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Play is the way for eco-entrepreneurs!

Creative thinking, inquiry and innovation are the foundation to equipping students for the real world.

Gail Riches has been a teacher and marine science educator for almost 15 years, but she still gets a kick out of seeing her students ‘think outside the box’, particularly when it comes to subject matter that is incredibly close to her heart.

Entries are now open for the Reef Guardian Schools Global Eco-Challenge where students from participating Reef Guardian schools are encouraged to explore some the issues facing the Great Barrier Reef and its connected ecosystems.

Working in groups of four, students are then tasked with developing an eco-friendly idea that could help protect the Great Barrier Reef for future generations.

“Each year I am still amazed at the creativity and practicality that these students demonstrate,” Ms Riches said.

“Not only do they create some incredible pieces, but the students are able to share broader awareness of Reef protection to the wider community through their work.”

Examples from previous years have included informative posters about threats to coral, designing all-in-one monitoring systems, using technology to protect the Reef from crown-of-thorns starfish as part of imagining careers of the future.

An exemplar of a student’s creative thinking to help reduce Crown of Thorns Starfish in the 2023 future leader’s eco-challenge – Magnetic Island State School, 2023.

As a Reef Guardian School teacher, Ms Riches uses programs provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to enhance her classroom curriculum, tailoring them into assessment pieces for her students. Through programs like the annual Eco-Challenge, her students learn about real-world to problem solving, entrepreneurial thinking and teamwork, all while raising awareness about the Great Barrier Reef and showing students that they can do their part to protect it.

“What is great about these challenges is there is a framework in place, but they allow enough flexibility for us to adapt it to our own classes and students,” Ms Riches said.

“I focus a lot of my assessment pieces around the different challenges each year.

“For anyone interested in getting their students involved, they will be pleasantly surprised around how engaged and highly competitive the students can get about their assessments.”

Previous winners have continued their Reef learning with tailored virtual experiences exploring the Reef with Reef Authority marine educators.

This year the theme also aligns with Australian National Science Week: Species Survival – More than just sustainability, which aims to highlight the importance of science and innovation in ensuring the survival and thriving of different species in an ever-changing world.

The Reef Authority’s Education Manager, Julie Spencer, will lead this year’s selection panel and has some sage advice for students based on her own unique experience.

“This year, students will also be using gamification which has proven to be a great way to influence real-world behaviours and is also a lot of fun,” Julie said, after creating several of her own Reef-themed games over the years.

“We are looking for games that are creative, engaging but also encourage the players to adopt pro-environmental behaviours to aid the survival of Earths aquatic species.

“They can be a simple boardgame with a straightforward message, or digital using new technology. We can’t wait to see what the students come up with.”

The Reef Guardian School program and challenges like the Eco-challenge are not limited to schools in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. The Reef Education team recognises that the valuable real-world inquiry and innovative thinking that is fostered through their programs is relevant to teachers and students around the world.

“Protecting environments like the Great Barrier Reef and other valuable ecosystems around the world is up to everyone. No matter where in the world you are, everyone can do their part. That’s why this year, we are opening our program to schools globally,” Julie said.

This challenge is suited to students in grades 4-12 but like all the Reef Authority’s Education products, can be modified to suit students’ age range, working either by themselves or as a team.

Submissions for this year’s eco-challenge close on Friday 8 November, leaving plenty of time to get creating.

To register for the 2024 Reef Guardian Schools Global Eco-challenge and receive the participant guide with the challenge details click here.