Learning environment

 

gardeningIn last week’s post I shared information about research projects students could become involved in to be scientists in real life. Some of the projects such as Project BudBurst and BudBurst Buddies encourage junior scientists to observe and record changes in plants throughout the changing seasons. Many commenting on the post agreed that projects such as these would make the learning of science come alive. Pauline King the Contented Crafter even commented that she may have to reconsider her opinion of schools if children were involved in projects such as these.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Shortly after posting I read an article on Co.Exist describing a preschool that doubles as urban farm where Kids learn among the plants and animals in this design for a radically different education environment.”  A bit like my concept of an early learning caravan, the school does not actually exist. The design was entered into and won an architecture competition. It is an interesting concept and I especially like the suggestion that children spend more time learning about nature through experiencing it in wild spaces in the outdoors rather than only through classroom activities and books, both of which do have their role.

Jeannie Baker - planet changing

I have previously shared the wonderful books of Jeannie Baker which have strong environmental themes encouraging children to care for nature and appreciate the natural wonders and beauty of the world around them.

2015-09-19 11.09.45 2015-09-19 11.11.04

This morning, thanks to a recommendation from Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark, I received another lovely book in the post that will sit among my favourites. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown tells the story of how a curious boy helps transform a city from a drab grey concrete jungle to a one filled with gardens and gardeners. The story affirms the belief that the actions of one person can make a difference.

Never-doubt-that-a-small - Margaret Mead

I am currently listening to Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect, an interesting and thought-provoking book by environmentalist David W. Orr who challenges the focus of schools and advocates for learning outdoors in the natural environment. He may approve of the preschool farm, but he’d probably be more in favour of a forest preschool.

This, however, is only a small part of his position and I do not wish to misrepresent it. In an article, which reads like a chapter from the book, Orr describes “Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them”. The part of me that strives towards meliorism is seriously challenged by the picture Orr paints. The picture books, stories, and research projects are fine; but there’s much more to be done if we want to do more than simply wish for a greener future.

I agree with Orr wholeheartedly that education for, with and through the environment is essential; and that many of our problems are caused by miseducation. However, I had not thought about education in the way that Orr explains. I think I’ll be sharing more of his work in future posts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

38 thoughts on “Learning environment

  1. macjam47

    A pre-school farm, though probably financially out of reach for most, would be a fantastic foundation for young ones. My daughter-in-law regularly takes my granddaughter to farms, petting zoos, parks, the zoo, and lets her explore nature and it’s inhabitants, As a result, Josie is very comfortable petting animals, and is very conscious of treating them with “manners” and kindness. Children are naturally curious and learn very quickly when presented with real life situations. It is easy to tell your child about a farm, but until they visit one, it isn’t real to them.

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    1. Norah Post author

      That’s so true, Michelle. Thanks for adding your voice and experiences to the discussion. I hope it never reaches the point where we can only see animals in zoos and petting farms, or worse still in videos. That would be sad. The outings you mention your granddaughter experiences sound wonderful. I visited a farmstay for a couple of days last year with my grandchildren. It was a great experience.

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  2. Bec

    Hi Nor, I am intrigued by Orr’s views. I know you have mentioned the book recently, and I’m looking forward to reading your future posts on the topic! I’m sure I don’t need to reiterate my views about the state of our environment…!

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  3. Sarah Brentyn

    I’m thrilled you like The Curious Garden! 💕 I thought you might. Glad you got it. Oh… Learning outdoors in nature? Yes please. Though you’ll probably be surprised to know I don’t do that much. It’s weird. But the kids do get out in nature and feed critters and birds and observe life around here. But we mostly learn indoors. As much as my little one is fond of nature he’s also a nerd who really loves learning traditionally. That’s fine with me. A mix. 😀

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    1. Norah Post author

      You know me well, Sarah. It is a fabulous book and I appreciate the recommendation. I’m more the indoors type too, so I’m neither disappointed nor surprised. A balance is always important. 🙂

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  4. Charli Mills

    The thought of a pre-school farm reminds me of how insane asylums operated in the US between 1850s until dismantled through the 1960s and beyond. It might seem an odd comparison, but the facilities were completely self-sustaining, operating their own farms. In balance, there’s something to be said for hands-on experience with small-scale agriculture. I was part of an initiative to get gardening at the School of Environmental Studies. The challenge was the school year did not match up with the gardening season. Ultimately it succeeded as a community garden and allowed for people of all ages to grow plots at SES. I think Orr’s platform is beyond the scope of my experience for me to respond meaningfully. I couldn’t find anything current on Orr’s Meadowcreek Project. I’m a big proponent of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, however. Aldo Leoplod did not address the foundations of education, but advocated to teach children to be environmentally literate. I dream of hosting two specific retreats in my region one day and one is a writer’s retreat based on using Leopold principles and the fabulous outdoor setting in north Idaho to teach writers the power of observation in nature to enhance all writing genres and to infuse creativity from the well of nature. One day! 😉 Thanks for another terrific engaging post!

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    1. Annecdotist

      Here also the asylums had their farms — I think in a mixture of healthy activity and slavery!
      Also I was surprised and interested to find kids all studying agriculture at high school in Zimbabwe when in the UK it was solely a university subject!

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      1. Norah Post author

        Sadly, and I’m going to be grossly politically incorrect here, they were often referred to as “funny farms”. I had no idea, as a child, just what that meant though.
        Some schools here have agricultural subjects as part of the high school curriculum. It is great to give students the choice, I think; but it is not available at all schools.

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks for adding your voice to the richness of this post, Charli. I thought of you and the previous discussions we have had about SES. Orr does mention the importance of ecological literacy. It is a new term for me. This book is definitely extending and challenging some thoughts. What he is suggesting would require some mammoth changes, which I think, if possible, would have a powerful positive effect.
      I love the sound of your writer’s retreats in which you teach writers the power of observation. There would be no better teacher than you. You expertly demonstrate what you teach. I’d love to be a student in your outdoor Idaho classroom. As you say: One day! 🙂

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  5. thecontentedcrafter

    Bravo to Mr Orr, who has it [in my opinion] exactly right Norah. Elie Wiesel’s words about Germany’s [mis]education of its people may be transferred directly to the modern education system [again imo]. [Though also imo, Goethe gave [gives] the world a great deal of soul and thought. Descartes is responsible for removing the spirit from the self.] Waldorf education offers much in the move toward holistic and practically experienced education and could move even further into left field here too. 🙂

    For me the pivotal statement David Orr made is this: ‘The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.’

    I believe Norah, I must be an Orrist 🙂
    Thank you for the introduction.
    I’m away from home at the moment, hence late or missing posts – but I’m really glad I made it here.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you made it here too, Pauline. Thank you for reading and adding your voice. I like that – Orrist. I’d like to be one too, but I think I’ve got a way to go. I agree in principle; haven’t got there in practice yet.
      Interestingly enough, the article about a preschool in an urban farm mentioned a school in Norway that seemed to be in a farm. I Googled it and found three articles I thought to include but decided my post was enough with them. One of the articles mentioned Steiner schools being part of the project. I thought of you. 🙂
      I agree with you about that pivotal statement of Orr’s. It’s a brilliant message in a few words, isn’t it!

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  6. roweeee

    Norah, I have since read through the speech by David Orr and found it very interesting. I had my attention draw to the “what you don’t know you don’t know” a few years ago and the more I think about it, the more important these gaps in our knowledge can be.
    By the way, quite a few of our local schools are growing veggie patches. Ours had a worm farm and we have one at home. My daughter has 2 rabbits in her classroom, which run free range much of the time. Her teacher says they’re a great learning tool. I’d love to ask her more.
    I also don’t think I’ve mentioned that their school library has been rebadged as the I Centre. Very interesting in light of all the comments about the future of libraries with the flash prompt last week.
    Hope you’ve had a great week.
    xx Rowena

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Rowena, Thanks for reading and commenting. Those gaps can have a powerful effect. Some people think they know everything, and know little of importance, but are in a position to make decisions that effect everything. I wonder are those schools with the veggie patches involved in the Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden program. I read some good things about the produce being used in the school tuckshops, and it also seems to improve children’s taste for veggies if they have grown them themselves.
      I can’t imagine having 2 rabbits roaming freely around the classroom. I’m sure the children love it.
      Do you know the intent of renaming the library the “I Centre”. I can think of a few possibles, but would be interested to know this one.
      I’ve had a good but busy week. Thanks. I hope you have too! 🙂

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      1. roweeee

        I’ll have to ask the school about the name change. I am also curious. My husband works at Macquarie UNiversity in IT there and he said that 1/3 campus wifi was being used up by the library.
        We’ve had a good week and having a very relaxing weekend without the kids parked beside the air-con along with the dogs.

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  7. roweeee

    Thanks very much for that, Steven. You built very effectively on my concerns. it might have been boring rote learning as we sat there every morning reciting our tables but you throw a question at me now at age 46 and I immediately know the answer.
    I find it hard sometimes when we’re called upon to be the parent and enforce things like learning tables when you’re more of a free spirit and it goes against the grain. I think my daughter’s teacher compared it to brushing your teeth. Something they need to do.

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  8. TanGental

    What an interesting post (no surpsie) and article by Orr. While I wouldn’t give up on meliorism just yet he makes very valid points about the need for a holistic education and it not being an end in itself. I particularly enjoyed if that’s the right word the piece about us obtaining knowledge of complex matters but not understanding how they will work but because we perceive a good form them we use them anyway. CFCs being his example but the more current one the expansion of AI to the point where we may not call ourselves our own and find ourselves, post a singularity, the slaves not the perceived masters. The good think is that these thoughts aren’t being lost but do gain traction. And I think his Cold War example is rather simplistic. But hey this our tif article is never going to be universally acclaimed. Thanks for that.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for your very thoughtful comment, Geoff. I’m pleased and impressed that you read Orr’s article, and also that you found it interesting. I appreciate that you have shared these points that resonated with you and your opinion of them. It encourages me to think a little more about it too. It has occurred to me that this article may actually be a chapter from the book. As I am listening to the book it states e.g. this next collection of articles. I will be purchasing an ebook so that I can check back through to find just what he has said. While it is interesting listening to it, it is very difficult to go back and find a particular statement. And the sticky notes don’t adhere to my ears very well! 🙂 I agree with you about the need to think of the big picture when new discoveries are made and implemented. Plastics in the ocean is just one instance where the big picture would have been preferred. Thanks for sharing. I’m not giving up on meliorism. I think Orr’s suggestions are useful. We just need people in power to listen and respond effectively. “They” tell the little people to do things, but I think most harm is done by larger organisations, including governments.

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      1. TanGental

        There’s so much in politics and business that is effectively fashion, brought on by the focus group reaction. The trouble is you often need such a shock to steer the ship in a different direction. This week is 20 years since the Dunblans massacre and the subsequent banning of all handguns. We have had terrorist attacks, sure, but the random nutter wasting a school, no. It can happen.

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  9. roweeee

    Wow, Norah. I have only scraped the surface o this post and will return after dropping my kids at Scouts. They’re off to camp at Balmoral on Sydney Harbour for the weekend and will be competing in a kayaking/sailing regatta there. It seems they’re off to live what you’re writing about.
    We have a childcare centre on a farm which isn’t quite local but broadly speaking it is.
    When I was a child, we did environmental maths and I recall going out around the school and pick up leaves and counting them. UNfortunately, it was good in theory but not so good in practice and the school developed quite a bad reputation for maths in the end. That was 40 years ago, so no doubt things have come along.
    One thing which is quite clear to me is that primary school kids do not know their tables and while the old rote methods might not have been fun, they at least work. Without knowing their tables, it really slows maths down and the cogs are moving too slowly.
    Our kids are actively involved in Scouts so they get quite an environmental education through that both out in the bush and on the water. Plus, these environments have a fantastic calming effect.
    Will come back and revisit this tonight xx Rowena

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    1. Steven

      When you say “tables”, I assume you mean times-tables. How is it that Primary school children can’t recite these? Surely this must be one of (if not) the fundamental building block that higher order arithmetic is based on? It is possibly the second most important mathematical concept that any ordinary citizen would use for numeracy in their ordinary everyday tasks (second only to addition). I find it difficult to comprehend how they would cope in the decades to come. Sure, they will have readily available access to technology that can do it all for them, but they will be missing out on the deep understanding of knowing why and how arithmetic works. You can’t build or design a calculator if you don’t know how it works and if a whole generation falls into the same situation, then they and the following generations will fall backwards into having to rediscover the lost art.

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      1. Norah Post author

        True! And without some ball-park figure in mind, how can we be certain we’ve used the calculator correctly and arrived at the correct answer?
        I think your point about “deep understanding of knowing why and how arithmetic works” is essential. Young children need a lot of concrete experiences with the calculations to develop an understanding of the concept. Learning the tables should not be difficult if children actually understand what they mean and can visualize them. Arrays and bunches are great for doing that, especially when arrays can be turned around and two facts can be learned in one go! We definitely do not want to lose the art of mathematics.

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks Rowena. I’m sure you’ll be posting about the scouting weekend. Hopefully I’ll get to read them soon. Apologies I haven’t been over to your place yet this week. I’ve had a few other distractions. I see the notifications in my inbox. Hopefully I’ll get there soon.
      I like the sound of the child care center on the farm. I wonder how they utilize it. It was great fun when I went to a farmstay for a few days with the grandkids last year. They got to feed the lambs and the chickens, collect the eggs, milk the cow and ride a pony. It was great experience. But really a weekend is not long enough. I lived on a farm until I was six but I have few recollections of it. I’m not sure that I developed any feelings for the environment from doing so.
      I agree. To do maths effectively we need instant recall of the “tables”. These are basic. We can’t go working them out every time we need the answer. I think understanding must precede the rote memorization though. This can occur in many ways, starting with the concrete and moving through to the abstract. Being able to visualize a 6 by 6 grid (tiles on the wall, block of chocolate, bunches of flowers or balloons) makes it more meaningful and easier to memorize. What a pity your school couldn’t develop the maths in conjunction with environmental studies. To go back to Arthur Benjamin – image in the work in Fibonacci numbers that could be done in the environment.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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          1. roweeee

            Yes, but I’ve never really seen it that way. Even when I have the music in front of me, I play by ear or feel. Since taking up the violin, I’ve appreciated these patterns more maybe because I’ve taken it up more consciously as an adult whereas I can’t remember not playing the piano. That is aside from not touching the thing.

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              1. roweeee

                I think the issue with me was more of a problem with seeing patterns. I am getting a lot better at it. I had a neuro-psyche assessment this afternoon, which went much better than I expected and I think I’ve improved quite a lot. Had a really interesting chat about neuropathways etc. Fascinating. By the way, we get our NBN connected tomorrow. I’m interested to see how it goes but I’ll be off the air tomorrow until Geoff gets it set up. Hope you’ve had a great week xx Rowena

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                1. Norah Post author

                  That all sounds very interesting. I look forward to hearing more about it.
                  Best wishes for improved services with the NBN. We don’t have it here yet.
                  I hope you’re enjoying the weekend. Take care. 🙂

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