can then grow into a passion for conservation. So then, how do we incorporate field work into our curriculum? I grapple with this question frequently and intensely.
Here are some best practices for incorporating field work into curriculum:
Practice field work often, no matter how small. Learners thrive on frequent, repeated experiences. Even a simple walk around the neighborhood can become a huge opportunity for learning and looking at the environments around us. Even the school environment can offer great opportunities for field work (completing a trash analysis, creating different microhabitats and practicing observations, analyzing change of the seasons through time). By making time for field work a routine part of the classroom schedule, it will convey the impression that this work is genuine and important.
Create genuine opportunities. As much as possible, look for things that will feel meaningful and impactful for your learners. Reach out to local conservation agencies to see how your learners can become involved. Get your learners involved in citizen science programs. There are even a wealth of citizen science websites available that will allow your students to participate in high-level studies, creating a stronger sense of agency.
Challenge your learners to conduct high-level research. Once your students have gotten the basics of research down, allow them to work to their fullest potential. For instance, most elementary students would be able to conduct high-level ecological studies. Inspire them to reach their fullest potential!
And, lastly, keep hope alive. Nobody likes to hear about a problem that they cannot solve. Things become too gigantic, too impossible, and thereby intangible. The loss of hope is the loss of agency and the loss of agency is the loss of opportunities to create impactful change. As such, it is important to maintain a strong sense of hope within your learners. If their field work identifies a problem, help to identify and implement solutions. This maintenance of hope makes facing the difficulties of conservation seem more manageable, leading to more empowered learners.
By fostering an appreciation for field work in young learners, educators can effectively foster an appreciation for the outside world. By doing so, the early seeds of conservation can be planted and allowed to bloom in an organic, authentic, and ultimately long-lasting way.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FIELDWORK
in fostering genuine care for conservation
Annie Radigan is an avid lover of all things science, but especially ecology and conservation. After graduating from UCLA with her B.S. in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, she entered the workforce as a math and science teacher (grades 3–12).
Annie has a passion for making science and math accessible and interesting for her students, with the hopes of increasing scientific literacy.
When not busy teaching or designing lesson plans, Annie can be found hunting for flowers to turn in to jewelry, running, spending time with her labradoodle, Ace, or out hiking.