Interaction and facilitation are two of the most important skills to conduct education and outreach sessions on environment and conservation. An interactive session, when facilitated after a well-made documentary, will lead to a deep understanding among the students on the importance of protecting our ecosystems.
However, doing it only once is not enough. Repeated engagement through hands-on learning is needed if the students are to remember, imbibe and actively take part as citizens enabling conservation actions.
In the recent years, I have tried to ensure that every session I design, co-create and facilitate aligns with Bloom’s Taxonomy. It is a widely-used educational framework (refer to the figure below) that caters to learning outcomes in students at knowledge-based, emotion-based and action-based levels. Extensive studies have been done on Bloom’s taxonomy, which are available online and as books.
The 10 activities in this article are the ones I often use to introduce students to environment and conservation. I choose them depending on the students’ grade-level (primary, middle, higher secondary), content, availability of time and support from co-facilitators.
Quizzes are one of the simple ways to start an interaction, especially when it’s conducted after a film. Before showing the film, you could tell the students that you will also conduct a quiz on it and give them prizes. These prizes could be up-cycled products. For example, when showing the film “Save Our Sholas” by filmmaker Shekar Dattatri, a quiz can be prepared based on the species and the stories in the film. The answers are in the film itself. Such quizzes can be used anytime in the future, if you prepare them once with ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ questions, and document them.
As facilitators, we must do our best to engage all students during an interactive session. Moving consciously around the room to make sure that they are heard is pertinent to conducting a successful session.
Here is my interpretation on how a good facilitator’s mind functions during such interactions. The blue dot in the center is the facilitator. Whether we are in a classroom, a circle, or outdoors, let us move around from where we are to engage students inclusively.
Students have a lot of questions if the session involves a story that perks their curiosity and holds their attention. It is up to us to facilitate the session in such a way that the students feel comfortable to ask questions.
While interacting with students using the visual medium, we can preempt the possible questions they might ask by watching the film or by listening to the story the previous day itself. We can implement this by putting ourselves in the shoes of a student to note down the questions they might ask. For example, when students watch the film “Save Our Sholas”, two questions I have been invariably asked are: “why does a king cobra open it jaws while feeding on a snake?” and “how does one feel while walking inside a Shola forest?”
So, making a list of questions students might ask, and keeping a few ready-to-show photos will add a lot of value and impact to your session.
Conveying articulate answers to students’ questions is a skill in itself. One of the simplest ways to ensure this is to respond to the questions briefly. Also, do support the answers with succinct information/accounts of experience. In the end, summarise.
Art is a great medium to help connect students with nature. Every interactive session should, therefore, be connected with the arts. It should be guided well.
For example, students could be guided to draw a sketch on the film they saw, the story they heard, the environmental scenery along the way to school or even their earliest memory of nature. There is a lot to learn from such artwork, which can be used to improve our programmes in a particular locality.
Students can be encouraged to read up news articles on environment and conservation. To ensure this, an activity can be introduced during an interactive session.
An ‘Environment Wall’ could be initiated. It is a space where three charts are stuck together for students to paste newspaper articles they have read.
This works well in both town and village settings. While the efficacy of news is a question, this approach provides students avenues to stay updated on all that’s happening to our environment.
The people who make the biggest difference in the lives of others are the ones who do the ‘little things’ consistently. Environment-friendly practices like composting, recycling and reducing our consumption are those ‘little things’. These can be introduced to students during any session.
While explaining how exercising environment-friendly ways can reduce our impact on the planet, one could also consider narrating the inspiring story of a person from the region who’s actually practising them. This has the potential to connect very well with the students.
During an interactive session, a great way to help students think about nature is by informing them about the ways they can find stories on changes in their environment.
This can be done by providing students with an activity to interact with their parents, grandparents, teachers and elders in the school. Through this, stories about ponds, seasonal changes, and ecosystems (like wetlands and lakes) can be documented from their own locality. Arts educator Srivi Kalyan designed this activity called ‘Bridge The Gap’ which was well-received by the students.
Such an activity can be introduced to students after a film-screening on Chilika Lake or India’s disappearing beaches. The students can be divided into groups to find stories from the teachers in their school.
Students become excited with role plays. These create a synergy between them and their teachers.
Simulating a real-life situation through a role-play helps activate the learning outcomes of the session. Films like “Mindless Mining”, “The Race to Save The Amur Falcon“, and “India’s Disappearing Beaches” (all by Shekar Dattatri) can be followed with role-play activities. Both Bridge The Gap and role-play assignments align very well with the six stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy – ‘remember’, ‘understand’, ‘apply’, ‘analyse’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘create’.
There is nothing like including fun activities like board games to teach students about environment and conservation.
Recently, games-designer Santhosh of ‘The Elf School’ designed an interesting board game for Karthavyam, a student diploma programme developed at HLC International School. Through this game called “Watch Out”, students were invited to observe public problems around their locality. Such a game can be conducted in a standalone manner, or in collaboration with many other sessions.
Reflections are the perfect closures for any session. At the same time, they also provide starting points for many to begin their journey as environmentally-conscious citizens.
Student reflections can be directed by asking them to write one-line feedbacks on a chart about one aspect of the session they liked, and one aspect that they wish would have been included (“I wish…”, “I liked…”). It could also have a set of questions for students to recollect their lessons towards the end of the session. Whatever the method is, refrain from asking them to write a page about your session.
Finally, we must keep in mind that no two awareness sessions are the same, because every school and every student group is unique. There are always surprises in every class. So, the planning, conducting and interactive phases should change accordingly. Therefore, we must consider these ‘how tos’ as pointers and tools to create our own sessions to introduce students to environment and conservation in the best way possible.
However, we must also move away from considering these pointers as ‘techniques’ – and instead, focus on creating a learning environment that honours and develops students’ capacities in learning the topic. As a review of Palmer’s book, “The Courage to Teach”, aptly points out – “It’s about time we remember that it’s the person within the teacher that matters most in education.”