Bug hotels and other ideas for exploring biodiversity

Towards the end of 2018, teachers and team members from Latvia gathered in Ligatne in order to share and compile creative ideas on how to increase children’s interest in nature.

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The two-day programme included discussions held by experts who provided valuable insights and methods to familiarize children with biodiversity and our natural resources. Among other subjects were examples of environmental education in other countries and the benefits of nature studies in improving children’s mental health and learning skills, as well as promoting engagement of the young in environmental activism later in life.

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Construction of insect hotels in school premises is becoming more and more popular as an educational activity on biodiversity. One of the participating experts, Voldemars Spungis, a well-known Latvian entomologist, encouraged the teachers to adopt a more critical approach to methods used for these constructions. Most of the hotels and the materials used to build them bear very little resemblance to conditions of insects’ natural habitat. People tend to stack various dry materials such as brick, hay, dry wood and even plastic materials, often creating a fairly interesting and aesthetic environmental feature. However, in reality only spiders and ants at best would find these homely enough. Spungis stressed that the planning should follow examples found in nature: the best materials would be fallen trees or branches, holes in wood, reeds and hard rocks, while the layout should provide conditions of various levels of humidity. His insights helped teachers to learn more efficient and science-based methods for exploration and conservation of biodiversity.

In addition to the educational experience, the meeting was also a good networking opportunity for the participants, and we look forward to extending it at the international meeting which will take place in February.

Contributor: Ilze Rušmane

Project meeting in a zero-net-energy building

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We had a project meeting in Rakvere Rohuaia kindergarten on the 11th of January 2019. Their building is zero-net-energy, which means that they produce at least as much energy as they consume. We were positively surprised. This smart house knows when to turn on the lights, when to air the rooms, when to switch on the heating, and much more. The atmosphere is compounded by the whole staff caring a great deal about nature. They seem to be finding many different ways to recycle, reuse, re..., re...., re...

It’s amazing!

We could admire the colourful fairyland that Monika had created for her 3-4-year-old children. Joyful, well-planned, and perfectly designed corners of the playroom enticed children to join various activities. These kids are very lucky!

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We were lucky too, as we could do some project work in that wonderland. Working there was great, the hall is noise suppressing as they have attached soft plates onto the walls and ceiling, so discussion never grew unpleasantly loud. Furthermore, the rooms are fitted with carbon dioxide sensors, so that the buildings knows when to air the rooms for optimal freshness.

As the result of the brainstorming session, we managed to name 40 activities that pupils like and which make them happy. We also discussed various teaching methods to achive our aims. We decided to make a Google Drive document of the list of applications that everyone can contribute to.

We also received homework: coming up with specific lesson ideas for the next meeting.

Contributors: Katrin Kurvits, Sirje Aher, Martin Aher

Potted plant ideas

Substantive work is on the way. On the 29th of November 2018, teachers and project team members from Estonia met in University of Tartu Botanical Gardens. As Hob’s adventure gravitates around potted plants, gardener Kristine Fenske gave a tour of the gardens, showing different tropical plants that could be grown in classrooms and used as teaching materials.

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Not all plants are suitable to be grown in classrooms and near children. Kristine first showed plants that ought not to be used in classrooms. These include poisonous plants such as euphorbias such as poinsettias (popular around christmas time), dieffenbachia and clivia. The latter are phototoxic, i.e., their juice together with sunlight causes burns on human skin.

Some plants just grow too large to be suitable for classrooms. These include palm trees, Monstera. And other plants have large thorns that could be dangerous, these include cactai. Curiously, she was more worried about cactai with small, difficult to notice thorns, as these often become airborne or stuck in skin, causing infections and irritations. And some plants merely spread a large quantity of spores which might irritate people with allergies or just cause trouble for cleaners. These include some popular ferns.

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She recommended several species suitable as potted plants in classrooms. One of the more interesting suggestions was water moss, or Salvinia which grows in water. These can be planted in aquariums in such a way that children can observe all parts of the plant, including its roots that would be hidden away with a standard potted plant. Another suitable species, water lettuce or Pistia, can be problematic weeds in tropical climates, causing bodies of water to fill up, which allows teachers to explain interesting environmental issues.

She recommended trying to grow pineapples and avocadoes. Both can be first consumed and then planted. This link shows how one can take a store-bought pineapple, plant a leaf and expect it to grow in a classroom setting. Similarly, an avocado seed can be planted as a potted plant.

Kristine recommended that each class would draw up a schedule for watering and fertilizing plants by species. Each plant requires a slightly different watering and fertilization schedule, and overwatering or underwatering can be lethal to a plant. Children might want to share the duty of watering the plant properly.

The next meeting will take place in January, and we’re looking forward to the transnational meeting in Sigulda in February.

Hob's adventure is under way

The first transnational project meeting of the Erasmus+ project Hob‘s Adventure was held from 15th to 19th of October 2018 in Tallinn, Estonia. Project partners traveled from Iceland, Slovenia and Latvia to attend the meeting, which was hosted by the two Estonian partners NPO HARED, Center for Training and Development, and Lehola Environmental Education Centre. All in all, there were 12 project partners in attendance.

The first day was dedicated to getting to know each other and then diving right into the project tasks and roles. Sirje, Georg and Martin Aher from HARED facilitated the meeting beautifully, and ensured the group also got to take in the inspirational new indoor and outdoor facilities of Lehola EEC in Pirita Kose kindergarten with our hosts Mairi Enok and Kadri Ott.

In addition to the 12 project partners, many kindergarten and primary school teachers from Estonia that will participate in the project attended part of the meeting to share their experiences working with environmental education. Partners from abroad got to ask questions about how they are working with the Eco-Schools framework in Estonia and how each school uses their unique approach to nature-based learning and environmental goals for their school.

The group also got the great privilege of visiting two secondary schools in and near Tallinn to experience those schools and their school cultures firsthand. Both were large, urban schools for children aged 7-18.

The project partners were impressed with how they emphasised movement and health as part of their environmental projects in addition to ambitious goals for recycling, eco-friendly transportation, and using nature as a learning tool as well as a learning goal. We even got to take part in a dance break.

The team surmised that the teachers and schools have already incorporated hands-on learning methods, digital tools and physical activities in their daily routines. This will provide for an excellent stepping stone for our project, allowing us to build on past successes and connect trailblazers from different institutions and countries.

Finally, the project team ended the meeting at Lehola‘s Mustamäe location to finalise project business as well as learn how kindergartens and schools utilise bots for engaging pupils in learning about biodiversity and nature.

After a fantastic three days of meeting, the group said good-bye to each other until the next transnational meeting in February 2019 in Latvia.