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Bringing Nature to Students

Bringing Nature to Students

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Published by Uruz86

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Published by: Uruz86 on Aug 05, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Closing Remarks
The other day I talked to you about autistic children's voices which are only heard with greatdifficulty after many years of work from parents and educators. Today, I want to tell you aboutvoices you will never hear or at least have great difficulty understanding very well. I amreferring to the voices of plants, animals and ecosystems that are slowly but surely being silenced because they are disappearing.Before you think I am completely crazy, please hear me out because I have a message for you,my fellow educators.It is said that first loves are the most intense and something you never really get over. Some of us are lucky that these first loves remain with us always even if the form of the love evolves over time. So it was with me as a little boy as I watched the birds coming to our backyard feeder,chased frogs at our family cottage in Georgian Bay and collected spring memories of whitecarpets of trilliums in hardwood forests. My love of and curiosity about the natural world hascontinued unabated to this day.My interest in the natural world paid my way through university. It gave me my first teaching jobs in parks, wildlife centres and ecological reserves in various places in Canada and the UnitedStates. It has also given me new insights into places I have vacationed in the Americas, Europeand around the Mediterranean Sea. I have been incredibly privileged to work with manywonderful, talented people and seen truly breath-taking wildlife events in amazing naturalsettings.But I am disturbed because within my lifetime I have seen the environment change in a verynegative way. I know birds best so will give you two examples from the ornithological world. A predator songbird, the Loggerhead Shrike, which was at one time an uncommon but regular resident in rural Ontario, is now almost extinct. Once abundant birds, like Barn Swallows, arenow much less common. Other people, who are familiar with our areas of biology, could tellyou similar tales of declining orchids, butterflies, frogs and fish. Additional signs of environmental stress are everywhere: urban sprawl in every city, signs of changing climate andthe widespread use of chemicals that has affected wildlife and the environment as a whole.There is no question that Homo sapiens is a very successful species but this has come at a terrible price. The great English botanist Norman Myers states it well:
“Our responses to natural environments has changed little in thousands of years.We dig them up, we chop them down, we burn them, we drain them, we pave themover, we poison them in order to mould them to our image. We homogenize theglobe.Eventually we may achieve our aim, by eliminating every ‘competitor’ for livingspace on the crowded Earth. When the last creature has been accounted for, weshall have made ourselves masters of all creation
We shall look around, and weshall see nothing but each other. Alone at last.”
My remarks are not meant to get everybody depressed. But, you ask, what can I do? While Icould go over the usual list of ways all of us could lessen our environmental footprint, I will not.1
Instead I want to suggest yet another role I see for you the educators, a role for which you areuniquely suited.The problem, as I see it, is we have lost touch with the natural world. Most Canadians now livein cities. Our daily lives seem far removed from the natural world. We believe some how thatour technology will conquer all problems.
"Most of the technology that has so radically transformed human life over the pasthundred years has saved lives, cured illness or improved communication. But thespeed and volume of these new discoveries has imprinted on us the idea thatendlessly accelerating growth and technological change are good in themselves. Wehave indentured ourselves to the master called 'Progress' and neglected to look afterthe planet on which all depends."
From page 1X, Thinking Like a Mountain by Robert BatemanTeachers can and should be taking a critical role in reacquainting students with the natural world.Here are some steps we as teachers should be taking.1. This must start with knowing the names of some common plants and animals. It is easy todestroy that which we do not even know the name of.Again Robert Bateman comments.
….my philosophy of education…is based on respect: respect between student andteacher; respect for our cultural heritage; and respect for our natural neighbours.We've lost our respect for other species partly because we don't even knowtheir names. Names matter. Any teacher knows how students value beingrecognized by name. Hunter-gather peoples can identify thousands of species of plants and animals, but the average North American can manage only about ten.Yet the average North American can recognize about a thousand corporate logos.We need to reverse this situation and reverse it fast
and the best way to do this isthrough education.
From page 27, Thinking Like a Mountain by Robert Bateman Naming is just the beginning.2. There are amazing life history stories of animals and plants. Such stories come from everycorner of world including from the local Ottawa area:
The buzzing noise you hear right now on hot days in Ottawa treetops is the adult malecicada. Did you know that the larval stage of a cicada spends 13 to 17 years in theground sucking the roots of trees before changing into an adult? An individual adult buzzing in the trees will mate and die in about two weeks.2
Many of the small songbirds now nesting in the Ottawa area will, by August, start tomigrate at night using the stars for navigation to their wintering grounds in the Caribbeanislands, Central America and South America. Most will migrate through southernCanada and through the United States and then fly across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop;some migrants using the Atlantic Flyway will take off from the Maritimes and keepflying until they either drop into the Atlantic Ocean or land safely on the South Americanmainland.
Local frogs in our area have an "anti-freeze" in their blood which allows them tohibernate at the bottom of local ponds and marshes without freezing to death.Tell these life histories to your students through stories, books and videos. They will be amazedand thrilled by what they hear and learn.3. Get students involved in hands-on monitoring programs that you can do easily at or near your school. Project Feeder Watch and Skywatchers are two ways students can actually helpscientists collect data.4. Familiarize yourself with your local natural world; this will make it easier for you to helpyour students. A walk in the local woods or fields can be a healthy rejuvenation for your souland body not to mention a great learning experience for yourself.5. Have your students keep a nature journal of animals and plants in their backyard, in their neighbourhood and around the schoolyard. Observing and note-taking is an important skill stillused by scientists today.6. Take your students to a special local natural area near you. The Ottawa area is blessed withmany natural areas that are easily accessible to students (Gatineau Park, Mer Bleaue Bog, StoneySwamp to name just a few). Give them a first hand wildlife experience.7. If you are uncomfortable with becoming the local expert about the natural world, use theexpertise of local institutions. The Canadian Museum of Nature, local Conservation Authoritiesand the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board outdoor education centres (Bill Mason andMcSkimming Centres) all have interpreters who can give your class or school a wonderfulguided tour outside or of their museum collections.8. Make your school grounds into a natural laboratory by doing some natural plantings andlandscaping. Schoolyards can be very sterile places for wildlife. The Canadian NGO Evergreeneven helps schools do this.9. Bring the issues of the natural world to other subjects besides Science. Think of Math, Art,English (Reading) and Social Studies. Current events was my favourite way of doing this withGrade Six students in Switzerland.If you think I am dreaming in technicolour, think again. Remember the movie we saw last week,The Paper Clip Project? Look what a small middle school in rural Tennessee did. Why couldyou not do the same with your class in suburban Ottawa/Gatineau or even downtown3

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