Education Day Tips

By Madelyn Johanson on June 1, 2017.

A large part of my job has been to teach water quality, both biological and chemical to a great variety of audiences and it has taught me numerous things that I feel others could benefit from knowing.

1.       I would like to say one of the most important thing to do is to get to know your audience. If you are teaching at a school ask the teacher beforehand what prior knowledge the students have on the subject. It also helps to ask if there is any specific item the teacher would like for you to emphasize. For example at one school event one the teacher wanted the emphasis for her class to be on the larger picture concepts of watershed while another teacher that same day wanted the emphasis to be placed on what the biodiversity in the creek means for stream health. Having this knowledge I was able to tailor the lecture portion of the day to each of the teachers wants for their particular class.

2.       Keep in mind what age group you are teaching. I have had the pleasure of teaching anywhere from 5th grade up to adult community members and have a few successful ventures in tailoring the talks to them.

a.       For 5th to 8th grade the best way I have found to keep them engaged and paying attention is to do as much hands on as possible, but to keep in mind that they know when they are just doing busy work. I tried doing a hand on activity where the students build their own insects from premade parts and found that while they had fun, they knew they weren’t really learning anything other than arts and crafts. The next time I worked with the age group I tried a different activity where I made them break into small groups and gave each person a job title in their stream monitoring group. Each child having their own task and job title made them more interested in doing the work. I then gave them premade insects with numbers on them and had them figure out the health of the river with simple math and pictures. It kept them engaged and since I left the methods a bit vague they came up with quite a few really good questions on how to calculate the values and why we bother using that method.

b.       For high school students and adults I have found that it is best to break up the day into two parts, one lecture style and one hand on portion. I found that meeting them in a classroom or meeting area and going over a short presentation or powerpoint on the what and why of the day’s activities allowed them time to really think on the material and ask questions ahead of time to the activity about how the rest of the day would progress. The hands on portion usually goes smoothly with this age group.

3.       Always keep in mind the why. I have found that it is important to truly give thought as to why the people you are educating should care about the topic. It is easy to say that everyone should care about the environmental and water quality of the local rivers, but when the individuals you are educating about river health are in an area where their personal health and safety are at risk it is not always first in their thoughts to worry about a river clean up. I have found that making the connection personal helps. Teaching exactly what the community efforts to clean up the stream would do to strengthen community connections and community pride helps to make the education more personal than just a call to action.

4.       Last but certainly not least, have FUN. Educational events are much more likely to stick with the students when they can tell that you are also enjoying yourself with them. When you are able to do anything hands on always try to have fun with it. Whether that means you startle people by letting aquatic insects crawl all over your arms, or you make a crown of flowers, or you just say silly things; people love to learn and have fun.