Guide for Preparing for the Event
While this program culminates in a competition, it is first and foremost an educational program designed to increase knowledge and awareness of our natural environment. Students should put as much time and effort into preparation as they would for any competitive event, such as football or band, in which they hoped to be state champions. With the opportunity to win an expense paid trip for five students and two chaperones to a week-long competition, significant effort is expected.
Preparation should be on-going throughout the school year. While knowledge of basic ecological concepts is essential, equally important is the exploration of sampling and testing procedures and techniques used in water quality analysis, soil determinations, wildlife management, and forestry. Familiarity with identification guides for land and animal species is helpful. It is recognized that few schools have the equipment and expertise needed to study all of these topics, but all schools have a wealth of information available from local county conservation boards, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and local experts on environmental issues.
Team work also should be emphasized. Learning to work together to explore new topics is important. While independent study is encouraged, students should meet regularly to discuss ideas and share different viewpoints. In the field of natural resource management, few issues are black and white. Consideration of many options and opinions should be encouraged to develop solutions that are environmentally, socially, and economically viable. Some teams prefer to have students specialize in specific areas of the competition, while others prefer that all team members have a solid background in all of the competitive categories.
Most importantly, this program should be fun! Field trips, speakers, demonstrations, and study should focus on increasing the interest of students in the natural environment. Certainly, winning the Regional and State competitions may be an important goal for some teams, but creating a desire to learn more about environmental issues and increasing students’ awareness of their natural environment should be paramount.
While some coaches use this program as part of their classroom curriculum, additional effort may be required in order to explore all of the topics. It should also be stressed that because of the highly competitive nature of this program at the National Envirothon, some of the material may be beyond the level normally taught in high school, especially for students in 9th and 10th grades.
Upon registration, you will receive additional information and guidelines including learning objectives, resource materials, and study guides to assist you in preparing your team for the competition.
Envirothon Training Tips
- Use the resources provided as a supplement to activities, speakers and field work experiences. Reading and memorizing the content is not only boring, it misses the whole aim of the program.
- Plan to cover topics as seasonally appropriate. It is much easier to learn to identify trees when they still have their leaves, but learning how to measure their height can wait until winter. Also, water that is not frozen is easier (and more fun to test than water that is literally ice cold). More animals may be active in warm weather, but their tracks and other signs are more readily apparent when there is snow on the ground.
- After teaching a new skill or concepts, incorporate practice time and references on a regular basis. For example, after learning tree id, have students identify trees on every excursion out of doors.
- Mix and match activity/lesson methods. Issues surrounding forest management can be introduced through a guest speaker, researched through readings, investigated through a local field study and culminated with a simulation exercise.
- Call on resource professionals and volunteers in your community. Ask for a tour of the water treatment plant after learning about water testing. Compare yours student’s water test results with those of the plant. County Conservation Boards, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, ISU Extension agents and foresters are other good resources.
- Ask students to bring in newspaper/magazine clippings concerning current environmental issues. How does/can the event affect them-directly (town is flooded) or indirectly (higher prices for bananas). What can they do about it?
- Encourage involvement in a local environmental project. Clean up a ravine while noticing erosion, tree species, water flow, etc. Create and tend an outdoor classroom. Work with the Nature Conservancy or other group on a land preservation deal. Sponsor a booth at a fair with environmental activities.
- Stress connections to everyday life and current science classes. Chemistry is obvious with studies of acid rain and tolerance levels of various aquatic organisms. Wildlife identification and zoology go hand and hand. Tree and wildflowers are a part of botany, etc.
- Don’t automatically give out all the answers or demonstrate all the methods. Although high school students are at first thrown when they ask “Is this answer right?” and your respond- “I don’t know. Did you do the procedure correctly? How can you check your answer?” in the long run will build confidence and competence. When environmental scientists are doing field work, there is no answer book.
- Remember a primary goal of the Envirothon is to increase students’ interest in, understanding of and involvement with the environment. They will be most enthusiastic when having fun with a purpose. Just like football players enjoy perfecting a new play that leads to a score, practicing new skills that produce important information can lead to pride…and maybe prizes!