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Environmental scientists for two days

Environmental education in action

Last Thursday and Friday the 5th and 6th of January, 16 energetic teenagers aged between 12 and 15 years old from the Science Club of the National Museum of Natural History joined our scientist intern in a two-day interactive workshop and learned by practice a lot about the natural environment.

The main goal of the workshop was to educate the children and to raise their awareness on the importance of environmental protection and action. This was done through both: a) teaching them how to appreciate the natural environment, its different compartments and the various ecological goods and services that it provides, and b) through highlighting the profound impact of the environmental disruptions that humans account for.

During the two-day workshop, the kids have assumed the roles of environmental scientists, and embarked on a mission to better understand the natural environment and how human-made disturbances alter it.

Day 1: Understanding the natural environment

On the first day, the participants studied the environment without taking into consideration any disruptions or alterations to better understand how the environment functions in natural conditions.

They first assembled a 3D puzzle model and learned how the different compartments (the air, the water, the soil, and the living organisms) make up the natural environment. After that, they went for an hour and a half hike into the forest of Ellergronn and discussed many themes along the way. Some of the themes included: the importance of natural reserves, the interconnectedness between the environmental compartments, the ecological functions of the soil and the living organisms, the ecology of lakes and lake systems and many more. The day concluded with two soil experiments: the first to understand the stability of soil aggregates and resistance to erosion (the soil slake experiment), and the second to learn about the soil functions related to water and nutrient retention.

Day 2: Identifying the human impact on nature

On the second day, the kids studied the environment adding a human-made alteration to the frame in an attempt to understand how our actions influence the nature negatively and on multiple levels.

The participants initiated their day with a brief explanation on the different types of soil particles (sand, silt and clay) and their main characteristics in terms of weight, and water permeability properties. Then they carried out 4 different soil experiments starting with the soil texture jar test. After identifying and measuring the proportions of the different soil particles in their samples, the kids calculated their relative percentages and identified the type of the soil based on its texture. After that, they learned about the soil’s maximum capacity to retain contamination and the diffusion of contamination through matrices (from water to plants and from water to cells respectively). The second day concluded with a quick tour around the Cockerill Mining Site in Ellergronn, and a journey mapping activity to identify the environmental impact of a mining process on the different environmental compartments.

The learning objectives achieved

Throughout the two-day workshop the participants learned through active discussion, deliberate observation, and experimentation many environmental lessons. These included: the importance of studying the natural environment undisturbed and to appreciate the various goods and services that it provides, the compartmentalization of the natural environment, the great interconnectedness between the compartments and the many rippling effects that might occur as a result, some of the ecological services that the soil provides including water and nutrient retention and contamination containment and many more. On an inter-personal level, the kids have also learned the importance of work organization, teamwork, and seeking advice when tackling a scientific problem.

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