Local teacher helps kids around the world connect to nature

Willingdon teacher Kathleen Usher was asked to be part of a global initiative between the United Nations and TedED, the educational part of TedTalks, to teach kids about nature and the environment

A new 30-day quest to help students from around the world connect to nature and learn about the environment was recently launched as more than one billion kids are stuck inside.

The Earth School  is an International collaboration between the United Nations and TedED, the educational part of TedTalks, designed to help children understand how everything we need and use is connected to nature, to show some of the problems that our planet is facing and how students can take action to be part of the solution.

Kathleen Usher is an environmental education teacher at Willingdon Elementary in N.D.G. She is the lead curriculum designer of Earth School. While getting her Ph.D. in education at McGill, her doctoral research included how to better prepare teachers in training to be able to teach science and environmental education in a more hands-on way. She got involved with the project after David Jensen, the Head of Environmental Peace building at the United Nation’s Environment Programme, asked her if she wanted to help build Earth School.

The goal of creating this platform, says Usher, is three-fold: One, to inform and get students excited about the world around them while they are not in a classroom setting. The second is to relieve the pressure from parents — who are not trained teachers — so they can have all the resources and information they need on one platform. And last, to give these young kids a positive attitude about environmental education.

“So often, the messages are dire, they’re depressing, the children are feel very hopeless,” Usher says. “Once they’ve opened up their minds to nature, well then they can learn how to be a part of the solution to the problems that exist.”

The digital platform launched on April 22, Earth Day, and runs until June 5, World Environment Day. Every week day, a new quest will be unlocked, where students of all ages learn how to connect with their environment. Every five quests are tied to a theme, meaning there are six themes during the 30-day adventure. For example, the five quests during week one fall under The Nature of Our Stuff  theme, where students learn about how the clothes they wear, the food they eat and the electronic devices affect the environment.

The quest for day two involved looking at the T-shirts and it begins with a teaser video about the topic. In the video, kids learn how and where T-shirts are made as well as their environmental impact. After that, kids can take a short quiz about what they’ve learned or watch the additional videos, such as how cotton fibres are produced or how so much of fashion is disposable. The students can also use the discussion board to talk about the topic with kids their own age from around the world.

The other themes are:

The Nature of Society: students learn about the economy.
The Nature of Nature: students learn about where water comes from and about plant and animal life.
The Nature of Change: students  learn about climate change and the ecosystem.
The Nature of Individual Action: students learn what they can do to make the planet better.
The Nature of Collective Action: students learn how they can work together to protect the planet.

Using Earth School is free and no sign-up is required.

For more information on TedEd, click here or for more info on the UN environment programme, click here.