Envirothon is not, as its name may suggest, a marathon set in a remote environment. Envirothon is actually an educational competition, established in North America, and about to be trialled in Tasmania.
Carinda Rue, Sustainability Section Head in the EPA Division, describes Envirothon as the world’s biggest environmental competition for students.
"Envirothon is a major education event based in the USA and Canada, so it is really exciting to see it being trialled here in Tasmania," Carinda said. "The mission of Envirothon is to develop knowledgeable skilled and dedicated students who have an understanding of natural resources and are willing and prepared to work towards achieving and maintaining a balance between the quality of life and the quality of the environment."
The Tasmanian Envirothon has been running over the past few months, with teams whittled down to three remaining colleges who will compete in Hobart over two days on Saturday 30th April and Sunday 1st May. The competition provides a hands-on learning experience for Grade 11 and 12 students in subjects involving environmental science and sustainability.
Led by a supervising teacher and using learning objectives that link to but expand on normal curriculum requirements, teams work collaboratively to develop their knowledge of ecology and natural resource management and to practice their environmental problem-solving skills in preparation for the competition.
The event itself takes place over two days, with two main components: activities and tests on the main topics (Soils/Land Use, Aquatic Ecology, Forestry, Wildlife, and a Current Environmental Issue); and a second activity involving an environmental scenario for which students must devise a management strategy and present it to the judges.
"The students will work to build their knowledge and skills on various environmental scenarios," Carinda said. "The students will be judged on their research, their communication, elements of negotiation and rational compromise – all vital skills as they work together to solve an environmental problem."
The competition is jointly organised in Tasmania by the Bookend Trust, in partnership with the EPA Division of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, and UTAS SET.
Experts in a range of environmental fields have volunteered their time to help develop the teaching materials and to judge the event. The experts, including DPIPWE’s Dr Phil Bell, Section Head of the Threatened Species Section and Colin Shepherd, Project Manager for the proposed Three Capes Track, helped write the learning objectives and compile the learning resources for the Envirothon, as well as preparing the tests and acting as judges on the weekend.
"The Envirothon partnership is an excellent example of Tasmanian organisations working together to promote environmental education both inside and outside the classroom," Carinda said.
The Tasmanian Envirothon was launched by visiting author Neil Gaiman and his wife, folk singer Amanda Palmer at the start of the year. You can see the launch here
Carinda says students have been busy getting their teams up to speed on research and study skills.
"This has been a pilot year to test-run the competition. The winning college will have the opportunity to travel to investigate a pressing environmental issue," Carinda said. "For those schools taking part – it is a real challenge but hopefully a rewarding one."