Many, many years ago I developed a book while being a writer for the Individualized Science Instructional System (ISIS) which was entitled Touch the Earth. It was a geology mini-course, part of a large collection of earth, life, and physical science mini-courses for middle and high school science. Although the title was a play on words, I was trying to build a teaching unit that would bring the students in contact with the earth. We were trying to not only design a strong cognitive oriented mini-course, but we also wanted to create affective experiences for the students that were entwined with the content. Affective learning was to be just as important as cognitive learning. Students were to be involved in activities in which they went outside and touched the earth: learning outside the box.
So, At the New Orleans NSTA conference, I read on the NSTA Conference Blog that Dr. Cheryl Charles gave the Brandwein Lecture, and the title of her presentation was: The Ecology of Hope: Building a Movement to Reconnect Children and Nature. Dr. Charles is President and CEO of The Children & Nature Network (C&NN). She was also director of two of the most significant environmental education curriculum projects: Project Learning Tree and Project Wild. Cheryl Charles is an educator that has been thinking outside the box for many years.
If you go The C&NN website you will see the case for teaching outside the box of the classroom. In my own experience visiting and working with thousands of teachers, and visiting tens of classrooms in several countries, most teachers try and create an interesting learning environment within the classroom. Many have brought living things into the classroom, added interesting displays, and bring lots of hands on materials for students to experience.
But there is nothing like the real thing—the real thing being the world outside the classroom. The Children and Nature Network is committed to reconnecting students to nature.
There is much to learn from the C&NN website. I think one of the most important is the documentation of research and literature that provides the evidence that students should be involved in learning activities outside of the classroom. In “research” link you will find three volumes of research which consist summaries and syntheses of studies and reports that we can use to support the implementation of environmental education activities. Some examples of these syntheses include:
- Direct Experience in Nature Is Critical and Diminishing
- School Achievement Is Enhanced When Curricula Are Environment Based
- Schoolyard Habitat Projects Bring Natural Benefits to School and Students
What you will find here is research data to support teachers and parents who are working toward involving students in outdoor learning, moving their students out of the box.