December 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW1

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Caring for Planet Earth Interactive Exhibit and School Enrichment Program

This article describes the Caring for Planet Earth Interactive Exhibit and School Enrichment Program developed by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension professionals. The purpose of the exhibit and school enrichment program is to address concerns, misconceptions, and environmental education needs of Oklahoma youth. The exhibit uses innovative and creative ways to address environmental issues while reaching a large culturally diverse audience. The school enrichment curriculum consists of seven lessons that reinforced environmental experiences in the exhibit. Pre-test/post-test results reveal that the Caring for Planet Earth project is an effective method of educating a mass audience about environmental issues.

Sarah D. Kirby
Housing Specialist
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
North Carolina State University
Internet address:

Billie J. Chambers
4-H Youth Development Specialist
Internet address:

Gerrit W. Cuperus
IPM Coordinator
Internet address:

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
Oklahoma State University

Caring for Planet Earth is an environmental interactive exhibit and school enrichment program developed by an interdisciplinary team of Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) professionals. The interactive display was set up in the 4-H building of the State Fair of Oklahoma. Computer games, models, over-sized quiz boards, and other interactive educational techniques were developed to introduce a variety of environmental issues. School enrichment curricula focusing on environmental concerns were also introduced and implemented in a number of Oklahoma classrooms. The curriculum consists of seven lessons to be used with or independent of the exhibit. The material introduced environmental issues and supported the Priority Academic Student Skills established in Oklahoma, which are skills/standards that must be achieved by students in a given year at a given academic grade level.

The program was planned to address concerns, misconceptions and environmental education needs of Oklahoma citizens that were identified through survey interviews during the 1991 state fair. The survey revealed a number of concerns, as well as misconceptions about the cause of environmental problems. Based on survey results, Caring for Plant Earth was designed to: (a) provide Oklahomans with unbiased information on environmental issues including ozone depletion, global warming, solid waste, water quality, pesticides, forestry practices, and wildlife management; (b) develop age appropriate environmental education printed materials for classroom teachers; and (c) evaluate the effectiveness of the methodology for environmental education.

The Caring for Planet Earth exhibit used innovative and creative ways to address critical environmental issues and reached a large, culturally diverse audience made up of people of all ages. The program was unique in that the computer games and interactive educational approaches used in this program provided new methods of educating a mass audience through experiences that make learning fun. The exhibit consisted of a variety of learning stations designed so participants could interact with the learning materials. A computer game titled "Wasteman" was developed to introduce Oklahomans to the problems of solid waste and allow them to draw conclusions about the influence of different courses of action.

Participants could also observe a groundwater flow model and wetlands exhibit to help in the understanding of how pollutants enter the water supply. A demonstration weather station of the Mesonet system provided insight into the relationship of weather to environmental quality, and over-sized electric quiz boards helped youth explore household waste issues, pesticide disposal, and learn about Oklahoma wildlife. The school enrichment component reinforced the learning experience for those who participated in the exhibit, but also has been used independently of the exhibit.

A pre/post test was developed and administered to school children who toured the exhibit at the fair and used the printed curricula. The results showed substantial increases in knowledge related to the scope of the solid waste problems, selecting products and packaging least harmful to the environment, and the meaning of recycling symbols. There were modest increases in knowledge related to the importance of recycling, the impact of the environment on wildlife, water quality, and pesticides and their use and disposal. The pre/post test results and participant reactions indicate that this educational approach was an effective method of educating a mass audience about environmental education.

The program exceeded expectations in that Caring for Planet Earth was targeted primarily to youth in grades 3-6, however, 30,000 people of all ages have participated in the educational experience. The school enrichment lessons were distributed to 222 teachers by county Extension agents during the spring of 1993. As a result, approximately 4,400 children utilized the lessons. Additionally, over 5,350 youth learned about the environment since the fair by utilizing the computer games and quiz boards in a variety of settings. Extension agents and volunteers have found many creative and successful ways of using interactive materials in their counties, including county family fun fests, environmental expositions, displays in shopping malls, educational components to county fairs and livestock shows and in schools.

Many challenges and trials were overcome in the development of this program, including designing an exhibit that would attract youth given the space limitations of the State Fair; budget limitations; and the project subject matter. At the fair, colorful posters and stickers were used to attract visitors to the exhibit. The lack of funds was overcome by obtaining grant dollars. Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, was working with the large number of people involved in the project. Considerable coordination was required to develop a unified educational program that was appealing and appropriate for a fair setting.

The success of the Caring for Planet Earth Program at the State Fair of Oklahoma has also drawn the interest of the Tulsa State Fair, which hosted the Caring for Planet Earth interactive exhibit in 1994. Additionally, in 1994 and 1995, the Caring for Planet Earth program was recognized by the National Environmental Awards Council with a certificate of environmental achievement for being a model environmental program. As such, it is highlighted in the Renew America Environmental Success Index.