Sal stood at the front of her classroom and showed some leaves as an introduction to her lesson.
“These leaves are going to get us started in our lesson today … take 30 seconds to yourself and then share with your neighbour what you think we’re going to be studying today.”
I wonder how you’d answer that question. There is no context about the subject content, the age of the students involved or where this lesson might fit into a greater whole.
I’m a Maths teacher, so I quickly start listing topics from that perspective: symmetry, transformation, area, counting, mapping, similarity, congruence, sequences and Fibonacci. I could keep going. Equally, I could ask science questions, think of stories I could tell for English and explore geographical questions all using this pile of leaves as stimulus.
At the moment, I’m working on a series of posts on the purpose of education and this post came out of that thinking.
Nature as stimulus
We live in communities that are situated in place. We have plants and flowers, birds and animals, that live around us and that are bound to this place. What that looks like for me living in Brighton, England will be different than if I lived in Scotland, Alaska or Spain – it is good for me to remember that I am in a place and not (just) a virtual citizen of the world. I am here in this place and so are my boys. I want them to see what is around them and ask questions based on it.
My eldest asks great questions – they often come after days and weeks of thinking – and they are normally about things he has seen or heard and grappled with trying to understand. He asks for help having thought about it but not really getting where clouds come from or why the sky is blue.
In classrooms and living rooms, it is great to use what we see and experience around us as a jumping off point into whatever we are thinking about. We are not disembodied intellects and nature forces us to remember this.
Nature as purpose
Learning should be grounded in purpose. Surely what we are learning should be worthwhile and understood as more than just for a test. Nature helps us with this purpose.
I love being in my garden and I’ve just started planting up a new raised bed. I want my vegetables to grow well, so I’m looking for the right proportion of compost and vermiculite to help with that. Maths? I want the garden to look beautiful, to be colourful and inspiring. English? Art? I want my garden to contribute to the biodiversity of my local environment. Science? Geography?
If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. ~Cicero
Understanding nature and experiencing it in our daily lives is a high purpose of education.
Nature as teacher
The awesome thing about being outdoors and experiencing the daily seasons is that it doesn’t always act in the way we expect. Properly experiencing one season, one cycle of seasons can help us ask better questions and seek answers in better places.
To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. ~Mahatma Gandhi
I love my computer, my smartphone and my kindle. I love blogs and tweets and YouTube videos. I love being part of a global network. But, when I forget to dig in my garden, when I forget to walk in the woods that are nearby or when I forget to listen out for the bird calls around my house – I live a poorer life.
When we think about education, we aren’t talking only about classrooms – rather we are thinking about all of those things that help grow our knowledge and understanding.
How can you get out in nature this week?
In the next week, have a think about how nature might be part of our daily life. Here are some ideas:
- How many different bird calls can you hear on the way to school?
- How many different colours can you see on your walk to the park?
- Grow some watercress in cotton wool.
- Look out for some tracks or droppings as you bumble around your world.
- Plan a nature scavenger hunt.
- Stand outside your front door, close your eyes – what can you hear? What can you smell?
Let me know if you have any other ideas that we can help build nature into all of our daily education.
And if you want more ideas, with coloured posters and props sign up below. 🙂