Go Natural

Written By smcneely

On June 8, 2010

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penn 027When I was little, school seemed to drag on long past May. Maybe I’m not remembering it correctly but I recall wistfully staring out the window on warm days like these and getting lost in the possibility of what was just beyond the classroom walls and windows. As a student, I regularly asked if we could go outside to play or learn. Generally the answer was no. But I can recall very specific instances where my teacher caved and let us take the learning outdoors. Those were the best days; the days that stuck with me.

I had a college professor that regularly scheduled class to meet in odd locations across campus. I’m not sure if he was just bored with the concrete block walls and fluorescent bulbs or if he truly meant to inspire. Either way, I am certain those classes we spent outdoors caused us to mingle differently, think more deeply, and engage in ways we would not have done in a traditional classroom.

It wasn’t until graduate school that I figured out that my inclination to be under a tree to learn had less to do with my wanting to get out of class and more to do with what Howard Gardner labels “naturalist intelligence.” (Side note: I recognize there is substantial controversy surrounding MI theory, and I’m not equipped to debate the research other than with my own anecdotal and very individual experiences. I’m a believer because school simply did not “fit” me, and the research and thinking behind the theory explains a lot about who I am as a learner and how I learn best. But that’s a different entry entirely.) Students with naturalist tendencies are ones who crave fresh air and have deep sensitivity to the natural world. We like the feel of earth beneath us and are centered by being outside. In my pursuit to celebrate naturalist learners everywhere, I challenge you to think outside the walls and halls of your schools for ways to enrich learning of students and teachers (closing day staff meetings!). If  for no other reason, the oxygen surge will bring a sense of calm to the frenetic end of the year. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

-Consider sidewalk chalk and wide open pavement as a replacement for poster paper and markers. (Gallery Walks, Café Conversations, Brainstorming, Mind mapping, Sketch to Stretch, etc.)

-Circle up under a tree for Socratic Seminar, Literature Circles, Ordered Sharing or Book Talks.

-Try a Walk-n-Talk where students are given a problem to solve, an index card and a pencil, and a designated amount of time to walk it out with a partner and come back with a solution.

– Take the reenactment to the school yard! Simulations and role play can be a tremendous help for students grappling with conceptual ideas and global concepts. (You’ll also not disturb neighboring classes if things get noisy.) penn 015

– Traditional mix and mingle strategies like Block Party, Circle the Sage, or Give One/ Get One can be freshened up by moving to a veranda or open space for sharing

– Allow pairs of students to find an outdoor nest for Parallel Reading, peer editing/ review, or Paired Verbal Fluency.

– Let the natural world be the backdrop for silent reading or inspiration for reflective journaling