Teaching in a Pandemic: How Students Found Nature
Almost a year ago now, we had to change the way we live our daily lives. While many of us felt the repercussions of this change, it hit the lives of our children in a very impactful way. Grade school is a time for exploration, a time to be outside and learn about the world. A time to make friends, and discoveries. But now a playdate could have serious implications. Our children remain at home in front of their computers day in and day out. We were teaching students in the field, having them look through microscopes and binoculars at real crawling creatures. Students were learning to identify plants by texture and smell. Being surrounded by thriving nature makes the knowledge so accessible.
All the wonderful drawings were done by students in their Place Based Journals.
We transitioned our teaching to a virtual platform, made videos, and interactive presentations, all to best bring the field to the students. This was fantastic, and a great start. This form of teaching has its benefits. For example, we could show every student an Osprey diving to catch a fish on video. Whereas in the field, you have to be lucky to see an Osprey, let alone watch it successfully catch a fish.
Even still, being outside truly amplifies learning. We teach, “I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of,” a wonderful observation tool used by scientists of all sorts. “I notice”, involves observing the world around you, using your five senses. So in the field, when you see an American Kestrel fly by, you not only see it, but also hear its call. Or we may notice a small cluster of California Poppies, and be able to notice them by smell and a gentle touch. Activating two sensory organs will imprint the knowledge more solidly into memory.
To amend this lack of immersion the RCDSMM, Havasi Wilderness Foundation, and Agoura Hills, came together and created the Place Based Journal. This wonderful learning tool was sent out to hundreds of students with colored pencils and a handy magnifying glass. Coupled with virtual classes, this tool forced students to get up, away from their computer screens. The way it works is described in its name. It is all about observing nature, any nature, a bird outside the window, a spider in the corner, or an orange on the counter. It shows us that nature is all around, we are a part of it, and it allows the students bound to their computers to pull away, and observe real living things.
This new method of observation brought so much joy and happiness and nature back into the classroom. It is thoroughly enjoyed by the students and educators which you can clearly see in these drawings.
Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.