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Integrating Conservation Education Across Multiple Grade Levels

By Dr. Chris Taylor

Timberline High School TREE Club students demonstrate how common household pollutants enter the river to Hawthorne 6th graders in one of several lessons about conservation and biodiversity.

With the Earth’s population hitting 8 billion in November 2022 and 9 billion predicted to occur in 2037, there needs to be a more direct focus on the impact of this many people on Earth’s natural systems. A new non-profit organization, the Life, recently formed by a group of formal and informal educators has the mission of improving environmental education at all grade levels while encompassing outdoor activities with a direct focus on “conservation education.” Conservation education is the combination of environmental and ecological literacy while developing a respect for a natural place where you live. Conservation education provides students a clearer understanding of the impacts that humans have on ecosystems while recognizing the interrelationships of all life forms. (Jacobson et al., 2015).

Life Outdoors, in partnership with the Boise School District, is developing a multi-tiered place-based activity this spring that has students from many different grade levels working together to better understand environmental conservation principles and the biodiversity around and within the Boise River. The Boise River Biodiversity project addresses students building a sense of place in their own backyard which is critical to developing environmentally conscious and a responsive citizenry for the future (Ardoin, 2006). We need citizens who are educated in conservation education and take an active role in their communities by practicing sustainability towards the Earth.

Sixth graders learn from Timberline TREE club members how to create videos to share what they learned from their research on Boise River organisms.

The Boise River Biodiversity project has sixth grade students at several elementary schools, junior high biology students and high school environmental science students specifically, learning about the biodiversity, ecosystem, and human impacts within the Boise River watershed. The project is helping students gain a clearer understanding of this unique ecosystem by connecting them with the diverse assortment of species (whether animal, plant, fungus, or microbe) that make up the rich community of life in the Boise Valley that they call home.

First, elementary students are divided into teams of 2-4 students and assigned a unique species that lives in the Boise River Ecosystem. Overall there are 100 student teams investigating 100 different species that play different, but interrelated jobs in their ecological community. After the elementary classes receive their species, high school students visit the elementary classrooms on three different occasions to teach the sixth grade students a variety of environmental science topics, such as biodiversity, watershed, and human impacts to ecosystems. High schoolers next hand out template biodiversity cards to each elementary group to research and complete on their specific species. Finally the high school students teach each group to create interactive videos to highlight their species. Throughout all these lessons, students are learning grade level integrated state standards through an authentic project that creates high levels of engagement and thinking skills.

Students gather biodiversity data in the Boise River

The second part of the project has the junior high biology students developing and facilitating outdoor stations at the Boise River for the elementary students. The focus of the 10 stations are on water quality testing, collecting and releasing species like macroinvertebrates, and discovering human impacts while developing conservation ideas to implement in the Boise River ecosystem. The power of this component is again having older students teach younger students about environmental science issues, but also getting students outdoors to be actively engaged in their environment.

The final component of the project is having students from each grade level present at two public events. First students will come together at Timberline High School’s auditorium on April 20th to share their stories, creations and what they have learned for the Student Voices Symposium. The symposium follows the “Ted Talk” format where groups will get 5-6 minutes to share their thoughts to the audience. The second event that students will present at is the 5th annual Project Green Sustainability Summit which focuses on educators building a network of resources, projects and curriculum that address local, regional and global issues.

Sixth graders from Riverside Elementary shared what they learned from the Boise River Biodiversity project at the Student Voices: Ignite the Change Symposium at Timberline High School.

This place-based authentic inquiry project is building a community of students working together to develop environmental literacy. Students from elementary to high school are building the knowledge and skills to solve problems and resolve issues to sustain ecological stability in an ecosystem in their backyard. The final component of having students present what they have learned to other audiences will hopefully create environmentally literate communities to make informed decisions concerning the environment through awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and actions.

Ardoin, N. M. (2006). Toward an interdisciplinary understanding of place: Lessons for environmental education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE), 112-126.

Jacobson, S. K., McDuff, M. D., & Monroe, M. C. (2015). Conservation education and outreach techniques. Oxford University Press.


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