Q and A with Connection to Nature webinar speakers | eePRO @ NAAEE

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Q and A with Connection to Nature webinar speakers

NAAEE and the US Forest Service recently hosted a webinar featuring three experts exploring research, strategies, and benefits of connecting people to nature. Webinar presenters Louise Chawla, Lauren Watkins, and Sheila William-Ridges were happy to answer your lingering questions.

Check back in with this thread as more of their answers roll in, and please chime in with your own questions and answers!

If you missed the webinar, you can check out the recorded session here, as well as the worksheet with additional resources that the speakers reference: https://naaee.org/eepro/learning/webinars/connecting-people-nature-caring

Webinar attendee question: How would you teach scientific truths to develop critical thinking.....instead of just emotional thinking?

I think that problem/project-based learning can be an excellent way to build critical thinking skills - as well as skills in identifying sound sources, scientific research, and the scientific process. With behavior change, there is plenty of evidence that scientific ‘truths’ and knowledge about scientific findings do not lead to people changing their behavior (see Knowledge Deficit by W. Schultz). So, if the goals of your program are to change behavior, then I would focus on an emotional approach using values and universal concepts to interpret the resource you are trying to help guests connect with - rather than ‘teach’ them about it by focusing on scientific information. Additionally, the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation found that using an approach to interpreting climate change that included ‘this is the way it is because science says so’ led to an audience to connect less with the information as compared to using language around values such as protection and responsible management of resources - which were found to be less polarizing, less likely to alienate audiences, and easier to relate to. www.climateinterpreter.org is a great resource for more on this. Of course, we want to be able to back up what we say with facts. Just remember your audience and the goals of your program before assuming scientific thinking is the best approach for your program’s goals.

If the goal of your program is to build skills, such as critical thinking, or increase knowledge - then using scientific evidence is an excellent approach! https://www.pblworks.org/ is a great resource for K-12 problem/project-based learning.

Webinar attendee question: As a high school teacher, our classes are often segmented into short blocks. Do you have suggestions to deal with this?

I am not sure during which speakers’ part this question came up, but if it’s related to trying to connect students with nature in fragmented blocks - I would like to recommend a project/problem-based learning (PBL) approach. This would mean that students would be presented with an open-ended, ill-structured question or issue, such as ‘How does an invasive species of brown anole impact our schoolyard habitat?’ You could use a question like this to kick off a multi-block project that includes not only connecting the kids with nature, but also brings in science, writing, critical thinking, presentation skills, and so on. During one block students could research the issue (both indoors w/ computers and outdoors through observation). Then, they could spend another block discussing solutions, working up prototypes or solutions and testing outside, or presenting their thoughts to an expert. You could further connect students to nature by hosting some of these blocks outside! While yes, being in the outdoors does pose the chance of interruptions, students have been shown to be more engaged when spending time outside! Check out https://www.pblworks.org/ for the best practices and steps of PBL, and for ideas!

Webinar attendee question: I have offered outdoor programming to draw in families but have had little response, suggestions?

This happened to me as an interpreter/park ranger. Actually, it happened quite a bit before I figured out an alternative approach! I recommend figuring out who is visiting your facility, why they are there, and what THEY want to do during their visit. Are they locals or tourists? Homeschool families? Families on the weekends looking for entertainment, or during the week looking for learning opportunities? Each of these audiences would have different ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ from a program. So, try to answer a few questions about your audience before choosing a program.

You can figure this out by surveying guests w/ a brief survey and by chatting with them informally. When doing this, determine basic things like:
Why did you visit today? (If a multiple choice approach potential options could include: entertainment, learning, exercising, fishing, sightseeing, connecting with nature, giving the kids somewhere to play, etc.)
Where are you from?
What would you like to learn from us?
What activities here do you find most enjoyable?
If we offered a program about ____, what would be the best time of the (year, month, week) for you to participate?

Even if you only have a moment to collect information from a guest, even just a little information about your audience will help you tailor a program that they want to be a part of!

Webinar attendee question: How can I assess the efficacy of what I teach visitors if I may only see them once? How can I make the greatest impact once?

This is a great question - but raises many others that would need to be answered before we could make a strong suggestion. First, is the goal of your program to ‘teach’ visitors (thereby increasing their knowledge)? If so, you can assess the efficacy of a visitors’ change in knowledge by a very short pre/post survey with multiple choice answers or with a short fill in the blank. This brief survey can help you identify where your teaching could be improved if people aren’t learning, and what content is resonating well. I recommend keeping a journal or notes of when the program was held, the results of the surveys, and what changes you want to make for next time. Then, keep the same information each time you adjust the program so you can monitor progress over time! As for how to make the greatest impact in teaching people information - I recommend making the information as relatable to them as possible. Think about comparisons/metaphors that can help your audience understand the content better by comparing it to things they are more familiar with. For example: Vultures are nature’s janitors.; Prescribed fire is a prescription for forest health.; Ocean acidification is a change in the chemistry of the ocean and causes “osteoporosis of the sea,” which prevents animals at the bottom of the food web from building and maintaining the protective shells they need to survive.

Also, think about a teacher that you loved, and another that you didn’t. We can all recall those in our lives that made information more exciting and inspirational, we well as those folks that had the opposite effect when we attempted to learn from them. Make a list of the characteristics of both of these teachers and self-reflect on if you are embodying the characteristics of your favorite instructors. The things that you loved about influential teachers will likely be the things that others love in a great teacher, too. Focus on these traits and foster them in yourself to make a impact - even just for one time with someone.

Q&A with Sheila Williams-Ridge:

Attendee: Do you have any tips for connecting adolescents in particular to nature?
Sheila: Focus activities with adolescents on social activities and embrace their comfort with technology, but also have some time away from technology.

Attendee: I would like to know more about nature as a family value. How do we connect parent and help them create and act on their family values?
-First build a relationship with families and the community and find out
about the ways they would like to engage with nature (wellness,
gardening, art, fishing, celebrations, etc.) A survey could help.
-Then build programming in collaboration that focuses on those areas
-Offer spaces of comfort and opportunities to try something new and

Attendee: Are you aware of any black bear proof composting methods?
Sheila: I don’t know of any bear proof composting methods, but maybe contact someone in northern California parks and see what they think.
Or inside vermicomposting or with mealworms for food scraps is fun and easy

Attendee: How do you see schoolyard habitats that function as both ecological safe spaces for wildlife and outdoor learning spaces fit into environmental education?
Sheila: That can be tricky, but clear signage, communication, and priorities about different spaces is important. For example we let children pick as many dandelions as they would like in certain spaces, but also leave some spaces wild so bees have access to food.
You also need to consider safety, especially in areas with venomous or dangerous critters.

Attendee: What are some good resources on how fine art and music skills are developed through unstructured nature play? We get a lot of questions to our Forest Kindergarten about how forest play develops these skills, and want more resources to provide parents.
Sheila: https://www.childrenandnature.org/research-library/ or www.naaee.org/eeresearch
I also included a few art and nature resources on the worksheet (available here: https://naaee.org/eepro/learning/webinars/connecting-people-nature-caring

Attendee: How would you teach scientific truths to develop critical thinking.....instead of just emotional thinking?
Sheila: They are best and most effective when they both happen, but in the right time for the individual. First the heart, then the head. Where we have love and passion, whether it is in conservation, music, or anything we strive to do well, we need to fall in love with it through connection, then we will yearn to know more.

Attendee: Do you have favorite resources for affordable seasonal gear? Do you keep extras on hand at your different programs? Have you had any luck with gear-libraries/exchanges/etc...?
Sheila: We have had good luck doing gear swaps at our program, but also thrift stores, and clearance sections of outdoor gear places. We limit our gear swaps to outdoor gear, books, and toys. It keeps the interest high and the stuff moving.

Attendee: As a high school teacher, our classes are often segmented into short blocks. Do you have suggestions to deal with this?
Sheila: I think collaboration and administrative buy-in would be important here. Having an environmental class at the end of the day or the beginning is helpful, but also knowing their schedules so you can work with the other teachers to work out a solution.

Attendee: I always find it hard to deliver our ee programmes in a more emotional way. Is there any skills to do that?
Sheila: Baby animals! Letter writing about things that are important to them in nature at the end of a class can help for reflection and solidifying that action should follow.

Attendee: I have offered outdoor programming to draw in families but have had little response, suggestions?
Sheila: Making sure that it is done with families, not just for them, or it feels like it is being done to them. Have a few families on your program committee or do regular surveys about what they care about. Know the community rhythms and calendars.

Attendee: How can I assess the efficacy of what I teach visitors if I may only see them once? How can I make the greatest impact once?
Sheila: This is one of the hardest situations for building that connection. Make sure they know how to do something similar when they get back to their own homes. Here’s a good example- https://mdehndotorg.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/nyrp_whatsgoodinmyhood_w...

Attendee: What do you recommend for situations where people fear aspects of nature (for example, public outreach on snakes)?
Sheila: Respect their feelings, give them information, let them approach when ready. I talk about baby snakes like they are the most adorable thing (because they really are) or how one of my snakes is very ticklish and the other likes to get into spaces where she gets stuck. But I also ask people about their fear and their why. I share my own fears openly (it’s spiders) and I offer to help them when they are ready. I sometimes show facts that help, but it is not as much about facts as feelings.

Attendee: How do we inspire life-long connection with nature?
Sheila: By helping people connect to where they live and see the beauty in value n their environment and by giving them chances to explore beyond.

Attendee: What is the one activity that you have led with the widest variety of age groups that got the most enthusiasm from the kids?
Sheila: When I bring my reptiles, usually turtles and snakes, young children to adults usually get engaged. It is also very helpful for an older kid to see a young child hold a snake, they naturally start to think “I can do that”

Attendee: What tools do you use to expand the perspectives of education professionals who still view urban areas as "nature void"?
Sheila: I shared a TED talk by Angela Hanscom on the worksheet- take a peek.

Attendee: What’s your go to method for getting adults to not project their negative preconceived notions onto younger generations?
Sheila: Communication with families is my go to- here is an excerpt from a parent letter in Nature-Based Learning with Young Children (Powers and Williams Ridge)
“There are so many wonderfully beautiful species with amazing capabilities, much like your own children. We encourage you, as we will learn about reptiles and amphibians at our school soon, to try and not transfer your worries and fears, but to continue to help flame the spark of wonder that your child feels when investigating something new.”
There are parent letters about taking children outside in lots of weather, collecting rocks, and lots of other nature topics.