Extinction Studies encourages curiosity and story-making in children

Gobby, B. ., Merewether, J. ., & Nykiel, A. . (2021). Extinction, education and the curious practice of visiting thrombolites. Environmental Education Research, 27, 217-233.

As the threats of climate change and ecological endangerment become more complex, the need for education about ecological endangerment in schools must be a priority. It is often anthropocentrism, the view that humans are the center of the universe, that produces such harmful views of natural surroundings as places of exploitation for humans. In this study, children ages 2 to 12 years old visited the endangered Noorook Yalgorup-Lake Clifton thrombolites in Australia. Thrombolites are complex microbial communities that accumulate sediment and organic material to appear as rock-like organisms in shallow waters. The Noorook Peel-Yalgorup colony of thrombolites, in the Noorook Yalgorup-Lak Clifton are about 2,000 years old. Thrombolites rely on freshwater; however, the complex web of human activity destroying freshwater ecosystems is why thrombolites are endangered. The purpose of this study, and visits to the thrombolites, was not to teach children about extinction as previous studies had done, but rather to generate pedagogical insights through approaching threatened thrombolites through the lens of Extinction Studies, as in with intrigue, open-mindedness, and focus.

Extinction Studies takes a story-based approach to learning as it recognizes that extinction is not a single species narrative, rather it leads to an entire ecosystem impact. Human activity has increased the speed of endangerment for thrombolites significantly. Because the thrombolites have existed for centuries, it unravels intergenerational and interspecies relationships over time, resulting in loss of life and lived relations. Deforestation, nutrient runoff, and decreasing water levels threaten the existence of thrombolites.

This study took place in Noorook Yalgorup-Lake Clifton, about 100 kilometers south of Perth, Western Australia. Researchers met with 51 children aged between 2 and 12 years old accompanied by guardians. These meetings took place during a series of five, two-hour visits to a boardwalk which near the thrombolites. It was not made known that the thrombolites were endangered to the children or guardians before the visits. The researchers observed and engaged with the children during these visits while taking notes, photos, videos, and audio recording. The guardians were provided notebooks or permitted to take photographs to note their child's behavior throughout the visit. The children were encouraged to explore the thrombolites walking along the boardwalk and were also given a pen and paper to draw pictures of their observations. The researchers discussed their observations and insights immediately after each visit and blogged their analysis online.

From these visits, the researchers found the children created stories with their drawings and sensory experiences. For example, they personified the thrombolites, such as one child suggesting they looked like meatballs and another who suggested the thrombolites were cuddled next to each other. This experience did not focus on imparting knowledge, and instead the focus was on welcoming curiosity and creativity in the children. By allowing activities to facilitate emotional responses from the children and draw them into the world of the thrombolites, the awareness of thrombolite endangerment became more apparent in the minds of the onlookers.

Limitations to this include the qualitative methods of the study. Such as, the interpretation of the children's drawings or the observations of the children's behaviors can be subjective.

This study showed the effectiveness of encouraging curiosity and openness in teaching about extinction with children. The children speculated and created stories about their own reception of the endangered species- thrombolites. The researchers suggest this approach is necessary as it enables new senses and perspectives to take form in the expression of children.

The Bottom Line

<p>As the threats of climate change and ecological endangerment become increasingly more advanced, the need for ecological endangerment education in schools must be a priority. The researchers in this study tested the ways children confront extinction through an Extinction Studies teaching approach that does not focus on scientific knowledge. This study took place in Noorook Yalgorup-Lake Clifton in Western Australia, and it focused on exposing children to the thrombolites in the area. The researchers met with 51 children, who were two to twelve years old, and their guardians during a series of five, two-hour visits to a boardwalk near the thrombolites. The researchers found the children began to create stories with their drawings and sensory experiences. Based on this study, the researchers suggested educators encourage curiosity and openness when teaching about extinction to encourage new senses and perspectives from children, and so they understand the relationships surrounding extinction.</p>

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