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My Teach Earth weekend, by Alex Walker, Portway Junior School

I am a teacher with 10 years experience, working in a large Junior school in Andover.

Thanks to Roots & Shoots and Earthwatch, I was lucky enough to be invited to join an Earthwatch Teach Earth weekend at Wytham Woods in Oxford on 5-7thJuly 2019. Wow, what a fantastic experience! I would really recommend it to any educators who want some ideas to help their students become more aware and responsible global citizens.

The key themes of the weekend were: creating knowledge and inspiring action – helping the next generation to protect the natural world.

Earthwatch is a charity based in Oxford. They aim to engage people to look after our environment in a variety of ways from: wildlife and habitats; climate change; fresh water; and oceans and coasts.

One of the best aspects of the weekend was networking with the other participants.  There were eleven of us and people had travelled from as far afield as New Zealand, USA and the far north of Scotland to be there. I felt like a bit of a lightweight having only driven for 1.5 hours up the A34 to be there! Most of the women (we were all female – as we were camping and sharing limited toilet facilities) were teachers in some capacity, secondary, primary, forest school or outreach.  All were incredible people with fascinating reasons for wanting to give up a weekend to be at a Teach Earth event.

My weekend started with a climate health check, looking at planetary boundaries including: land system change; ozone depletion; ocean acidification, climate change and freshwater use. By playing a novel and interactive game we realised that these planetary boundaries had been breached or were dangerously close to being so. But the emphasis on this weekend was not one of doom and gloom but on what can be done to help.

So, our next activity was centred around Naturehood, which is a community-based project focused on reversing the trend in wildlife decline in the UK, through the creation of Naturehoods, where citizens work together to develop a network of green spaces. Participants will be able to learn more about the wildlife in these spaces through citizen science wildlife surveys, which will support vital research into what actions will have the greatest impact for wildlife.  Participating in Naturehoodis a practical, engaging and purposeful action, which I can take back to school. I know the pupils will enjoy the science and uploading the findings will help to support the recovery of some key UK animal species.

The next citizen science project we learnt about is Freshwater Watch. As water quality declines, more than half of fresh water fish species are at risk of extinction.  Freshwater Watchoffers the chance to join in research about fresh water and be part of a network gathering water samples and engaging students in vital research on water quality issues.  On the Sunday we all walked a short way to the River Thames and carried out a number of water quality tests on the river. There is a clear and obvious way that I can include Portway Junior School in Freshwater Watch. As Andover has the River Anton running through the town centre and trout are clearly visible swimming in the shallow water, this is a topic, which I know students will feel is something close to home and important. They can monitor the water quality over time and see what effect the levels of nitrates have on the fish numbers.

Our weekend finished with a chance to draw up an action plan. I plan to make learning about the local environment intrinsic in as much of the curriculum as possible and set up a school club to enable the citizen science projects to be given dedicated time to complete.

The weekend was incredible. A great chance to share ideas with others and to learn some practical ways which students can use to help make a difference in their local areas.

I would thoroughly recommend a Teach Earth weekend and thank you Roots & Shoots for nominating me.

Alex Walker

Class Teacher, Portway Junior School, Andover

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