Building Conservation Foundation by Training Teachers in Peru

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Teachers investigate a cactus at the Spectacled Bear Conservation Center.

Teachers investigate a cactus at the Spectacled Bear Conservation Center.

Forty-six! That’s how many teachers attended our recent environmental education professional development workshops, in collaboration with the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society, in Peru. That’s also the minimum number of classrooms that will be affected by the methods and materials that were discussed over the 10 days spent at the Conservation Center in Batan Grande, Peru. And it’s pretty safe to assume that each teacher has about 25 students. Hmm… 46 x 25 = 1,150. Maybe it’s a little premature to say we’ve touched the lives of over a thousand children and possibly their families, but I’m overly optimistic. It’s a pretty good number, if you ask me.

I work in the Conservation Education Division of the Institute for Conservation Research, the research arm of the San Diego Zoo. But rather than thinking about what I do as education, we like to think of what we’re doing in northern Peru, in support of the Andean bear conservation project, as capacity building. This is an approach to working with communities to enhance their abilities to allow them to achieve measurable and sustainable results. Having learned a bit about the communities over the last year and a half, I’ve come to know some of the modern challenges they face. It is my job to assist them in finding their potential and developing a “tool kit” for sustainable, improved living. This tends to have a measurable, positive impact on the forest and Andean bears. In this way, we are helping to address the human dimension of conservation.

Teachers in a small group discussion, with the education coordinator of the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society, Francisco Nolberto Aurich Terrones.

Teachers interact in small group discussions outside the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society.

Instead of a lot of lecturing by professionals and sitting and listening by students, we conducted the workshops in an inquiry and project-based learning format. Inquiry involves the quest to learn more about the things that interest us. Project-based learning directly engages participants through projects applicable to life outside the classroom. The workshop was also conducted as if the participating teachers were their own students in a classroom, similarly to how we conduct our summer teacher workshops at the Institute. Using these tools, we hope to increase their active engagement with students, encourage investigation of the things in which they are interested, and provide them with tools that they can use in their everyday lives. Actually, these workshops were modeled after the Earth Expeditions program offered in conjunction with Miami University of Ohio and the Advanced Inquiry Master’s Program (check out the new Earth Expedition going to Hawaii this summer and the new Advanced Inquiry Program being offered by the Zoo!).

Samantha, in front, poses with the first group of teachers at the end of Workshop 1, wearing their commemorative T-shirts.

Samantha, in front, poses with the first group of teachers at the end of Workshop 1, wearing their commemorative T-shirts.

Although there were some unanticipated challenges, I think it’s safe to say that overall the workshops were quite successful. Teachers were engaged. They asked questions. They were exposed to new methods and got up close and personal with the inquiry process, as well as the San Diego Zoo and the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society. We had guest speakers from the area and active investigations, and the teachers developed their own network of educators interested in conservation in the region. Teachers were also challenged to develop a conservation action project to implement in their village, tied in with the curriculum.

We will stay in contact and provide support and advice for these projects throughout the school year of March through December. And at the end of the year, we hope students will showcase their conservation projects in a festival celebrating community-based conservation to ensure that these great lessons make their way to the next generation.

Samantha Young is a conservation educator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Can Cute Trinkets Save Andean Bears?