|tadpole study in a vernal, er, flood pond|
|facilitator/teacher Melanie Grue supporting hands-on inquiry|
In June, mid-flood, I had the opportunity to discuss watershed issues at Hamline University's 2014 Rivers Institute on the St. Croix. This three day, hands-on, site-specific course offers educators the chance to experience inquiry-based learning first hand, and to consider how to integrate watershed inquiry, and other studies, into their curriculum. The course is put on by Hamline's Center for Global Environmental Education, within the School of Education, and it is free to those teachers who apply and get a spot. The Rivers Institute turns out to be a great excuse to pursue issues of land-based, project-based, integrated education and curriculum. The focus of the Rivers Institute also happens to point out just how relevant, and necessary hands-on, land-based learning is. Like it or not, the generations of kids we are educating are going to have to figure out how to swim in environmental circumstances and changes that threaten to overwhelm the globe. Kids have to get outside and understand our environment if they are going to grow up to engineer change and apply the science necessary to keep the world healthy and productive. Fortunately, educational institutions like Hamline, organizations like the Jeffers Foundation and educators like Cara Rieckenberg and Sil and Ed Pembleton are working in our communities to help teachers connect kids with our environment and to support integrated, land-based learning curriculum in our schools.
If the hope for primary and secondary education is to finally fulfill the hands-on, project-based (now commonly called "integrated") curricular approach to learning propounded by John Dewey back in the day, then the teachers at Dodge have a mighty gift to offer our interested and concerned colleagues in the public schools. We can provide a great template for what integrated, hands-on, emergent learning looks like in its most basic form.
|the shoes come off to find more frogs|
|coping skills, resiliency and "grit," via tadpoles|
It is just a matter of complicating this basic approach in order to accommodate the needs of K-12 teachers and kids. AND, we at Dodge who take 3-6-year-olds outside every day can also supply basic advice for getting over logistical hurdles and worries about getting outside; in over a decade of outdoor inquiry, we haven't yet lost a kid!
|honing observation skills, and impulse control|
-public school teachers want to get kids outside for hands-on experiences
-teachers themselves enjoy hands-on experiences
-teachers know that an inquiry model is far more meaningful than a didactic approach for most learning situations
-public school folks want to give kids opportunities to conduct long-term projects
-public schools, in particular, tend to have rigid schedules that leave teachers vying, with each other, for time; these schedules tend to compartmentalize inquiry--science, language arts, history, math etc--rather than integrate it.
-teachers worry about taking 30 kids outside by themselves
-teachers worry about taking time out of their curriculum schedule to go outside
-teachers worry about aligning inquiry with curriculum standards
-teachers generally seem to feel powerless to lobby for change in their own schools in order to address systemic hurdles to integrated, project-based education
-teachers realize that land-based education supports social and emotional development and provides very necessary physical regulation
-young children at Dodge practice scientific-style observation daily, they even record their observations, even pre-verbally, in journals-- the root of science notebooks
-Dodge teachers support inquiry-based learning over didactic transfer of information
-Dodge children become very practiced at learning through hands-on experiences
-Dodge students do not anticipate or expect knowledge to come from a sheet of paper; books are well-loved, but they support and enrich experience
-Dodge students actively follow their personal intellectual interests and advocate for further inquiry; our five-year-olds, for instance, routinely request tools, materials and more experiences to support their interests
-All learning at Dodge is interdisciplinary or integrated; literacy and math, for instance are developed through their necessary application in projects, like mapping our travels around the nature center, building a camera obscura or a sculpture, constructing a fort or creating a shadow puppet show
-Projects require children to develop or draw-upon a wide-variety of skills and teachers must be flexible in order to support the project and the skills; teachers, in turn, must be able to say, "I don't know, but let's find out," and they must be able to locate the experts, materials and experiences necessary to continue inquiry. *If the structure of a school day does not support flexibility and cross-pollination, it could be really frustrating to try to pursue inquiry and STEM or STEAM programming.
-Teachers learn with kids when they pursue projects and follow a model of inquiry.
|macroinvertebrates show up too|
My twins are about to celebrate a birthday. I asked them to consider a gift for their sibling. One looked at the other, "What do you want?" Her sister replied, "World peace." "Me too, but that's not going to happen." We all laughed. But it isn't so funny, is it? I don't want a totally naive twelve-year-old, but I want my child to feel the power of her own potential.