OF REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS CAN BE TAUGHT
Environmental 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:
"I 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.
"So, 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.
"Because 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.
"When 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.
"I 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."