Every gully, river, and hill is a thirteen-billion-year-old accumulation of wonder: chemical, geological, biological, ecological, and cultural.
Nature is much too complex to be understood quickly. Obviously, it's too complex to be understood through textbooks and worksheets — but it's also too complex for a field trip, or two, or three.
Often, students don't even understand how little they understand.
Our basic plan:
Pick a local natural site, preferably a rather awesome one. (A gully, a river, a hill, a gorge, a beach, an inlet, or a volcano will do.)
Regularly visit it, for three years.
Give students activities that help them pay attention to the site on all scales, and prompt them to ask questions about what they observe. Help them answer those questions.
In Year One, focus on the site's geology. (What's its deep history? What's the underlying rock? How does it fit into the larger geology of the region, and of the continent?)
In Year Two, focus on the site's biology and ecology. (What animal species live in it? What plant species? What fungi? Any particularly interesting single-celled critters? What's the food web here? What are the evolutionary connections?)
In Year Three, focus on the human connections to the site. (Who were the first humans to visit here? What's been the story of how people have impacted it? How is the land zoned now? What are the challenges going forward?)
As they fall in love with the site, help them consider how to care for it.
Kids who have some sense of how complex every natural system is — and have a sense that they can actually fit such complexity in their heads.
Kids who care for local ecosystems.
If you walk into a classroom, you might see:
Kids returning from a regular trip muddy, animatedly sharing about what they just discovered, and posing more questions for the whole class to tackle together.
How regularly? Monthly, or more?
After three years, should we switch sites, or go back to the beginning of the cycle at the same site?
(This idea is currently in beta! If you've thoughts on how to make it better, please shoot an e-mail to Brandon at email@example.com.)
One Square Foot.
The Universe in a Grain of Sand.
To Learn More:
Peruse the Whole School Project website, run by the wonderful people of Imaginative Education! Or read Whole School Projects: Engaging Imaginations Through Interdisciplinary Inquiry, by Kieran Egan. Or talk to anyone who was associated with the grade school at Corbett Charter School, from which I am blatantly copying this pattern!