Hikers at Ramat Hanadiv, especially those visiting here often, frequently come across a planted or natural grove near the trail, or at the Ein Tsur stream, groups of children accompanied by counsellors. Judging from their equipment -- nets to trap unsuspecting arthropods, pens and paper and portable measuring tools -- one can tell that these kids are not on any ordinary class trip. They're obviously happy to leave their classrooms behind, like all the other groups of kids out in the Nature Park, but there's something else about them...an unusual level of enthusiasm, curiosity and involvement. What are they doing on the less-travelled paths of Ramat Hanadiv?
These kids, and many others, were spending time during the school year in Ramat Hanadiv's unique special-education programme, LTER-EDU. This project integrates Israeli pupils into our long-term ecological monitoring project and gives them the chance and the tools to carry out scientific research at Ramat Hanadiv and their schools. In the process, they learn about the mutual relations within nature and between human beings and the environment, and about the impact of climate change and other aspects of the environment on the ecosystem..
Ramat Hanadiv's LTER-EDU project is based on a relatively new, international research approach to the fields of ecology and nature based on the belief that, in order to understand long-term processes in nature, we must conduct long-term ‒ sometimes many years' long ‒ monitoring and research (known as Long-Term Ecological Research, or LTER).
Before the project wound down at the end of the school year, we joined a group of pupils and their counsellor, Dr. Yael Navon-Furman, coordinator of the programme at Ramat Hanadiv, to find out how youngsters get involved in it. They told us that pupils at schools in the area and from further afield come with their teachers to tour Ramat Hanadiv. Here they learn how to scout out and identify the kinds of spaces where research can be conducted, and they meet with researchers and learn their scientific methods.
Back at their own schools or nearby, the youngsters choose research plots and carry out monitoring there during the school year, applying the methods they learned at Ramat Hanadiv. Their data is added to the data base of the LTER-EDU network, thus making these students part of a world-wide group of young researchers and scientific communities that are collecting long-term statistics from around the world.
Meanwhile, the pupils are also learning valuable information about the flora and fauna of their own particular region. As the year goes by, they experience in a new way the seasonal changes in their immediate environment. When they start school in the autumn, the soil is totally dry; most plants are withered and thorny. The first sprouts emerge from the soil after the earliest rains, and a bright cover of green soon transforms the landscape. Over the course of months, animals of all sorts appear and then disappear. Springtime brings a burst of leaves and flowers, and wealth of species reach their peak; then the start of summer introduces more changes. The children examine and research some of these phenomenon and discover many others in their immediate environment, developing healthy curiosity and an involvement with nature, and acquiring the tools of methodological, scientific thinking ‒ all of which will prove useful in whatever professions they eventually choose.
According to Yael, a crucial part of the programme's success is its teachers, who love both the children and the environment and invest a great deal in both. The many benefits of this programme, she says, begin the moment the youngsters choose to work in a field that attracts them, whether it's something like collecting and analysing data, uploading information on the web, caring for the measuring equipment, or photographing natural phenomena.
The annual LTER-EDU end-of-the-year conference held at Ramat Hanadiv is eagerly awaited each year. As they prepare for it, the pupils start summarizing their findings; then they learn how to make creative presentations using the appropriate scientific language. There was a rush of excitement at this year's conference in June when the representatives of each school got up to present their summaries before dozens of pupils, teachers and counsellors. Everyone in the audience clearly knew that they witnessing and participating in a major process: educating people who care about the environment, who will be the researchers of the future, and who will ultimately be part of a more inquisitive, questioning generation.
A big round of applause goes to the students and schools that made this year's programme such a success, and to the many individuals who contributed to it: the members of Ramat Hanadiv's educational staff, the counsellors, and to all those who helped with the logistics, the equipment, and the technical support team.
L'hitra'ot ‒ see you in the coming school year!