Our Actions Matter: A Practical Conservation Guide to Engage, Educate and Empower Students of All Ages
Docent, Albuquerque Biological Park/Rio Grande Zoo
Summary: In 2011, the Albuquerque Biological Park (ABQ BioPark) launched a new initiative called, “Our Actions Matter,” providing a conservation message behind simple actions we can take every day to help the earth. This program was piloted as a station called an adaptation lab at “Science Discovery Day,” an on-site event in which specific examples of how we humans can adapt to save our planet were presented to 10
groups of 15 seventh grade students. The interactive presentation used a variety of common materials we are calling Our Actions Matter Props. The examples and Props are now being incorporated into other ABQ BioPark programs. Below is a synopsis of the lab.
Objective: Over the course of the lab, our audience develops an understanding of how we as individuals can impact the earth with simple actions and why it is important to do so.
Set Up: A table is set with Our Action Matter Props that represent actions we can take toward conservation.
Procedure for The Adaptation Lab:
Ask the students: “ Do you know what habitat we live in and what is unique about it?” (Desert-fragile—little water.) Next ask: ”As human animals do we need to adapt to protect and conserve our habitat?” Reinforce–they are the generation that can really have an impact on conserving our environment. Using the props, ask the students what they think these props represent, what can we do to save our environment and why it’s
important. Allow the students a moment to think about it and ask questions. We have found that many of the students already know some of the answers, especially when we give them hints. This is a very interactive session; the students do a lot of the talking.
- The students are highly engaged. It is “all about them” and often it is somethingthey already do or they realize they can take action, which empowers them.
- The props are self-explanatory and very interactive. They can be touched and handled. When the students are with their parents, we found after the “Our Actions Matter” introduction the parents begin to point out things, especially the bird with the plastic ring around its neck (see the following list of props and the Ultimate Message we want to leave with the audience.)
- You don’t have to talk about all the props or give the statistics. You might only have a minute. Focus on only one or two props and the messages. The students still walk away with an idea.
- Have fun with this. Create your own props that work for you. I have my own prop bag I keep at the house. One docent now uses matches and talks about preventing forest fires. Another uses proper disposing of fishing lines. Just keep it simple.
- You don’t have to use live animals. These actions are all simple, doable and not overwhelming. It is something we all can do, demonstrating how our actions do matter.
- It is easy to incorporate into other programs. Such as:
- Earth Day: Set up table with the props and give stickers for answering questions.
- Migratory Bird Day: Set up table with the props. With an active bird such as a lorikeet, pull visitors to the booth. With only a minute, focus the audience on trash and recycling.
- Outreach programs: Intersperse the props with biofacts and education animals, while presenting programs on reptiles, adaptations, endangered species, and habitats. Emphasize actions the kids can take. Reinforce “our actions matter.”
Simple examples of actions we can take. The Props we use, some statistics and the Ultimate Message.
- Baby American Alligator: Share the good news story about how we as humans made a difference in the 60’s to save the American Alligator. A baby alligator is a great example of a bad pet! If we want a pet we need to do our homework (i.e.: find out how long they live, what kind of commitment is needed, are they legal, etc.). Never get something that is illegal as a pet, never take an animal out of the wild, and never release an animal into the wild. (invasive species.) Other live animals to use and talk about are: tropical fish, researching what to buy, not removing live seashells from the ocean, a bird, talking about the pet trade and referring to the movie “RIO.” Ultimate Message: Be a responsible pet owner and respect all animals.
- Aluminum soda can, plastic soda bottle, plastic water bottle, and reusable water bottle Ask: “Which is better plastic or aluminum?” Ans. Aluminum can be recycled again and again; plastic only a couple of times. Plastic is made out of petroleum, another valuable resource. One aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for three hours. It takes a lot of energy to recycle plastic. Ultimate Message: 1) recycle 2) aluminum is better 3) reusable water bottles are the best.
- Plastic drink rings: They take 100 years to decompose if left as litter. Plastic drink rings can choke birds and other animals. Before you dispose of or recycle make sure you cut them up. (One of the Macaroni Penguins in “Happy Feet” has a ring around its neck. Many of the students have seen it.) We use a battery operated stuffed penguin that moves and a stuffed red-tailed hawk that screams when it is pushed. They both make great visuals. Ultimate Message: Don’t buy sodas with these rings or, if you do, make sure you cut them up before you recycle them. Birds Love Trash!!
- Plastic bag around a stuffed sea turtle and a cloth grocery bag. Plastic bags take 20 years to decompose. They can get in the water system and clog things up. They look like Jellies or Jelly Fish and birds and sea turtles will try to eat them. Ultimate Message: Throw the plastic bags away in the trash when you see them on the ground. Better yet,reuse them or recycle them at the grocery stores. Even better yet… use cloth bags at the grocery. (From Time Magazine 3/12/2012. If 25% of US Families used 10 fewer plastic bags each month, the savings would add up to over 2.5 billion bags a year.) I have found this one is a lot of fun. Here is how the dialogue goes: “do you know if you reduce, reuse, or recycle plastic bags… you will be saving a sea turtle?” I usually get blank looks. “ What do you think a sea turtle’s favorite food is?” Ans. Jellies or Jelly Fish. “What do Jellies look like?” (hold up the plastic bag and mimic a Jelly.) “Where do sea turtles live?” Ans. the ocean. “Where are we?” Ans. In New Mexico “How can we save a sea turtle?” Blank Looks. “What is one of the biggest rivers in the US and where does it flow?” Ans. The Rio Grande and into the ocean. “ What happens to plastic bags when the wind blows?” Ans. It can blow into the river. Usually here is the AHHA moment. New Mexicans can save SeaTurtles by disposing of them properly or not using plastic bags!!!
- Tooth brush and cup: Albuquerque’s consumption of water is 150 gallons a day down from 250 in 1994. Good news is: we have reduced our water consumption considerably. However, Melbourne Australia is down to 68 Gallons and Palm Springs, California is still up at 560 per day. (ABQ Journal 4/12) Every little bit helps – Do not leave water running when brushing your teeth. (If the entire population of New Mexico did this, we would save several million gallons of water DAILY!) When brushing your teeth, leave the water running; put a big cup or bowl under the faucet to see how much water is wasted. Ultimate Message: turn off the water when brushing your teeth and you will help conserve water.
- Xerox Paper written on both sides and a stuffed tiger: It takes an entire tree to make a stack of newspapers that is four feet high. 40% of America’s trash is paper. Paper in a landfill takes 4 years to decompose. It can be reused again and again if recycled. One pound of newspapers can be recycled to make 6 cereal boxes, 6 egg cartons or 2000 sheets of paper. Ultimate Message: Use both sides of writing paper, use scrap and recycle and avoid printing by accessing electronically. It helps save trees. Another fun exchange: Hold up the paper written on both sides: “ Do you know writing on both sides of the paper can save a tiger?” Blank Look. “What do you use to make paper?” Ans—Trees, “Who is one of the biggest consumers of paper?” Ans: We are. The US. “Who is the biggest producer of paper?” Ans: China. “Where do some tigers live?” Ans: in China/ forests– the tiger is losing its habitat. Usually another AHHA moment! Ultimate Message: Reduce your use of paper and save a tiger! Or birds or any animal that lives in a forest habitat.
- Light bulb: A normal bulb will use 60 watts of energy an hour, meaning that you could conserve nearly 22,000 watts of energy per year by just switching off one bulb for one hour every day. That’s enough energy to power your television for a month. Electricity uses coal which is fossil fuel—once it is gone it won’t come back. Ultimate Message: Rather than leaving a light on when you exit a room, simply switch it off. The less time you spend with the lights on, the more energy you save.
- Dog leash: The Desert is fragile and romping around, not on the paths, can disturb the environment. You and your dogs can break branches and kill plants that grow and provide food and a safe place for the animals. Plants also help conserve water by not allowing the water to run off. Ultimate Message: Keep your dogs on a leash and walk on the paths in the open space to help preserve the land.
- Plastic dog poop bag and paper bag and scoop: Pet waste that is left on the ground does not just disappear. As the waste disintegrates, it breaks apart into small particles. Those particles of dog poop wash into our creeks, streams and rivers. Dog waste causes rapid algae growth. Algae blocks sunlight and depletes oxygen in the water, killing off aquatic organisms, especially fish. 43,000 Licensed Dogs produce 20 tons of dog poop per day. Ultimate Message: Pick up your dog’s poop to help save the environment we live in. (We have the scoop and the paper bag often someone will say, “that is plastic” when we pick up the poop bag. OK the best thing is use paper!! Show the paper bag and the scoop. It usually gets a laugh or a “Yucky”.)