International Day For Biological Diversity, 2024



Martyn Steiner Q + A for UN Biodiversity Day

At Halcyon, we pride ourselves on connecting students with real-world issues. We elevate subjects like science beyond traditional worksheet lab experiments, engaging students with global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

For United Nations Biodiversity Day, we spoke with Halcyon IB Science Teacher, Mr Steiner, who provides students with the tools to identify and explore the living world around them—even the humble whitlowgrass between cobblestones!

Can you speak about the postgraduate course you are currently doing on ecological survey techniques? When did you start this field of study? And how has it strengthened/deepened your teaching of science?

Halcyon have supported me to take the course over two years through the University of Oxford's Department for Continuing Education. It has enhanced my subject knowledge of specific techniques I was less familiar with, such as fish surveying, but also created space for me to have innovative ideas about practical research projects to involve students in.

How can science educators and schools engage with real world issues like biodiversity and species loss?

One of the biggest challenges we face is that biodiversity loss can feel quite removed from students day-to-day experience of life in the city. At the same time, people tend to perceive whatever they grew up with as normal and so the biodiversity loss we have already experienced becomes the baseline for the next generation. For that reason, I think it's hugely important that we show students how biodiversity loss is relevant to their own lives, how much has been lost already and how they can be empowered to address it.

What are some projects you have done, or currently doing, which covers the issue of biodiversity here at Halcyon?

For my final research project for my course I'm comparing plant biodiversity in mews (small side streets) with either cobbled or tarmacked surfaces - it is really incredible how much life reveals itself between the cracks when you stop to look. I have engaged my students as citizen scientists in this project - some have just learned research techniques by collecting data (techniques that can be used for their own coursework) and others have been actively involved in co-planning the methods. I really loved the opportunity to show my grade 10 class that science investigations are more than just blindly following a recipe for mixing chemicals - they are a creative endeavour that require real world problem-solving.

How does Halcyon enable creative, real-world applications of science to connect with biodiversity?

A great feature of MYP science is that the students have to explain and evaluate the use of science, showing that they understand that scientific solutions have societal consequences. Some of my students have been asked to take what they have learned from the mews project and to use it to write to a local politician with advice about action that should be taken to support biodiversity - I hope that they will be able to send these out and take service as engaged members of their local community.

Conversations on biodiversity in cities are often centred around parks or obvious ‘green spaces’ – but why is it important to examine neglected areas like mews?

Those obvious green spaces are hugely important and we need more of them, but they can allow for a sense that nature exists 'out there' and that we live our normal lives divorced from the natural world. Engaging with nature closer to home can help blur those boundaries. I also love that we're looking at unnoticed species - while common whitlowgrass may lack the charisma of a leaping dolphin it still has its own important role to play in an ecosystem. And as the Potawatomi botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer observes, to form a relationship with someone you must first get to know their name!

What have been some of your memorable discoveries when teaching the topic of biodiversity?

I think one of the most striking things for me is just how much life still clings on even on a busy road in central London. I encourage everyone to take a five minute walk closely looking at the ground and just count how many plant species you see!