Am I bovvered?

Is it really worth trying to teach teenagers about the coast, marine life and sustainable management? Why not focus on the under 10s who are still interested and enthusiastic about the environment, soaking up knowledge like a sponge? Get the resources right for the age group, says Lesley Smeardon, and anyone can have their imagination and excitement fired.


t’s May and my family is at one of the Low Tide Day free, ‘fun days out’ which has advertised the usual coastal activities: boat trips, rock pooling, face painting, badge making etc. For now, however, the rain is

Of course, take a teenager along to do the same thing, and it’s unlikely you’ll get a similar reaction. And with overtly caricatured popular images of the teenager as espoused by the likes of Catherine Tate or Harry Enfield in the Lauren and Kevin sketches, you’d be hard pushed to find anything to inspire and enthuse them. So why bother? Is it possible to interest teenagers who are not already enthused by coastal issues or better to focus on a younger age group? I asked four education professionals their views.

Jason Birt, Falmouth Marine School “Some of our keenest students in the past have been those from the middle of the country whose only experience of the coast is from their summer holidays”, says Jason Birt from the Falmouth Marine School in Cornwall. “We run BTEC Nationals in Marine Biology and Ecology (based on the Countryside Management BTEC) for over 16 year -olds teaching marine biology primarily and so our focus is generally this older age group. When they start our courses, many of our students don’t know what they want to

coming down in bucket loads and, surprise, surprise, my kids, in wellies, raincoats and hats, have begun to moan that they’re getting wet and cold and want to go home. Partly protected by a marquee, my five year old daughter, while queuing to have her face painted, spots a fearsome creature in a container next to her – a huge lobster. ‘What is THAT?’ she positively squeals at me, physically squirming at this unknown beastie. Before I can answer, she spots a large crab and by now just can’t contain her excitement. Luckily, there are people on hand to explain all about these creatures and how, they too, live locally. She is entranced for the few minutes that her attention span allows before returning to the face painting task in hand. On the way home she turns to me and says that she just can’t believe there are all these creatures living in the sea. Not any sea, mind you, but the sea just a few miles away from where we live – fancy that! One simple, visible display, and the sea suddenly comes alive for her.

Students from Falmouth Marine School on the PADI dive course.


The edge Autumn 2006

do as a career. But over 50% end up progressing on to higher education, mostly reading marine biology with a strong zoology element. They also tend to develop a new found passion about coastal and environmental issues which they keep with them, no matter what they do. So yes, you definitely can interest young people in coastal and marine issues, although they have to be intrigued in the first place.” So what attracts young people to do these courses? “Our courses have a high practical and interactive nature to them, with a residential trip, field visits and practicals playing a large part”, says Birt. “In addition we also offer subsidised opportunities to take a PADI dive qualification which has proved really popular. Students have been competely blown away after seeing first-hand the dramatic change between a rocky shore at low tide and the same area underwater at high tide. The messages really do sink in.” Naomi Biggs, Thanet Coast Project Naomi Biggs is Education Officer with the Thanet Coast Project and her role is to engage audiences who wouldn't normally get involved in coastal projects. She is only too aware of the need to engage young people. “Through working with excluded teenagers, I’ve seen the effects of what 'giving up' on children does”, says Biggs. “I have worked with children around 13 years old who are constantly excluded from lessons through bad behaviour. Initially, taking them to the beach for a school visit was a shock to their system, but once I gained a little bit of trust, they actually got very involved in the coastal visits that I ran. I think the hands-on aspect of rockpooling was perfect for them.” “It’s true we have struggled to get individual teenagers involved in our regular public events programme which include activities such as rockpooling, sand/environmental art and guided walks, although these are

really popular with the younger age groups. Unless you work with existing groups, it’s difficult to get teenagers to come along. I naively once tried organising a youth beach clean, publicising widely and expecting teenagers to turn up of their own accord, but the only young people to come were part of an organised group – the Millennium Volunteers. Now, I find linking into existing youth groups is the best way to go, putting more time into the event rather than publicity in the hope that we’ll get people turning up. “A really successful project we ran in this way, for example, was a hands-on art day where young people designed and made a Nature Trail. They then helped to run the trail as an event at a later date. I now also have a great resource that I use on a regular basis and could never have made it look so good myself!” Lissa Goodwin, Marine biologist Marine Biologist Lissa Goodwin has worked with schools for a number of different organisations, including the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, the Marine Connection and the University of Plymouth. “I have found that 10-11 yrs (Year 6) are really keen, absorb everything like a sponge and take a lot of energy to work with” she says. “By 13-14 they are harder work, but by 15-16+ things are turning around again and most are good to work with. I’ve even found 16-17 year olds who have never been rockpooling before suddenly engaged in the activity and desperate to know more.” “The way you approach different age categories has to be geared to their level of knowledge, taking into consideration their background, ie do they come from a coastal community where the beach would be common place, or are they land-locked? But don’t always assume that if they come from the coast they will know about it. I am frequently amazed that parents living by the sea do not make more

use of it and have found children in Plymouth and Penzance who have never been rockpooling. You just have to make some judgments on the day about the take home messages which you are going to try to get across.” Jonathan Potts, The National Maritime Museum A new marine education programme about to open its doors to scores of 1116 year olds in January is being run by the National Maritime Museum (NMM) with funding from The Crown Estate. The programme is unique in that is has developed the first standalone, curriculum-led resources specifically relating to marine and coastal issues. “At the moment”, says Jonathan Potts of the NMM, “the National Curriculum (in England and Wales) doesn’t have any distinct, marine and coastal resources. You have to drag issues from other areas of the curriculum. Our aim is to redress this by providing schools with distinct marine and coastal resources based on the geography, science and citizenship areas of the National Curriculum.” The programme has been piloted with teachers and is due for its first visitors in January 2007. But why choose this age group specifically? As Potts explains: “After engaging external consultants to look at the optimum age group for coastal and marine education, we agreed to focus on 1116 years olds (key Stage 3 and 4). The concepts around marine and coastal Lissa Goodwin (far right) with students on a British Divers Marine Life Rescue training course.

The edge Autumn 2006


The ‘Your ocean’ website from the NMM provides an excellent, interactive, online resource for 11-16 year olds. “Research indicates that young people can suffer from ‘ecoburnout’”, comments Potts. “They know about climate change, sustainable development etc but what empowers them is the debate and relating the issues back to their life. Our programme aims to do this. As mentioned, we include debates and discussions and will be using actor interpreters to take on various roles such as Government employee, industrialist, conservationist to help with this. The involvement of The Crown Estate brings additional marine resource management, knowledge and expertise as well as an extensive network of contacts. We also have a number of hands-on activities, gallery trails and a chance to spend 20 minutes talking to an expert from the marine community for real hands-on experience with the issues.” “Our new gallery ‘Your ocean’, which took 2.5 years to put together, is specifically intended to help relate the ocean to everyday life. In it, we include everyday objects and the links they have to the ocean. For example, we explain how tomato ketchup contains carrageen, a red/green algae and even mobile phones contain manganese found on the ocean floor. We’re not saying resource use is a bad thing but it’s important that people begin to make the connections between the everyday things they use and how this might impact on other areas of the world. “While we are cautious about giving too much of a technology focus to the programme, as research has shown that children can suffer from IT overload, we have invested in a new video conferencing suite, and have facilities for webcasts and blogs. For us, it’s all about helping this age group to form their own opinions by giving them information that is relevant to them and allowing them to interact

with the issues. Hopefully this will lead to a lifelong interest in our oceans and how we can manage them at a sustainable level”

Engagement for any age?
For my daughter, her touch tank experience was a great first step in her understanding of the coastal and marine world. And what is hugely clear from the few insights given here is that by getting the resources right, older age groups can tackle, with great intelligence and innovation, the hugely complex and interconnecting issues of sustainable resource use, management, climate change and conservation. Give the right stimulus and people really can be bovvered.

issues, such as sustainable use and management, climate change, biodiversity are hugely complex for small children to get their heads round and are much better suited to this age group. At the National Maritime Museum we try to promote a balanced view of sustainable resource management and equitable use of resources, encouraging debate and discussions with our school children. Debates and discussions work fantastically well for 11-16 year olds as they are at the time in their development where they are really beginning to form their own ideas and are keen to express themselves.” So what resources is the NMM providing for this age group?

Organisations featured
The National Maritime Museum The website provides an excellent, interactive, online resource for including quizzes and information about the ocean The Falmouth Marine School The School runs a number of courses for young people including the BTEC national diplomas and national certificate in marine biology and ecology Thanet coast The website contains a learning zone with information and resources for more information and formal education. Marine Connection British Divers Marine Life Rescue University of Plymouth sp?page=11406

Tips for engaging older children
Make it a hands-on experience, inspiring and memorable. Use new approaches but don’t dismiss traditional ones. Develop the activity with your audience to make it feel relevant and to encourage a sense of ownership. Relate the issues back to people’s own lives, eg the marine-derived ingredients in products they use Keep activities interactive. Present a physical challenge and include teamwork. All ages respond well to praise and recognition of being part of something. Work with established organisations, such as schools and youth groups rather than going it alone.


The edge Autumn 2006