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The Reason We Work With Grade 7s


In South Africa, grade 7 is the final year of primary school, and children in this grade are between the ages of 12-14 on average. I AM WATER’s Ocean Guardians and River Guardians workshops are targeted at grade 7 students and have been designed to complement and supplement the grade 7 school curriculum. We have decided to work with grade 7 students on these programmes for several reasons, which will be explored below.


When children reach grade 7, they have a solid foundation of prior knowledge built throughout their primary school journey - this, along with 12-14 years of life experience, puts grade 7s in a valuable position to contribute more to society than is thought possible from them. According to Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development, grade 7 students are in the “Formal Operational Stage”. The emergence of abstract thought, metacognition, and problem-solving characterises this stage. Abstract thought emerging in this age group means that this age group can consider the potential outcomes and consequences of their actions. This is linked to the emergence of self-awareness of one’s effect on the world. By introducing conservation-focused topics at this age, children can understand how their actions may impact what they are learning about.


Metacognition is the capacity to think about thinking, which allows this age group to reason why they may think and feel certain things about specific topics - this is a vital part of understanding one’s impact on the conservation of the natural world because as one learns about the challenges that the natural world is facing, metacognition allows this age group to understand why they feel the way they feel about the topic. This is an important step because where younger groups may feel hopeless in the face of this new knowledge, this age group can reason with why they may be feeling hopeless and problem-solve for potential solutions. This leads us to the final characteristic, problem-solving. This age group sees the emergence and solidification of the logical and systematic use of trial and error to solve problems. This is key because I AM WATER’s River Guardians and Ocean Guardians workshops present participants with new information about their connection to the ocean’s health while encouraging them to think of ways to work towards improving the ocean’s health through that connection.



Grade 7 students are cognitively geared to gaining new information and feeling empowered to act according to what they deduce from this new information. This stage of development also shows an overall preference for active learning in groups (such as brainstorming) over passive learning like lectures. While this age group is on the cusp of seeking independence, they are still at a developmental phase where they seek adult support, guidance and calm direction. This is a valuable developmental phase because it is a time in a child’s life when they can cognitively take on new ideas and abstract thoughts while still seeking support and further guidance from adults. The transitional age group will slowly start seeking less and less adult input.


An ability to absorb new and abstract concepts, critically evaluate and digest these concepts and methodically problem-solve them all while still seeking the input of adults who can act as positive role models is why I AM WATER targets grade 7 students for both the Ocean Guardians and River Guardians workshops.


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