We will first present the results of the content analyses of the questionnaire answers. Subsequently, we present the results of the hermeneutic analyses of the learning diaries and the focus group interviews, which we analyzed in parallel.
5.2.1. Open-Ended Questions in the Questionnaire
In the open-ended follow-up Questions Q2 and Q4 of the questionnaire, the students elaborated using their own words on their views about the importance of species knowledge for EC teachers. In response to Q2, the students explained why they thought species knowledge was important for EC teachers. Through content analyses, we divided these answers into six categories (Table 6
). As one answer could belong to several categories, the percentage sum does not add up to 100.
More than half of the students’ answers included statements that argued in different ways that species knowledge is important for EC teachers because it helps them encourage children’s curiosity about and interest in nature (Table 6
). An example of such an answer is:
It is important to be able to share knowledge and encourage an interest in species and nature, but above all, to be able to explore nature together with the children.
Many answers included statements, which argued, in one way or another, that species knowledge is important for EC teachers because it enables them to teach children about nature. Some students also explained that species knowledge is important so that EC teachers can answer children’s questions about nature (Table 6
). Examples of such answers are:
To be able to teach children about what is out there in nature, it is good that we know about different species.
Children always want to know what everything is and then it is good to know it yourself.
About one-fourth of the students explained that they saw species knowledge as important general knowledge, knowledge everyone needs to have. We found this same argument also in the learning diaries. An example of such an answer is:
Some basic knowledge is good for general education. At least such animals that can actually be seen in Finnish nature.
In the follow-up question Q4 the students explained why they thought species knowledge was important for sustainability, and we divided these answers into four categories (Table 7
). As before, one answer could belong to several categories.
The majority of the students argued that species knowledge is important for sustainable development because it helps people to understand nature (Table 7
). An example of such an answer is:
It is important to know species to understand how food chains link to photosynthesis and the like. The work with sustainability issues together with children becomes meaningful if the educator has basic knowledge.
Some students also explained that species knowledge helps people understand how to take care of nature or to develop a desire to protect nature. An example of such an answer is:
It is important to know why and how to protect nature. It is also good to teach the children how to play when we are out in nature and which plants to pick and which to leave. For us to still have vital nature in 50 years, it is good for the children to think about this.
5.2.2. Learning Diaries and Focus Group Interviews
We will now present the results of the hermeneutic analyses of the learning diaries and the focus group interviews, which we analyzed conjointly. First, we present the students’ thoughts about the species tests and then describe what kind of meaning the students saw in species learning.
It is obvious that the pretest triggered learning. When the students realized that they did not know all common species names in the pretest, they wanted to learn more. Some students explained that the low results in the pretest made them eager and triggered them to arrange time for species learning. Already at the beginning of the course, all students declared that species learning is important for EC teachers (see Section 5.1
). Therefore, this was a reasonable reaction.
I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t remember so many species. I have known much more before, but since I have not used that knowledge for several years, I have forgotten it. But now I have become inspired to learn again and it has been fun to look around in nature and try to recognize different species.
Opinions about the post-test varied. The post-test was part of the course assessment, which meant that all the students had to pass it. It was obvious that this student group had many examination tasks at this time at the end of the semester. For that reason, some students found preparing for the test stressful and made several suggestions regarding the practical arrangements of the test, for example that the test should be earlier in the semester. However, the students found the amount of species they had to learn suitable, because they were already familiar with some of the species, and a few students would even have liked to learn more species (like insects and fish).
Several students were also positive about the post-test and expressed that they would not have trained and learned as much without it. There were students who saw the post-test as a prestige issue, they wanted to succeed. One student told in the interview that the post-test actually became the biggest deal on the course for her, but she was not negative about it. In both the diaries and the interviews, a few students joked about their own failures in the test and described how from now on they would definitely remember the species they failed on.
Even though it seemed very hard to try to learn all the different species before the species test, I now become very happy when I go out in nature and recognize several different species!
The species test has given me the most throughout the course. I have learned so many species and I am very proud of this.
The diaries included much information about what kind of meaning the students saw in species learning. We divided the meaning into three categories. The species learning was beneficial for 1) myself as a person, 2) me as a teacher, or 3) the society and the earth. These categories are not definitive, and they do not exclude each other. The same person could write about the species learning in many places in the diary and their views might fit in several categories.
Meaning for myself as a person
The students expressed specifically how learning about species affected them. It changed the way they observed nature, they paid more attention to details, and changes in nature and learning about species increased their interest in nature. They told about how recognizing species is pleasing, makes them happy, and is fun and enjoyable.
Personally, it was a great moment to see a sea eagle through the binoculars.
I enjoyed standing alone for a quarter of an hour listening to a woodpecker’s hammering in a lamppost before the others showed up.
I have never been interested in birds but due to the species test, I have learned to appreciate them.
The species exam was very hard for me because I had not used species knowledge much since the time I was forced to learn species in elementary school. Despite this, I already notice that I observe my surroundings in a different way than I have done before, and I must honestly say that it feels good.
The students also saw species knowledge as beneficial for their self-confidence, since this knowledge enables them to talk to children, as well as adults, about plants and animals, and use proper names. They also stressed that species learning is not only about naming but also about knowing something about the species. They were proud of being able to recognize species and felt that it was rewarding to have names for animals and plants they saw often.
It has inspired me to find out more about the plants, trees, animals, and insects that I see and hear around me as I walk outdoors and in the woods with my dog. It feels good to know so much when I walk with others and can tell them what we see and hear.
In addition, some students viewed species names as a natural part of the language, and they emphasized the importance of using them actively when talking about nature. The students also described species knowledge as general knowledge all people ought to have (cf. the results from the questionnaire).
I think it was good to have a species test and, as I said before, I think species knowledge belongs to general education, and therefore, everyone should maintain it.
Meaning for me as a teacher
Most of the diary texts about species knowledge dealt with education, about how it is important as an EC teacher to be able to talk to children about species. The students also suggested various ways to implement species knowledge in the nurseries and preschools together with children. Since some of the students work in preschools and nurseries alongside their studies, they had even experimented with implementing new ideas already during the course or had plans to do so soon. They talked about many kinds of activities they wanted to realize together with children. These included games, excursions, artistic and creative activities, storytelling, music activities, etc. The students also mentioned useful field study tools they wanted the children to experience, like binoculars, hand lenses, etc. The students talked eagerly about how they could promote the children’s interest and knowledge. They used words like inspire the children, promote feelings for nature, feed their curiosity, and make them love nature.
The students saw language as an important tool, and naming species with their proper names became something positive during the course. This was also obvious in the interviews, and one of the students said that they as EC students really are the right target because they, in turn, can teach the children about species. Another student said that having more knowledge made them more interested, and with the interest came ideas:
There was a good example of how you can observe how birds fly because not every bird flies the same way. You could also wonder why different birds have different habitats and different characteristics. In connection with this, you could also do gymnastics with a bird topic, you could move like different birds.
The students very much liked a task in which they had to find out both the species names and living conditions for birds and small mammals with the help of stuffed animal specimens, the internet and books, and then tell each other about the animals at a level suitable for small children. Likewise, they enjoyed spending time in the greenhouse in the botanical garden and some of them started to imagine how this would be like if they were children. The children’s perspective was often present. The students also combined their own personal interest with their interest as a future EC teacher.
I thought bird watching was very pleasant, and it was relaxing to stand there and listen to the bird songs, a nice variation from how we otherwise had it on the stress scale. So, I would have liked to have watched birds longer. This is something children also like, and I could easily take children out into the woods … to discover birds and talk about them. Children love to learn new things, and this is probably something that would have a relaxing effect on them!
Meaning for society and the earth
Those who experienced species knowledge as beneficial for society and even the entire earth used words like sustainability, ecology, the environment, and the variety of species (biodiversity). However, the students did not mention these issues many times. These are some examples:
In addition, it is very important to have basic knowledge of species and their living conditions in order to understand why we must proceed cautiously and protect our environment.
In order for the teacher to be able to inspire children about nature, the environment and sustainability, the teachers need to be confident in their task. So I, who work with children, need to have some basic knowledge of nature.