One of the most challenging aspects of outreach is capturing and maintaining your audience’s attention. This is especially true when your audience is a group of high school students who are attending an obligatory event. The challenge is well-worth it, however, when you succeed in turning teens on to something new.
Using familiar technology to turn teens onto conservation science was my main objective during a recent visit to Thunder Bay. On this trip, I helped Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program staff deliver a citizen science event at a Manitouwadge high school. We teamed up with the Nawiinginokiima Forest Management Corporation (NFMC) to promote Ontario Nature’s mobile phone applications – the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas and the in-development Forest Foraging Guide.
After a 45-minute bus ride, we arrived at a NFMC reserve and immediately embarked on the first of two guided hikes. I led the group deep into the reserve in search of reptiles and amphibians. The rugged terrain was challenging, but we persevered and were rewarded with a spring peeper – not bad for a chilly September day.
Next, Will Stolz, Ontario Nature’s Forest and Freshwater Foods coordinator, led the students on a forest foraging walk, pointing out more than 20 easy-to-find edible plants. The more adventurous students tried a few of these plants, including balsam fir sap, otherwise known as “Nature’s Buckley’s.” On both hikes, we demonstrated how to use the apps and encouraged students to use them on their own to see just how user-friendly they are. Note: the Forest Foraging Guide used at this event was a trial version. The online Northern Forest Foraging Guide is available here.
Back at the school, Mallory Vanier, Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program intern, and I presented on the importance of protected areas and citizen science. We discussed the threats facing Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians and the opportunities to contribute to their conservation.
This experience drove home the fact that you should always know your audience and cater to its interests. Most teenagers have smartphones, so it’s a no-brainer to encourage them to use these devices for education and conservation. Reflecting on the day, I believe that we were successful in turning at least a few teens into citizen scientists. And that is an awesome feeling!
Sepi Ghafouri is Ontario Nature’s nature reserve conservation intern. She graduated with a BSc in ecology and environmental science from the University of Toronto, and completed a post-graduate diploma in environmental management at Niagara College.