Educators and students who have used the Rivers and Us programme discuss the value of the resources and the benefits that come from learning in an outdoors environment.
Question for discussion:
- What do you think Sam means when she says that streams and trees could be good or bad?
Environmental education is crucial for students in getting them to engage with our natural world. I think they develop genuine care and respect when they are doing contextual, experiential learning.
Rivers and Us is a fantastic tool that helps teachers get a real insight to how science works, because it’s hands-on, they see it. In my role as a facilitator of science in primary schools, I used it to help teachers get a sense of what science is about, to build their confidence in working in scientific environments and for them to think, hey, this is something that we can do. And because there’s equipment out there that’s available for loan, it’s a really good entry-level project for schools to get involved with.
I would really recommend teachers get out there and do a stream study. Once you’ve done it once, you’ll be so keen to do it again – the invaluable experiential learning that comes from going in and having a look at the water, measuring flow, looking at the physical characteristics, a quick habitat study and then investigating the bugs.
One of the catchphrases we often use in our work with schools is: I notice, I think, I wonder. If the noticing is just at the stage of oh, the river is beautiful, then we can’t go any further with that. Science thinks, OK, it’s beautiful, but in what way? What can we measure that gives us a sense of beautiful or pristine? Teachers then have an idea that, hey, to be really quantitative about the data we collect, to get something to really identify what factors contribute to a beautiful river, then they can start to think about all these things that contribute to this idea.
Students can be hesitant at first. They don’t know what they’re walking into. But the one thing that I really enjoy about working with students out in the environment doing a stream study is seeing that change in attitude and behaviour as they get excited, as they discover things that they didn’t even know were there. Looking at the bugs or the macroinvertebrates and the insects is the biggest hook ever. Finding a student lifting a sieve, finding tiny insects, and they are just absolutely amazed and blown away that there is so much life that’s right there in our backyard.
One of my favourite parts that I just didn’t really know much about trees and streams and how they could be good and bad.
For kids to care about the environment, they’ve got to get to know it. Rivers and Us helps them to get to know it deeply. They have to go out into the environment. They’re learning about the environment because of the tools, the data collection, the things that are in the Rivers and Us. So then they are motivated to do something for the environment, so it sits really nicely with education for sustainability.
My dad used to live round here when he was my age, and he used to play down here, which I only just discovered recently. And he said it’s changed a lot and it’s gotten a lot more weedy and things. But it’s kind of nice that they’re trying to bring it back and make it nice, so people can come down here and enjoy it too.
This project is important to me. It’s a way to make our environment better and have something that we can say we did. In 10 years, I can say, “I helped do this.”
I would strongly encourage all teachers to get out and give this sort of teaching a go. It’s not scary. Half the time you are learning with the students as you go along, and with a really simple set of instructions, a stream study is very easy to undertake. And once you’ve done it once, that’s it, you get better every time you do it. And there’s just so much enjoyment and that really deep engagement learning that comes from it that I just can’t recommend it enough. Any option, any available time that you’ve got to do learning outside in the environment, just to go for it.
Te Whai Toi Tangata Institute of Professional Learning
Waikato Regional Council
The Fairfield Project
Jordan, Lucy, Hannah, Jess and Sam, Waikato Diocesan School for Girls
Jake and Sarah, Bankwood Primary School
Footage of teacher workshop, The Fairfield Project
This video has been developed in partnership with the Waikato Regional Council as part of the Rivers and Us resource.