Protecting the Environment: Innovation Award

Public library in Bulgaria uses an interactive sandbox to teach children about climate change

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The sandbox action. By hovering their hands over the interactive sandbox, users can simulate rain and see the impact of water on the environment.

Young people in the town of Bourgas are concerned about the impact of climate change on the local and environment and want to know more, especially about how human behaviour affects our climate. However, the topic is largely absent from the secondary school curriculum and so they must rely on the media for information.

Librarians at Regional Library ‘Peyo Yavorov’ Bulgaria up with an innovative solution, using an interactive sandbox - technology that is used in research and education to visualize and learn about the impact of climate change, especially changes in rainfall and water management, on the local environment.

“We have placed the sandbox in the Children’s Section, because this is where young people come. We want to stimulate thinking that is oriented to protecting the environment. We want increase children’s understanding of the interrelationships between different ecosystems, and to promote ideas about wise management and balanced use of natural resources,” said Mariya Bencheva, head of the library.

HOW THE SANDBOX WORKS

The interactive sandbox comprises a box filled with non-toxic, reflective play sand. A 3D camera and a video projector are mounted over the sandbox. Sandbox users are able to project maps onto the sand, and learners can shift the sand to create landscapes of mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes that correspond to the map, or they can model imaginary landscapes. They can then manipulate the environment, for example, by hovering their hands over the sand, users can simulate rainfall. They can also create disasters, like floods, droughts or volcanoes. The computer reads the simulations and projects their impact onto the sand landscape.

DEMONSTRATING THE CHALLENGES FACING WETLANDS

“The innovation is perfectly suited to the Bourgas environment. Our town is surrounded by water - the Atanasovsko, Vaya and Mandra Lakes, and the Black Sea. We therefore have good opportunities for demonstrating the challenges facing wetland ecologies resulting from human use of water resources and rising sea levels,” said Mariya.

The library advertised the new learning tool through schools and local media. Since June 2018, over 1,500  school children, teachers, college and university students, researchers and members of the general public have come to try out the sandbox. It became so popular that librarians expanded their climate change education programme to include a special shelf with books and other literature on the environment for people to browse while waiting to use the sandbox.

The project changed my attitude towards nature, and geography/natural science became my favorite school subject! We understand that any human intervention can change the balance in nature. We are that part of the global ecological chain that changes the rest. So we have to keep the Earth clean and not hurt it with our actions! The sandbox inspired me to consider ecology to become my future professional occupation. - Alexandrina Pavlova, a sixth grade student.

‘THE BOX MADE STUDY MATERIAL VISIBLE’

In October 2018, in cooperation with the Bourgas Regional Educational Inspectorate, the library organized training for geography and natural science teachers. Training was provided by environmental experts from Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation.

Now teachers use the sandbox to complement classroom teaching, and organize regular school outings to the library, especially on international awareness-raising days, like Earth Day, International Day of the Black Sea, and World Wetland Day. In the summer school vacation (June - August), teachers from five rural settlements brought groups of students to the library to experience the sandbox and learn about climate change.

"With our hands we can make maps of different countries, mountains and rivers. This makes it much easier to learn the lesson. When I learn from the textbook, I can hardly imagine natural phenomena, changes in the climate and the surface of the Earth. The box made the study material visible," said Maria-Iren, a fourth grade student.

The interactive sandbox has also stimulated interest of professors and students working in the areas of geography, ecology and environmental protection at Bourgas’s two universities, and of geomorphologists, climatologists and other academics from Sofia University ‘St Kliment Ohridski’.

"We are geographers teachers and experts, and we have only seen the interactive sandbox abroad so far. Continue to be proactive and innovative! We promise to come back and bring you our curious students,” said Dr Achinora Baltakova Associate Professor of Geology and Geography at Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’.

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