Panda Education as a tool for teaching children about the importance of biodiversity

Published on
October 15, 2019

Rebekah Tauritz is a familiar face in the Education and Learning Science (ELS) group where she returned this past September as a Postdoc researcher to take on the three-year Panda Education Project.

She is an experienced researcher in the field of Learning for Sustainability as well as having been a developer of environmental education and communication projects. She holds a BSc in Nature- and Forest Conservation and a MSc in Applied Communication Science and Environmental Education from Wageningen University, and a PhD in Learning for Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh. Her PhD research focused on examining teaching strategies teachers can use to introduce complex and uncertain topics such as the loss of biodiversity into the curriculum of the upper elementary years. This with the aim of developing uncertainty competences: the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to deal with uncertain information. The important role of developing the language to be able to talk about such complex concepts became apparent in the course of her work.

Biodiversity loss, both locally and worldwide, forms one of the most urgent and accelerating sustainability challenges humanity is presently facing. Zoos generally consider it their educational duty to teach about conservation efforts to protect endangered species and help visitors form connections to the natural world. The emotional power of encountering (endangered) animals close-up is seen as a stimulus to persuade people to live more sustainably. The Panda Education project focusses on zoo education as an instrument for teaching children about the importance of biodiversity. The Giant Pandas in Ouwehands zoo (Rhenen, The Netherlands), with their attractive and iconic appearance, have the potential to provide an entry point for fostering learning about endangered species.

The research team consisting of Arjen Wals, Judith Gulikers and Rebekah Tauritz will use educational design research to develop a part classroom-based and part zoo-based environmental education project for the upper elementary years. The project will incorporate preparatory lessons at school, an interactive lesson at the zoo, and a lesson back in the classroom to integrate what the children experienced and what they learned. The lessons will include learning objectives in three domains: (1) cognitive, (2) values, feelings and attitudes and (3) skills and action competences. Rebekah also intends to make use of what she learned about uncertainty competences, the teaching strategies that can be employed to develop them, and the role of language development. The team wishes to stimulate critical thinking while at the same time taking into account the emotional side of dealing with wicked problems such as biodiversity loss. The learning outcomes of the education project will be assessed and some of the measurements will be repeated six months after the lessons to examine the impact the project has had over a longer period of time. The study will include collecting a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data and aims to involve a thousand children.