Teachers interested in fostering respect for the environment among their students have advantages they didn't have a couple of generations ago. Public support for conservation has never been stronger, and scientific data that supports the need for more responsible living has never been more plentiful.
One challenge for educators is to avoid oversimplification or proselytizing. You don't want to send a student home believing his parents are evil because they own a car. Nor is there a hard and fast blueprint for how everyone should live. Another challenge you face – no matter what the subject – is keeping kids interested.
Detailed graphs illustrating arsenic levels may be informative, but a more successful approach may be modeled on science fairs. Challenge kids to understand the controversies and challenges surrounding conservation. Then get them to explore and test their own reasons and solutions for improving their environment.
The students at Lewis Cass Technical High School, a magnet school in downtown Detroit, decided they didn't want to be exterminated along with the rats and the roaches, so they took over the school's pest control. (In the United States alone, there are 500 to 600 cases per year of student and teacher illness from pesticide exposure.)
This initiative turned into a school wide science project requiring students to acquire detailed knowledge of insect and rodent biology to solve the problem of how to get rid of them. The idea of "replacing chemical power with brain power" is based on the principles of the nonprofit IPM (Integrated Pest Management ) Institute of Madison, Wisconsin, which initially started to reduce pesticide use in agriculture.
In addition to pest control, it's also important for schools to keep pipes and faucets from leaking and to caulk crack and holes. But over the long haul, the cost of adopting an IPM program is cheaper than paying for routine pesticide sweeps – cheaper, healthier, and your students use their brains. No wonder the EPA encourages all schools to try IPM.
For additional info about the rates of pesticide use in schools, visit the Web sites of Beyond Pesticides and IPM.
Can we have class outside?
Yes! After all, that's where the environment is, isn't it? Think of ways to get your kids out of the classroom once in a while and teach them the value of conservation at the same time – or come up with options that are almost as good as being outdoors, but without having to bother with permission slips and arranging transportation.
Organize clean-up events
No matter where you live, there's bound to be an area that is subject to litter, pollution, or neglect. Combine curriculum and charity work by volunteering your school or class to clean up a park; to fish debris out of a pond, lake, or river; or to adopt abandoned asphalt and turn it into an urban garden.
Have class in the rain forest
This may be a field trip beyond your school's budget. Nevertheless, donations from kids in twenty-two countries helped establish the Children's Eternal Rain forest in Costa Rica, where more than 40,000 acres have been preserved since 1989. And yes, kids and teachers are welcome to visit and admire their conservation efforts. Talk to people at your local zoo or botanical gardens to learn about similar programs.
EXPLORE: Follow a scientific expedition.
Join a wildlife adventure taking place in the remote wilderness by virtually following one of Conservation International's scientific Expeditions. CI posts the adventures of conservationists to exotic ecosystems. The Expeditions cover ongoing regional conservation efforts, as well as provide background on the area, issues, and people who have dedicated their lives to preserving biodiversity there.
DISCOVER: Follow and enjoy CI's expeditions and field dispatches.
Other creative solutions from students include these:
Go Tigers! The University of Missouri-Columbia Tigers turned their mascot into a cheerleader for conservation, through the Mizzou Tigers for Tigers program. The school supports two projects to protect Nepal's Bengal tiger by promoting habitat conservation and eco-tourism, distributing information about these projects at athletic events. Are you listening, Eagles, Lions, and Bears?
If you build it, they will apply. A higher standard of conservation has been set by Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. Its Environmental Living and Learning Center features solar panels, waterless compost toilets, furniture made from recycled milk jugs, and other such ecological flourishes. This eco-dorm was built at the urging of students, and there's fierce demand to become one of its ninety residents each year.
If you have students interested in conservation as a vocation – or at least as an avocation – you might want to check out Learning to Be a Conservation Advocate and Conservation Careers.
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