marine education Archive

Churchill 2014, Nature Stories

Conversations with ORCA (the charity, not the whale)

Recently I met with Alison Lomax, the Community Engagement Officer for ORCA here in the North East. I worked with Alison on the Your Seas schools programme, where she and her team would spend time with school groups in a number of settings, but especially by taking them on mini-cruises to Amsterdam(!) to spot whales and dolphins on the route. I would then go into the school afterwards and conduct creative writing workshops to get them to reflect upon and write about their experiences and the conservation messages at the heart of ORCA’s work. This was such fun and rewarding work, and when we worked with Moorgate Primary in Newcastle’s East End, we also brought the students up to Sunderland University and produced a magazine together from the experience.

I met with Alison to pick her brains on what would be useful for her if she was going on this trip rather than myself. (Fortunately Alison and her partner were heading off on their own adventure of a lifetime, to India; I’ve learnt that in fact this question, putting the other person into the shoes of going on this trip, is not a particularly lucrative way to phrase it, if you don’t want to fill that person with envious thoughts. Rather unfair of me…)

I did this in part because organisations such as ORCA and people such as Alison are my intended audience for the report that I will write at the end of the trip. But it was also a welcome celebration of the work we did together which was in a large part the inspiration for this fellowship abroad.

So this Churchill Fellowship to explore the role of the creative writer in marine conservation and humane education is working in three different areas, reflected in the three different types of organisation I’m  visiting (marine education groups; animal rights and welfare organisations; and writing and communication foundations, mainly 826 but also museums and societies). ORCA obviously lies very much in the first type, and these were the types of question that Alison helped me shape up about the marine education organisations that I’ll be working with in Canada and the US:

–       how do they mix field work with school work

–       what do they get or feel about the benefits of doing work offshore (most marine conservation education is done onshore, or in classroom, because of the costs and logistics of going offshore; and yet the feeling is from ORCA that offshore work is more impactful)

    • if they do, how do they ‘sell’ offshore experiences to schools and children and parents
    • if a school, how does the school engage

–       how do the organisations structure their programmes with schools

  • see how they work before and after the interventions

–       how do schools or educators pull marine science, ocean literacy and conservation messages into the rest of the curriculum (e.g. there is lots of science based opportunities, but what about in English, Maths, Religion?)

    • is this done through data collection?
    • How to use data in other areas of the curriculum
    • How to run mini projects

–       How do they teach human-animal interaction so that people become more connected with the marine environment

–       What are the start and end points of the engagements and how are they measured?

    • In terms of skills and/or literacy development (writing literacy, ocean literacy)
    • What has been learnt and pledged in terms of behaviour change
      • Does this behaviour change actually happen? How is it captured and measured?

–       How do they work with volunteers in marine education?

–       Do they use wildlife guides and officers?

–       Are there on-deck/ferry resources and lectures on the different routes about marine education and conservation?

  • (in comparison to simply wildlife watching)

–       How do they make the most of the experience? How do they do the most with the data they have?

I’m working with a number of marine education groups such as the Monterey Bay Research Institute, where they have been kind enough to let me crash their Earth 2014 Workshop, where thirty or so marine educators are coming together for a week at the end of July to focus on many of these same questions. (They’ll have had a very busy couple of weeks, as the Atlantic Marine Educators’ Network annual conference takes place the week before in Maryland.) I’m very much looking forward to picking their brains too and, as I’ve been invited to, share our work from the ORCA project and my ideas on where the creative writer fits into all of this, and why creative writing is a valuable practice for reflecting upon and embedding the conservation messages