That momentary mental jumble when I am asked what I will be doing in New Zealand. Then the slow churning of multiple syllables in my mind as I prepare to deliver them in some coherent fashion: “Looking at how kids learn about sustainability through understanding local biodiversity.” Sometimes this torrent of sounds registers, and I get an honest nod of understanding; more often, it’s a polite, bemused smile. Too many scrambled word bits.
Clearly, I need to find a better way to express these two primary themes of my Fulbright project, at least for the kids that I’ll be working with. I have barely begun to broach the topic of biodiversity with M Group, but so far presenting it as “How many species?” is a start. We began by trying to figure out the biodiversity of the classroom (about 20 species, not counting the wild things that inhabit dark corners), their houses (this was fun when they realized that their fish tanks and houseplants accounted for many different species), and a single milkweed plant outside (at least 10 species of aphids, milkweed bugs, wasps, flies, etc.). I am hoping to be able to segue this fairly concrete definition into the part that is sustainability by asking, “How do our actions affect these numbers?”
But even more simplicity is needed, I think, to make these terms manageable. Breaking biodiversity into morphemes yields something along the lines of differences in living things. That’s not a bad start. Sustainability is trickier, assimilated by so many different political, educational, and economic sectors. I like the idea of “to bear” better than “to endure,” since that implies an immediate and personal responsibility. Endurance heads off into a realm that is too easy to ignore or postpone. We’ve got a job to do now, vs. we’ll figure that out when it gets bad. Even more appealing is the idea that to sustain is to care. In my classroom, I have a dozen small habitats containing diverse living things. I care about them, so it is my job to sustain their worlds, to care for them.
What kinds? How many? Caring about them. Caring for them. Biodiversity and sustainability in a nutshell.