Teach Earth: Teachers Take to the Woods!
With support from the Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund and Garfield Weston, nine teachers and two education officers received full fellowship funding to join the Teach Earth program at Earthwatch’s Regional Climate Centre in Oxfordshire.
Teach Earth operates on the principle that truly embedded learning comes from direct personal experience. The program engages teachers’ hearts, hands, and minds by connecting them personally to science and nature.
The scientific focus of Teach Earth is forests, and specifically the impact of climate change on forest habitats. Billions of people around the world rely on trees and forests for food, shelter, fuel, medicines, clean air, and freshwater. Forests cover about a third of the land surface of the Earth and harbor more species than any other terrestrial habitat. But all this is under threat from deforestation, degradation, and climate change.
Surprisingly little is known about how forests are affected by changing temperatures and rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere, and about how changes to their management could play an important role in helping to reduce the impact of climate change. This is where the teachers come in. Their work in Wytham Woods with Earthwatch in partnership with Oxford University is contributing to a long-term research study looking at the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems and biodiversity, and their role in the global carbon cycle.
“The work builds, from a research point of view, on the funded work of HSBC on climate change,” explains Earthwatch’s Richard Sylvester, the team’s co-leader with research scientist Dr. Martha Crockatt. For five years, the HSBC Climate Partnership (using bank employees) gathered data at five sites worldwide to see how temperate and tropical forests, and the animals within them, were being affected by changes in climate and land use.
The forest classroom: a teacher measures tree growth in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire.
Colette Wall is in charge of “environment” at her school. She said: “I did fieldwork at university. But it was a bit rusty. One of the reasons I came here was to be able to give local examples to my students. The opportunities for practical work will be enabled by my experiences this week.”
Environmental education research shows that if you connect children to nature and they have a positive experience of the outdoors, they are more likely to become environmental leaders in the future. “That stood out for me,” Colette said. “It is a positive reason for taking kids out into the natural world - to help them become more aware of their environment.”
At the end of a day’s fieldwork, sitting on fallen logs in Wytham, the teachers were asked what was best about the week. Comments flooded forth, from “getting ideas to take back and implement within our schools, and developing them together in the evenings” to “getting the big picture on climate change - but most of all learning about it locally. ”As they left, one teacher added: “I also like the fact that I am contributing to a body of data. I will be able to tell my student, ‘Well, if I did that, so you can too!’”
Teach Earth was a pilot program in 2012 and will be repeated in 2013.