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NZ Academic to Speak at Largest Space Science Conference

A New Zealand academic and ECE educator has been asked to speak alongside experts from NASA, the Smithsonian Institute and the US Air Force at the world’s largest earth and space science conference later this year.

Former university professor of engineering and technology management, Dr Darius Singh will present at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall meeting on the introduction of scientific principles at a preschool level.

The AGU conference connects a 62,000 strong community of Earth and space scientists from 144 countries to collaboratively advance science for the benefit of humanity.

Among this year’s keynote speakers is Dr Mae Jemison NASA astronaut, and past guests have included the VP of Apple, Head of Worldwide Sustainability at Amazon and researchers from NASA Langley Research Centre.

Dr Singh founded a small group of early childhood education centres a decade ago and will speak to the AGU audience on how his team engage preschool children in Earth and Space Science concepts from an early age.

He says the topic has become increasingly important in recent years as the need for sustainability, connectivity and well-being becomes more apparent.

“We need to urgently address our children’s education on environmental threats and foster an affinity and appreciation of the world around them, we want to ensure we leave the planet in safer hands than ours and recent generations before us,” he says.

In his own five ECE centres, children are taught to embrace the Gaia philosophy, of Mother Earth or Mother Nature, and learn through a nature and earth-based lens.

He says these same Gaia principles were first introduced to NASA in the 1960s, by NASA scientist Dr James Lovelock, who was tasked with investigating if there was any life on Mars.

Dr Lovelock when concluding there was no life on Mars applied the same definitions of life to Earth and believed Earth itself was functioning as a living entity. He proposed the Gaia hypothesis which suggested that Earth metabolises and responds to changes in its environment to survive, functioning as its own self-regulating system.

‘Now there is a growing interest by the Earth Sciences community to engage the younger generation into Earth and Space sciences. There is much to learn from Earth and nature’s own principles of resilience and adaptability.”

Singh says many of the lessons we need to learn about sustainability already exist around us and if we look at any plant or animal species, we are able to see the stories of resilience they can teach us.

“Our curriculum is about packaging lessons into bite sized, entertaining and life-long learning gems. We might show children how a bee and a flower can get along. Two different species, which have come together to solve their problems, and we talk about communication, how a bee can communicate to its hives, where to go to collect nectar from the flower that needs pollination, while the other bees actively listen and observe and get it right the first time, also a vital part of communication.”

Singh says in order for the human species to survive we need to be on the same page when it comes to working together to ensure our continued existence, again there are lessons in nature everywhere from plant and animal and even bacteria kingdoms. “We need our children to learn from nature and not just about it,” he says.

‘If we look to the bees we see that one may get a better idea and simply get on with it. You don’t get another honey bee complain, or lodge a personal grievance to the queen saying this other one came in here so rudely, did his dance and said that my flower patch is crap and his place is better. This just demonstrates how effectively things get done in their world emphasising understanding, resilience, communication, decision making, eyes on the prize for a greater vision.That’s nature’s idea of teamwork and leadership,” he says.

“It’s the same with birds which fly in V formation, they actually fly almost twice as far as any individual because they rotate leadership. And if you notice birds flying in V, you'll see that every once in a while the trailing bird comes to the front, leads while the guy in the front drops to the back and can drift along because he's caught in a continual upward lift from the others - once again nature showing us how to work as a group for the best results,” he says.

Singh says he and his team have identified 24 core life values that align with the seasons of the Earth, and part of his AGU talk will reveal this.

“Our species has been here for approximately 200,000 years which means we arrived practically five minutes ago on a planetary time scale. Birds, trees, insects have been here millions of years, they know all about sustainability and survival. We need to foster change in the way our children think about and do things, just look at any garden, without change there’d be no butterflies,” he says.

Dr Singh who has also presented his Gaia education talk at the World Forum on Early Care and Education in China as well as conferences across Europe earlier this year, says the AGU Fall Meeting 9 – 13 December 2019 in San Francisco will mark the Centennial of the American Geophysical Union and will have a special focus on the science of sustainability.

He says the invitation to the AGU conference came following international publicity around the design of his and his wife’s world-first Gaia inspired childcare centre in Manurewa.

The centre located inside a 10,000 sqm (1 ha) lush NZ native forest, is designed in the shape of a leaf, and will introduce pre-school children from low decile neighbourhoods to principles of sustainability and earth (Gaia) when it opens next year.

The Chrysalis Group’s multi-award winning, Gaia inspired buildings are solar powered and harvest rainwater from the roof to supply outdoor play streams, gardening needs and all bathroom and laundry water systems. Heating of the Gaia preschool in Manurewa will come from 100m below the surface of the Earth, via an underground coil liquid heating system, warmed in summer to draw thermal energy from in winter to heat the floors.

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