Getting Sand Between Your Toes

Experiential learning is what it’s all about.

The best way to learn about nature, the best way to develop an appreciation for nature, is to be amongst nature.  Get the sand between your toes, so to speak.

To this end, the Tennyson Dunes Group is holding their annual open day this coming Sunday – 15th September 2013 – from 11am to 2pm.

Guided walks, led by the volunteers themselves, leave every half hour and you’ll get a chance to hear from special guests Professor Chris Daniels and Associate Professor Victor Gostin.

So if you want to hear about the natural history of Adelaide’s coastline, see what the volunteers do to protect the dunes, check out the wildflowers and native fauna or just want to get sand between your toes be sure to get down to the Tennyson Dunes tomorrow.

2013 Tennyson Dunes Open Day flyer

Thinking is the Key

The Australian Association for Environmental Education conference is overflowing with great conversations about how to improve what we do as educators.  There is so much ground to cover, I think I’ll be writing about it for many months yet.

For now, I’d like to talk about the plenary session given by Professor Sam Ham from the University of Idaho this afternoon.  Looking around the packed auditorium I could see the audience were hanging on his every word.  He is such a fantastic communicator, which makes what he says even more powerful, since good education has good communication at its core.

Sam led by illustrating that as environmental scientists, managers and educators we are essentially different to the majority of other people on this planet.  People who are passionate about environmental issues are in the minority – we are not the norm in society.  Consequently, if we try to motivate others toward behavioural change by using things that would inspire us, we will be unlikely to reach the majority of people, and really only be preaching to the converted.

He went on to say, however, that most people are capable of doing the right thing (by our particular standards), but they will only do it for their own reasons.  The trick is finding out what those reasons are.  That’s where good survey techniques are important, but that’s an issue for a future post.

Perhaps the most important thing (to me anyway) that Sam said was that it won’t be what we say to them that will make them act, but it will be their own thinking that does.  Hence, we must get them to think, and find out the answer, for themselves.  The notion of constructivist learning is not new, but never-the-less it is often overlooked, especially in community education.  We have to get better at encouraging our audiences to think their own thoughts and find for themselves the motivation to act.  That means finding what is relevant to them.

That brings me to an earlier workshop by Grahame Collier from T Issues Consultancy.  He was discussing how to reach challenging people and groups.  The people that are disengaged by traditional community education campaigns.

One thing Grahame did was to showcase a few successful examples.  Some were quirky, such as the Shit on my Shoe campaign to encourage UK dog owners to pick up their dog poo, or Dog Breakfasts to protect threatened Hooded Plovers on South Australian beaches by inviting dog owners to a breakfast bbq and in the process talk to them individually about keeping their dogs on leads around Plovers.  Others were more sedate, but used a peer from that sector of society to champion the message, or used the personal approach of having face-to-face conversations about what it is that matters to them.

One great example that Sam used was encouraging walkers to stay on the path in sensitive forest areas of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.  It wasn’t environmental or safety reasons which ultimately motivated them to stay on the path (in fact, even people who strayed off the path already held these beliefs).  In the end what mattered to most visitors to these areas was seeing the best view and getting the best photos.  So by reinforcing the notion that the path went to the spots with the best views, the rangers were able to change visitor behaviour considerably.  Only good research about your target audience can find what is most relevant to them.

Ultimately, people will not change their behaviour unless they want to.  Our job is to make the message relevant to them, and encourage them to find the answer for themselves.

Nature Play

Day one of the Australian Association for Environmental Education conference found us on the eco-education tour.  We visited CERES and the Port Phillip Eco Centre, but more on those in a later post.

I want to begin with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Melbourne and its Children’s Garden.

The Children's GardenThis is a fantastic nature space for children of all ages to explore and have fun, and in the process learn to appreciate nature.  It is more informal education, rather than a formal one, but the children love it, by all accounts.

It is a safe place, completely walled in with one child proof gate, but it also has several distinct spaces within the garden, including a bamboo forest, pond, tea tree grove, rock garden, open grassed area, vegie garden, shelter, tree fern garden – the list goes ever on.

I really like the concept that children are encouraged to just play, using their own imagination and explore what nature has to offer.  It is an extremely important aspect of  every child’s life and will encourage the next generation to have a connection to nature that so many of us are missing in the modern world.

If you can get here to check it out for yourself, do so.  It’s well worth the visit.

Well done to the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, and hopefully more such spaces can be developed in community gardens, schools and backyards all around the whole globe.

Garden Features

Garden Path

Boab Trees

The Pond

Entrance to the Bamboo Forest

The Magic Pudding

Designed for Kids

The 10,000 Year Old Tree Stump

Tennyson Dunes Open Day

The Tennyson Dunes Group is holding their spring open day, giving tours of the wonderful Tennyson Dunes, on Sunday 16 September 2012. It’s guaranteed to be a great day out.

This is community environmental education at it’s finest. Professor Chris Daniels and Associate Professor Victor Gostin will both be there to give guided tours, each highlighting the dunes in their own special way.

Tennyson Dunes 2012 Open Day flierThe Tennyson Dunes are the most significant coastal dunes on the Adelaide Plains.  They are the largest of only three pre-European remnants and the only ones to still have the original tertiary dune system.  Threatened species of plants and animals abound and they are the only place you can see what Adelaide’s coastal dunes might have looked like in Colonel Light’s day.

Come along and see why the Tennyson Dunes Group is the winner of the 2011 Premier’s NRM Community Engagement Award.  Not only will you experience a great tour, but you’ll be able to see the environmental education initiatives of the group (including excellent interpretive signs created by the Marine Discovery Centre), support local volunteers, and most importantly, learn about Adelaide’s fantastic coastal ecology.

Why is environmental education important?

Environmental education comes in many shapes and sizes.  From vocational training for conservation professionals to community awareness campaigns, it serves to not only encourage environmental protection but also arm people with the skills and knowledge to achieve it.

TAFE Field CampIf you’ve ever been on a tour of your local council reserve, picked up a pamphlet on organic veggie gardening or watched a wildlife documentary you’ve participated in environmental education.  And that’s just as important as what goes on at the other end of the spectrum where TAFE students learn how to measure water quality or office staff participate in sustainability in the workplace.

There are many environmental threats these days such as ocean acidification, habitat destruction, over population, biodiversity loss, weed invasion, pollution, just to name a few.  However, by far the greatest threat is ignorance.  Ignorance of how our food is made, where our waste goes, why it matters and what to do about it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that people are generally bad.  Most of us want to do the right thing.  We just don’t know how.

As far as I can see, there are three ways to change the world and save Planet Earth:

  • money (and I don’t have much of that)
  • politics (call me a cynic but the calibre of our politicians lately leaves something to be desired) and,
  • education.

Only one of these can tackle ignorance.  Only one can bring the other two along for the ride.  Only one can encourage lasting change in the community.

Education.

In this blog series I hope to share my experiences, learn from other environmental educators and, most importantly, spark a few debates.  So, if you’ve got something to say, don’t hold back.