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Teach Green: Lesson Plan to Create an Illustrated Nature Journal

Illustrated Nature Journals for Kids

Summary:

Whether writing for scientific purposes or personal satisfaction or to convey personal experiences in the natural world to others, what better place to start a nature journal than on the Huntington Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. Students will explore Huntington Beach, Porter Creek and the flora and fauna of the surrounding meadow lands, while expressing their creativity through writing and illustrating their own personal nature journal. Both rewarding and fun, students are sure to sharpen their analytical and observation skills while deepening their appreciation of nature.

Grade Level:

Geared primarily toward children ages 8 to 12, but works just as well for teenagers and adults with a few modifications.

Time:

Two hours per class for six weeks.

Learning Objectives:

Objective #1

Students will use real-life experiences in nature as inspiration for journal writing, illustration and personal expression.

Objective #2

Students will explore various practices of nature journaling for descriptive, informational, narrative and persuasive writing.

Objective #3

Students will learn the fundamentals of map making in order to develop a sense of place and an increased appreciation of the natural world.

Materials Needed:

  1. 8.5 x 11 three ring view binder. A “view” binder will allow students design their own cover.
  2. Pencils ( varying hardness, often sold together), colored pencils, a sharpener and a white eraser
  3. Watercolors and paint brush
  4. Bottle of water
  5. Paper towels
  6. Ziploc bags for collecting treasures such as pine cones, leaves, shells or seeds
  7. Field bag or backpack to hold supplies

Optional Items:

  1. Binoculars
  2. Camera
  3. Compass
  4. Measuring tape or ruler
  5. Field guides
  6. Map

Instructor will supply additional worksheets, including templates for field notes, writing prompts, and graphic organizers. Also, graph paper and art/craft supplies for projects created in studio will be supplied. Students will want to have their own art supplies for creative work completed on nature walks.


 

Lesson Plans:

Week One: Introduction to Nature Journals and Mapping

Background


Creating a Nature Journal

Getting kids interested in natural world teaches them to appreciate it. Once they are outdoors and engaged, they are more likely to develop a feeling of connection to the plants, animals and natural spaces in their backyards, communities and parks. And, they will be more likely to want to protect them as they grow into adulthood. Keeping a nature journal is a great way to start.

In the most popular recent book on the subject, “Keeping a Nature Journal”, author Clare Walker Leslie puts it simply: “whereas a diary or personal journal records your feelings toward yourself and others, a nature journal primarily records your responses to and reflections about the world of nature around you.” With a subject as broad as the natural world, nature journals lend themselves to a wide range of expression. The possibilities are endless.

Keeping a nature journal helps students connect with nature through writing and illustration. They will learn how to observe nature closely and keep accurate records on these observations. They will also learn to narrate their experiences in the natural world

Developing a Sense of Place

A sense of place can be described as the fundamental ways people relate to places that convey a feeling of attachment and belonging. It develops when personal meaning is attributed to a specific location or setting and usually starts close to home. Maybe it’s your back yard or the neighborhood where you played as a kid. Or maybe it’s a park you’ve visited with your family on vacation. Whatever the case may be, studies have shown that attachment to natural spaces is beneficial to our emotional, functional and cognitive well being.

The Importance of Geography and Mapping

They also must have a better understanding of maps and geography. Studies reveal that the geographical acumen of American children consistently leaves much room for improvement over the past decade. Results from the National Geographic – Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study found that recent graduates of the US education system were “unprepared for an increasingly global future”. Just months after hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the study found that 33 % of study participants could not find Louisiana on a map.

According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nations report card”, less than a quarter (22%) of fourth grade students in the US scored “proficient” or above proficient” on the test. The same test for eighth graders in 2014 showed little improvement.

Understanding geography is important because helps us to better understand our world. Through the study of geography, students learn to use data from maps, graphics and texts to recognize patterns and solve problems. It contributes to global understanding and tolerance by making students more aware of of the countries and their cultures. It also helps us to understand the impact of environmental factors on specific areas. But, the study of geography starts with understanding our immediate environment and it expands with experience. Geographical awareness serves as a link between home, school and the world at large. In the early grades, basic geographical knowledge and map skills are the foundation for more complex critical thinking skills later. Later, geographically informed students will emerge as leaders and be well equipped to take their place in the global community.

Procedure


Introduction to Nature Journals and Maps and their various uses

  1. Have students illustrate the cover of their nature journals using paints, colored pencils or markers. (Have examples of nature journal pages for inspiration.)
  2. Overview of the importance of reading maps
  3. Using graph paper, have students draw a simple map of the Huntington Reservation from an actual Metroparks map.
  4. Have the class take a break on a picnic table with healthy snacks suitable for a nature hike. (Remind students they may want to pack similar snacks for future class nature hikes.)
  5. Explain how to write a personal narrative (story) and then have the students write about their favorite memory of a time they spent in nature. Encourage them to draw a picture.
  6. Assemble materials in field bag for next class

Week Two: Flora or Fauna?

Background


  • Learning about plant and animal species as preparation for future experiences in nature
  • Making a bird feeder
  • Writing about a process (descriptive writing)

Flora and fauna mean plants and animals; the word “flora” is used to discuss plant life, while the word “fauna” refers to animal life. Recently, children are becoming disconnected from nature. So much so that they are more familiar with Pokemon characters than they are with animal species, even some of the most common ones. They can recognize hundreds of consumer brands, but only a handful of plant varieties. This week, students will become familiar with a wide variety of local bugs, birds, animals, plants and trees through art projects, games and personal observations.

Procedure


  1. Introduction to Flora and Fauna – use a game to teach familiar names of native plants, trees and animals they may encounter on future hikes.
  2. Ask students to paint a picture of their favorite bird (fauna) and add it to their nature journals. Have pictures of some of birds native to the area for reference.
  3. Take a walk outside and have the students look for birds in the yard. Show them the areas where we have bird feeders hung. Explain how it is important to feed the birds in the summer while they are nesting as well as the winter when its cold and snowing.
  4. Have students choose a bird feeder to make.
  5. When they are finished with the project have them write about it in their journals.
  6. Have students take a picture of their bird feeder in their back yard and add the picture to their nature journals to illustrate their “How to” essays.

Notes:

Create a preprinted “Sequence Chain” (step by step) diagram and pass out the class to organize information before writing descriptive essay on how to make a bird feeder.

 

Week Three: Sensory Beach Hike

Background


  • Sensory beach hike
  • Learning to use five senses in observing nature
  • Employing descriptive journaling to capture impressions of nature

One of the most diverse and unique ecosystems in the Emerald Necklace chain of the Cleveland Metroparks, the Huntington Reservation borders Lake Erie on its northern boundary. Students will hike to the beach and use their senses to explore descriptive journaling to open up their perceptions of their natural surroundings. Students will be asked to write a descriptive essay on a day at the beach using descriptive journal entries and illustrations that will add depth to their writing and also deepen their awareness and appreciation of this valuable freshwater ecosystem.

Procedure


  1. Point out the path that the class will follow to the beach and make notes in their journals.
  2. Hike to Huntington Beach
  3. Allow time for students to explore the beach and find a place of their choosing to journal their impressions.
  4. Working with a partner, they will experiment with their senses by walking along the beach and taking turns closing their eyes to concentrate on what they hear, feel and smell without the benefit of sight. One partner will lead and the sightless partner will follow. Students take turns in each role.
  5. Allow students to find a piece of driftwood to bring back to for an art project in Week Four.
  6. Stop at the picnic pavilion for a healthy snack

Notes:

Use a preprinted observation chart to organize information by using the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

 

Week Four: Creek Walk Hike

Background


  • Explore habitats
  • Learn about informational (scientific) journal writing
  • Complete painted fish project

All types of living species need certain things to thrive, including food, water and shelter. Students will hike to the meadow lands bordering Porter Creek in the Huntington Reservation of the Metroparks. Along the way, we will discuss ecosystems, habitats and watersheds that sustain local wildlife in this area. We will take time to discuss keeping a Grinnell type journal and the application of informational journal writing for scientific purposes. Grinnell journaling is the method most used by professional biologists and field naturalists and was developed by Joseph Grinnell, a filed naturalist and teacher and the first director of the University of California’s Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. His method included recording his observations as they were happening, detailed observations on specific species and species counts and keeping a record of where and when specimens were collected.

Procedure


  1. Point out the path that the class will take to explore Porter Creek and the meadow on the class map of the Huntington Reservation.
  2. Hike the Porter Creek Trail
  3. Allow time for students to explore the meadow and find a place of their choosing to journal their impressions in the Grinnell style of journaling.
  4. Stop at the picnic area to have a healthy snack
  5. Use the driftwood collected in Week Three to complete an art project painting colorful fish on the pieces of wood

Notes:

Create a preprinted “Network Tree” graphic organizer to help students answer key questions about their observations and organize research before writing Grinnell journal entries.

 

Week Five: Hike to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center

Background


  • Explore the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center
  • Writing a story about a rescue animal (narrative writing)

Many species of local wildlife are endangered everyday. Humans have moved into areas previously occupied by animals and habitats have been destroyed and migration patterns disrupted. Hazards such as traffic, power lines, pollution and overpopulation are threatening otherwise healthy populations. At the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center they teach visitors about wildlife through live animal exhibits, wildlife education programs and the animal rehabilitation services they provide to over 1000 animals per year. They have outdoor and indoor display areas for public visitors to view both local wildlife and exotic/domestic animals. Students will hike to the Nature Center located at the south end of the Huntington Reservation to observe and learn about native species and animal rescue programs. In addition to journaling their observations during the hike, they will then be tasked to create narrative (story) about one of the animals they have observed at the Nature Center and include this story in their nature journals.

Procedure


  1. Point out the path that the class will take to hike to Lake Erie Nature & Science Center on the class map of the Huntington Reservation.
  2. Explain to the class that they will use their observations at the Nature Center to write a story about a rescue animal they saw on their field trip.
  3. Review the steps to writing a narrative (story) account of the experience (see notes below). Explain how this is one of many ways to describe their observations and experience.
  4. Hand out a template with space for students to fill in information for the prewiting (research) phase of their writing project.
  5. Hike to the Nature Center and tour the animal sanctuary and indoor displays
  6. Stop to have a healthy snack
  7. Have the students create a story from the animals point of view on how they came to live at the Nature Center.

Notes:

Use a preprinted “Storyboard” organizer to plan a story about a rescue animal

Week Six: Working Together for the Good of All

Background


  • Call to action
  • Collaborative mapping project/Writing a friendly (persuasive) writing
  • Persuasive writing

Children have become increasingly disconnected from nature. Today, young Americans spend about half as much time outdoors as their parents did. Causes range from parents fears of danger to loss or natural surroundings in neighborhoods and cities. Combined with the temptation of indoor activities such as television, video games and social media, a disconnect from nature has reached epidemic proportions. So much so that a wide range of physical and cognitive disorders have surged. People are losing touch with the natural world at a time when their ecological literacy is not only crucial to their own health, but also to the well-being of future generations and the future viability to our planet. Faced with increasing environmental challenges, tomorrow’s leaders must be prepared to understand the connections between human and natural systems (eco-literacy) and make decisions for the benefit of all.

Procedure


  1. Have the class work collaboratively to illustrate a large mural of a map of the Huntington Reservation. Using their entries from their nature journals, have them work to fill in the map based on their observations and experiences.
  2. As some students are working on the mural, others will write a friendly opinion letter about why someone should visit the Huntington Reservation based on the facts and opinions they have developed over the past five weeks.
  3. With the extra time left, students will go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt. They will be given a list of seasonal flora and fauna to collect and/or locate and observe. The group will take one last hike around the park and look for the species on the list. They will then be asked to journal the experience.

Notes:

Use a preprinted “Fact and Opinion Chart” as a graphic organizer to assemble information before beginning to write a Persuasive Friendly Letter

Illustrative Nature Journaling for Kids lesson plans address the following standards:

NATIONAL LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS , GRADES K-12

Standard 6

Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Standard 7

Students gather, evaluate, and synthesize date from a variety of sources.

Standard 8

Students use a variety of technological and informational resources to create and communicate knowledge.

NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS, GRADES K-12

Content Standard A

As a result of activities, students develop an understanding of scientific inquiry and abilities necessary for scientific inquiry.

Content Standard C

As a result of activities, students develop an understanding of life sciences.

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The Home Team Advantage: Beware of the “Summer Slide”

Snapshot 2014-08-13 23-20-24We have reached the time during summer break when kids are bored and many parents struggle to find ways to entertain them until school starts again. This seems counterintuitive to me. It has been well established that American students have slipped in the international education rankings. As a result, the Common Core State Standards were created in order to better prepare our children for college and careers in a global economy. We are constantly demanding that school systems and teachers do more with less. But they can’t go it alone. It’s time for families to make some additional adjustments and raise the standards at home as well. Instead of filling free time with meaningless activity, why not use some of it to prepare students for the challenges they will face under the new system?

Parents are a child’s most effective teacher. We need to find time in our busy schedules to build on the information our children learn at school and bring these lessons to life at home. This begs the question…

What is the responsibility of parents in preparing their children for success in the 21st century?

Summer Enrichment Helps Prevent Learning Loss
Summer vacation always seemed like a mixed blessing to me. On one hand, it’s the perfect opportunity for kids to take time away from their studies – time to play and explore, time to observe and experience the natural world around them, and time to “just be kids”. On the other hand, too much time spent away from a structured environment can result in learning loss, sedentary habits and other problems. According to the National Summer Learning Association:

• All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer and typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).

• Students can lose two months of grade level equivalency in math skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).

• Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).

• Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Duffett et al, 2004).

Nature as Context for Learning
With summer break drawing to a close, now is the perfect time to fill idle time with activities that will ease children back into learning mode. You don’t need expensive programs or a degree in education to create meaningful learning experiences at home…and it doesn’t have to be summer. There are so many ways to turn after school or weekend family time into a teaching moment. Nature has proven to be a great context for learning and it’s also the perfect way to get kids outside and active. Once you get started, I think you (and your children) will find it very rewarding…and fun!

Simple Ideas for Year-round Family Enrichment

Start a Family Book Club
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort among dozens of foundations, lists summer learning loss as one of the three major obstacles to reading proficiency at the end of 3rd grade. Children (especially low income children) are losing ground at an alarming rate and the negative consequences reach far beyond elementary school. In fact, according to a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “one in six children who are not reading proficiently in 3rd grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers”.

I have found my own children were far more likely to “do as I do”, not just “because I said so”. Thus, it is important to encourage family reading time and also important that children see their parents reading along with them.

So, pick a topic and get started. Find beginning readers for the little ones and more in depth materials for your older children. Set a time frame to complete the reading assignment and reconvene to discuss your findings. Then you’ll be ready for a family field trip to personalize the learning process. This brings the topic of their assignment into the realm of their real-life experience.

Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Create a program that works for your family and your schedule…so long as everyone is reading and engaged in the process. I think you’ll find that these sessions will open up new lines of communication that will not only promote good reading habits, but also enable parents to instill positive family values as well.

Family Field Trips
A family outing to the zoo or a local park not only creates happy memories and strong bonds between parents and their children, but this special time can also can become an extended learning experience with a little forethought before you go. Call a family meeting (possibly at the dinner table) to plan your field trip. Be sure to get the input of each family member (even the little ones) to learn more about his or her interests. Then, make a plan. Once you have decided on your destination, have everyone do some research and reading beforehand. Use you imagination. Go online or visit the library to find books, maps or articles that relate to your outing. Even young children can participate. Older children or parents can help younger children find age-appropriate materials and explain more advanced concepts to jumpstart their reading comprehension. Learning how to access useful and accurate information is an important skill they will need for success in school and beyond. This will also promote strong bonds between siblings that provide them with immeasurable benefits throughout their formative years and even into adulthood.

Once the day of the field trip has arrived, be sure to provide ample time for spontaneous discovery and play. And by all means, take your electronic devices along…but have children use them to expand their world, not insulate them from it. Technology is a tool, not the evil babysitter. Teach your children how to use digital cameras to record their observations. Tuck a tablet or smart phone in your backpack. It’s a great way to take notes or learn more about things you discover along the way. And remember, using technology is not intuitive (children won’t automatically know how to use it properly); it is a learned skill that requires adult guidance and supervision to produce positive learning experiences.

Create an Eco-journal
People throughout history have kept written accounts of their experiences in nature. From primitive inscriptions on cave walls to the detailed journals of early explorers like Lewis and Clark, John Muir and Charles Darwin, detailed descriptions of their experiences have made an incalculable contribution to many scientific principles we know and still rely upon today.

With a topic as broad as the natural world, eco-journals lend themselves to many different forms of creative expression. Keeping a nature journal is also an excellent way to for students to hone their writing skills and begin to think critically about the world they live in. Young naturalists may start out by noting simple drawings of their observations. Later, they can add detailed descriptions and tell about their experiences. As their reading abilities improve, they can learn to research and record additional factual information to support their perceptions. Finally, as they develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, they will begin to form opinions about the world around them. All of these writing activities are excellent practice for when they return to the classroom. Be sure to bring your eco-journals on family field trips!

Adopt a Cause and Volunteer
Just as learning is a progressive process and basic concepts are needed to understand more complicated subject matter, the same is true of learning about nature. Environmental education is best understood through experimentation and hands-on experiences. First, children need to experience and learn about the natural world in order to care about it. (See my earlier blog “A Sense of Place”) Once they do, it is interesting to note that children are quite willing and enthusiastic to become stewards of the environment and active participants in green initiatives. At this point, make a family decision to get involved in a cause and volunteer your time together.

Remember, you don’t have to live on a farm or near the park to learn about nature or get involved in the green movement. In fact, some of the most innovative “green” ideas are being tested in urban areas where space is limited and the need is greatest. One way budding eco-journalists can really make a difference is by recording (and reporting) the effects of human activities on the environment within their own neighborhoods. It’s already happening in cities all over the world. So, join in! Your children could eventually provide valuable information to environmentalists who are looking for ways to minimize our impact on the environment.

And it is here that we arrive at our intended destination – learning brought to life – raising children who are prepared to enter adulthood armed with the knowledge and skills they need to live healthy and successful lives.

Isn’t that what every parent wants for their children?

Oh yes, and before you know it, the only “summer slide” you’ll need to worry about will be watching your home team at the ball park.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and thanks for reading.

Elizabeth


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Introducing The Green Beans & the Litterbugs: A Multimedia Approach to Environmental Education

1525366_695396423825150_1412516447_nIn celebration of National Environmental Education Week and Earth Day next Tuesday April 22, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who read my blog in the United States and around the world. TeachGreenBlog now has readership in over 30 countries! I appreciate your continued support and shared interest in environmental education.

Today, I am pleased to announce the launch of The Green Beans & the Litterbugs at www.getgreenandgrow.com. For the past three years, I have been working with three of my talented and accomplished cousins to develop a unique model of interactive green entertainment for young children and their families. We envision The Green Beans & the Litterbugs as a franchise of engaging children’s programs, trade and ebooks, online games, webisodes, toys and other associated products. The Green Beans stories are designed to entertain young audiences, while promoting basic environmental themes, cultural diversity and positive social behaviors.

We have carefully constructed The Green Beans & the Litterbugs with an international worldview. We adhere to environmentally sustainable practices and support the United Nations’ definition of sustainability, “to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Initially, we are using our newly launched website and social media to spread the word.

Teach Green with Ecofriendly Characters
It is well documented that children like learning activities more if they involve beloved characters. When they see them on television or online, they want to imitate their behaviors. So why not use these influences to encourage good habits rather than unhealthy ones? In addition, popular characters can also be influential in shaping the ideas, behaviors and purchasing decisions of families with young children.

The Green Beans & the Litterbugs features five members of the Green Bean Team – Ruby Monkey Bean, Bella Brontosaurus Bean, Bentley Bear Bean, Gibbon Monkey Bean, and Crawford Crab Bean. With the help of their roving satellite Bloorb, the Beans travel the globe solving environmental emergencies caused by the Litterbugs. Each Green Bean story highlights a different ecological issue that becomes part of the plot. Real world environmental challenges are placed in the context of animated action that children can absorb and understand.

In order to shape a positive message, we created the Green Beans content with two important themes that run through the story lines. The first is a “green” theme highlighting an environmental issue in a specific geographical location that becomes the setting of the story. Young viewers will have the opportunity to observe how the Green Beans work as a team to respond to the problem, determine its cause and use logic to find a sustainable solution.

The second element that runs through the stories is a “character” theme. Virtues such as truthfulness, helping others and the importance of family are just a few of the positive traits that are subtly embedded into the plot to reinforce pro-social behaviors. These traits are demonstrated in the actions of the Green Beans and help children learn tolerance and conflict resolution by observing their positive example.

Children Virtually Explore the World
Each episode features a different location where a local child and indigenous animal assist the Green Beans in solving the ecological problem. As a result, viewers gain a global perspective of the challenges other kids may face in their part of the world. The stories are fictional and fun, but environmentally, culturally, and geographically correct.

The Green Beans & the Litterbugs is designed to also provide factual information about nature and the environment that can even be used as a supplement to classroom curriculum. Our website is full of interesting “field facts” pertaining to geography, habitats, flora, fauna and cultural influences on the environment. We host “Bloorb’s Blog” with up-to-date information on green events, activities and crafts, as well as sustainable tips for healthy living. We also welcome feedback from children who are making a difference in their communities. It is truly a green movement designed just for kids.

It is our ultimate goal to lead young viewers to a better understanding of the world around them in order to prepare for a sustainable future. We are seeking to partner with like-minded organizations that will join us in further developing The Green Beans & the Litterbugs for the benefit of kids everywhere. I hope you will visit our newly launched website at www.getgreenandgrow.com and “like” us on Facebook.Green Beans Logo

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth


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Environmental Education in the Flipped Classroom

Throughout my childhood, our family farm in Pennsylvania was not only a summer getaway from city life, but also a place to host extended family and friends. Many times we were allowed to bring classmates from school. One particular friend shared my affinity for horses and was a frequent guest. We spent long summer days playing in the creek, exploring the woods and tending to the horses and cattle on the property, all without issue until one fateful evening when she learned the truth about the origins of beef.

My brother and I with one of the calves we raised at the farm.

My brother and I with one of the calves we raised at the farm.

We were sitting down to dinner, and quite by accident my father revealed the truth…beef comes from cows…and we were having a roast. The chaos that ensued remains vivid in my memory to this day. My friend let out a scream, fled from the table and out into the wilderness, imagining that she was about to consume the calf that we had played with the summer before. In truth, the calf (of milking variety) was grazing peacefully in the neighbor’s pasture. I tried to explain, but there was no consoling her. We all watched, dumbfounded, as she ran up the steep hill behind the house and disappeared into a stand of spruce trees.

Now the terrain at the farm isn’t rugged in most places, but it is remote. If you stray too far from the road you could walk for miles and not encounter another house or human for quite awhile. The hills and hollows all begin to look the same and you could pass within a few feet of any number of wild animals and never know they were there.

After my father recovered from his shock, he simply turned to me and said, “Go find her and bring her back.”

I thought for a moment and then headed out the back door. Judging by the direction she took, I had a pretty good idea of where she was going. I wasn’t so worried about finding her. I was more concerned about what I would say once I did. It wasn’t like a 12-year old kid could do much about beef consumption, right? I climbed the hill and tracked her footsteps through the crushed clover and alfalfa that she left behind on the mountaintop hayfield. I was still contemplating my argument as I reached the summit and looked out into the second hollow. Sure enough, there she was sitting on Table Rock, a big shale formation that cropped up from the valley below, about 4 feet high and 10 feet in diameter…the perfect place to go and think things through when faced with life’s many dilemmas.

Just as I began my descent, a flash of black and white emerged from a hole underneath the rock. From my vantage point, I watched in horror as a mother skunk and her babies appeared, one-by-one, as my friend sat on top of the flat rock with her head in her hands crying. Now the problem had gone from bad to worse. I approached carefully and tried to wave a warning, but she misinterpreted my actions and prepared to run again, still clinging to her misperceptions. I inched closer. At this point, I could even smell the danger. Finally, in desperation, I yelled, “skunk” just as she was about to jump from the rock. Luckily, she saw the danger for herself and retreated until the skunk family disappeared from view.

The Need for Environmental Awareness

The story may seem comical in retrospect, but it has larger implications that mirror a current trend in today’s youth. Our children have become disconnected from nature at a time when understanding the natural world is paramount. We cannot escape from ecological truths, nor can we run headlong into the future without a clear perspective of where we are headed. In the face of ever increasing environmental challenges brought on by climate change, combined with a rapidly increasing population growth due to reach 9.6 billion people by mid-century[i] and an alarming slip in the academic standing of American students on the global stage, we need to seriously reevaluate not only what type of information our students are learning in school, but also how that information is being delivered, in order to utilize valuable class time to the students best advantage and adequately prepare them for the future.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative

In 2010, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers established a new set of educational standards that are now consistent across all fifty states and provide clear expectations in reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and mathematics. By transitioning from individual standards unique for each state to the Common Core, the new objectives “promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.”[ii]

However, new challenges have emerged while attempting to raise the bar. How do teachers find enough time in the school day to deliver a 21st century curriculum within a 20th century classroom structure? The reality is…they can’t and don’t. Many schools have eliminated what they deem as non-essential subjects and concentrate only on the subject matter being assessed on standardized tests. Other districts are eliminating recess and reducing the time spent on physical education and outdoor activities…all at a time when children need environmental education, physical activity and exposure to nature the most.

No Child Left Inside Legislation

A growing body of evidence reveals that direct exposure to nature is important to a child’s intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical development.[iii] Additionally, physical activity, such as outdoor play, has been linked to increases in students’ grade point averages and more efficient classroom learning, as well as positive associations with children’s physical fitness, concentration, memory, behavior, and school satisfaction.[iv]

As a result, on July 16, 2013, bipartisan bills were reintroduced to the Senate and House that would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and require states to provide environmental literacy standards and associated teacher training for students in classrooms PreK through Grade 12. Continuing education for teachers is expected to include educator resources necessary for providing high-quality environmental education, as well as ideas on how to make use of the local environment as an extension of the classroom.

However, the problem remains. How do we fit a curriculum expanded to include the objectives of the Common Core along with the NCLI environmental education requirements into an already packed school day and still remain globally competitive? The answer? Why not make use of the technology that we are already using in every other aspect of our lives?

Technology Empowers People

We must be careful not to demonize technology in our quest to expose children to the nature experiences we remember from our youth. As parents, if we are honest with ourselves, we enjoy the benefits of technology as much as our children do, and they learn from our example. Electronic devices don’t turn on by themselves. It is our responsibility to monitor the amount and type of media exposure our children receive, just as we mold other time management and social behaviors.

In truth, technology and connectivity are making lives better. Take for example the mission of Worldreader, a non-profit seeking to eradicate illiteracy among the world’s poorest people through delivering quality, culturally relevant content by way of a special app available for mobile phones that the majority of these populations already have. The premise of the Worldreader Initiative is based on considerable data demonstrating that education and literacy have the power to change lives and empower people. If it’s possible to deliver quality content to remote areas of developing countries, surely we can use the wealth of digital resources at home to bridge the gaps in our own education system.

Teaching Green in the Flipped Classroom

In my first article about the flipped classroom, I made a case for an emerging educational model where teachers assign the lecture for homework, reserving valuable class time for problem solving and hands-on learning experiences. The beauty of the flipped classroom is that it allows teachers the luxury of utilizing differentiated instruction, providing students with different ways to acquire and make sense of information and ideas. It also allows time for project-based lessons where students can apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce real results. The flipped classroom structure dovetails nicely with an eco-friendly curriculum by allowing teachers the freedom to engage students in a variety of ways that will get them outside and active, utilizing all of their senses to interact with the environment as motivation and context for learning.

In fact, school is an excellent place to introduce nature and ecology… and I’m not just talking about an occasional experiment or an outing on Earth Day. They need to live it and make it theirs. Kids want to feel like what they do and say makes a difference. So if it’s becoming more and more difficult to get kids to nature. Why not bring nature to the kids? It might not be the exposure that we experienced. It might be even better… They can still experiment and play and get their hands dirty. The difference is that their play will take on new meaning.

Green Schools

I highly recommend watching the PBS documentary, Growing Greener Schools. The excitement of the children featured in the film left a lasting impression on me. For these kids, school is no longer four walls that close them in for the better part of the day. For them, school has spilled out of the classroom into the hallways where natural light or energy-efficient bulbs kindle a new sense of purpose. It has permeated the school roof, where solar panels help reduce energy costs and free up resources for other innovations. Learning flows out the door and into the schoolyard where open spaces (even urban spaces) can be used for outdoor exploration and experimentation. For these fortunate students, school has become a hub of innovation and collaboration…and above all a source of pride for their contribution to its ongoing success.

Edward T. McMahon who holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, D.C. explains what makes a place worth caring about.

Place is more than just a location on a map. A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics – visual, cultural, social, and environmental – that provide meaning to a location. A community’s unique identity also adds economic and social value. To foster distinctiveness, cities must plan for built environments and settlement patterns that are both uplifting and memorable and that foster a sense of belonging and stewardship by residents.[v]

Green schools do just that. However, as one teacher wisely cautions in the film, kids can go to school in a green building and without the tools to understand the implications of sustainability, they will have no way of connecting the building to the environment or to their daily lives. She compared it to a tree falling in the forest, that no one hears. In order to have a true cultural transformation that will make a significant ecological impact, our schools need to become models of sustainability and use the environment as a context for learning across the curriculum.

One expert in the PBS film states, “Our timeline as a country in terms of greening of schools was probably about 50 years ago. So the work that we have to do is catch up. Because, if you look at the way the world presently exists with the major issues we’re being affected by and influenced by… carbon expansion, climate warming, those kinds of things. We really should have been dealing with this several decades ago.”[vi]

Teach Green, Think Green, Live Green

The time has come for us to stop looking for answers to outdated questions and start asking new questions. Questions like… What kind of citizens do we want our children to become? And, what tools do they need to be successful when facing an uncertain future?

It has become increasingly evident that all of us must learn to live as part of earth’s ecosystems, not apart from them. We especially don’t want our children to be caught unaware or unprepared to face environmental issues that are sure to challenge them in the coming years. We want them to be innovators and collaborators that are well versed in the cycles and connections that support life on earth. I believe that using our education system as a conduit for change is the fastest and most pervasive way to improve the eco-consciousness of our country. It is also a win-win situation for our children. It will get them outside and active and will prepare them to think green in a global economy.

Food for thought…

Oh yes, speaking of food. As for my childhood friend … Fortunately, the cow incident didn’t spoil her appetite for nature. Today, she and her husband live in the country with an assortment of farm animals on their property. However, to the best of my knowledge, she remains a vegetarian to this day.

Happy Holidays!

Elizabeth


[i] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013).

World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, Highlights and Advance Tables. Working

Paper No. ESA/P/WP.228.

[ii] National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: Authors.

[iii] Kellert, S. R. (2005). Building for life: Designing and understanding the human-nature connection. Washington, DC: Island Press.

[iv] Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R.J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 1-12

[v] McMahon, Edward T. (2012). Character is Key to an Economically Vibrant City. The Atlantic Cities.

[vi] Wiland, H., Bell, D., (Producers & Directors). (2010). Growing Greener Schools. [DVD]. United States: PBS.


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The Seiberling Legacy: One family’s passion and purpose helped to shape the landscape of America

The Manor House

The Manor House

In the spring of 1912, F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling traveled to England, along with their adult daughter Irene and New York architect Charles Schneider, to seek inspiration for the Tudor revival-style home they were planning to build six miles northwest of Akron. The founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and his family had completed a tour of some of the oldest manor houses and castles in the country and were scheduled to return to America on April 10 aboard the maiden voyage of a fabulous new luxury steamer leaving out of Southampton bound for New York City. Just before departure, their British guide suggested they delay their return in order to visit a 300 year-old manor house that was being razed not far from London. Sir Walter Tyndale, a notable European painter and illustrator, had helped them to gain access to many fine estates that were not ordinarily open to the public and he felt this particular home, in the midst of deconstruction, would give them unique insights into the underlying framework of a typical English structure from that time period. The Seiberlings heartily agreed and delayed their travel plans as a result.

Imagine their stunned shock when, days later, headlines of the London newspapers screamed of unprecedented tragedy in the North Atlantic. The Seiberlings had originally been booked to return aboard the Titanic and they owed a debt of gratitude to Sir Walter’s last minute suggestion that turned out to be providential for many reasons. The decision to extend their trip not only may have charted a new course for the fate of the Seiberling family, but also the completion of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens and the legacy that would include future conservation efforts of the natural spaces within the Cuyahoga Valley corridor between Akron and Cleveland, and millions of acres of wilderness in the western states and Alaska.

The Seiberling entourage returned home later in May aboard the RMS Lusitania to begin work on their family home that would prove to be a flagship of a more durable sort.

Family History
The Seiberling family has been connected to the land since Nathan Seiberling brought his family to Summit County in 1831. He prospered in the growing community and fathered 15 children. His oldest son John Franklin possessed similar entrepreneurial spirit and became an inventor and manufacturer of timesaving agricultural equipment. John Seiberling’s mower-reaper invention allowed for an increase in productivity to meet the demands of the Civil War, despite the loss of farmers and laborers who served in the army. In 1865, Seiberling moved his operation north to Akron, where good rail and canal service greatly enhanced distribution capabilities. By the last decade of the 19th century, he had become the richest man in Akron.

John Franklin had eleven children and two of his sons, Frank Augustus (F.A.) and Charles W. inherited their father’s business acumen and became involved in the family enterprise. Unfortunately, the farm machinery company was a casualty of the severe depression of the 1890’s. However, F.A. rebounded from this temporary setback and decided that the rubber tire industry had greater potential. In 1898, he founded Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, named for Charles Goodyear who invented the vulcanization process – the hardening and strengthening of rubber – in 1839. As popularity of the automobile skyrocketed, so did F.A.’s income, reaching $3 million per year by the late 1910’s.

The Gilded Age in Northeast Ohio
A variety of factors played a role in the Northeast Ohio’s rise to prominence. Strategically positioned on the Great Lakes, the area provided easy access to an abundance of natural resources, and improved transportation infrastructure placed the cities of Cleveland and Akron at the epicenter of industrial innovation.

Rapid economic growth after the Civil War brought about a convergence of business genius that contributed to a surge of unprecedented wealth for a select group of entrepreneurs. Men like Henry Ford in Detroit, John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie in Pittsburgh and Seiberling in Akron, saw the long range potential for new products and services in post-war America. They were a fellowship of fierce competitors, determined in their pursuit of financial success and influence. These men operated on a grand scale, thriving on the risk and excitement of business interests, as well as enjoying the rewards of luxurious living that their business success provided. They were famous for throwing extravagant parties and building palatial homes.

The Seiberlings, however, were determined to build more than just a rich man’s showplace. They wanted to create a gracious gathering place for family, friends, and industrial, cultural and political figures of the time. F.A. began to accumulate property in an area he explored as a youth and eventually amassed a huge parcel of land six miles northwest of the city, atop one of Akron’s seven hills overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley. His wife, Gertrude, enrolled at Buchtel College (now the University of Akron) and took courses in interior decorating, landscape architecture and other related courses in preparation for the project. After considering a wide variety of proposals including an Italian villa, a colonial farm and even a French chateau, they chose to build a Tudor revival-style country home recapturing the spirit and quality of medieval craftsmanship, rather than replicating some of the opulent styles that had come to be associated with the Gilded Age. They named their new home Stan Hywet (pronounced HEE-wit) meaning ”hewn stone ” in Old English, originally chosen because there was a sandstone quarry on the property.

The Manor House
When the construction of Stan Hywet Hall was complete, it was the largest home in Ohio measuring 64,500 square feet and included more than 65 rooms, 23 bathrooms and 23 fireplaces. In keeping with their commitment to health and physical fitness, they also installed an indoor swimming pool known as the “Plunge”, a four-hole golf course, walking and horseback riding trails, two tennis courts and an indoor gymnasium and bowling alley in the basement.

The Stage just outside the great Music Room where outdoor performances were held for friends and family.

The Stage just outside the great Music Room where outdoor performances were held for friends and family.

Remarkably, each room was designed to be unique, decorated with the finest antiques and furnishings from around the world. The Music Room with 18-foot-high molded plaster ceilings, crystal and amber chandeliers and fine oak paneling was the place where the Seiberlings hosted grand parties and family gatherings. On a stage at the far end of the room, they entertained guests with Shakespearian plays, concerts and recitals. The South Terrace doors extended the room outside and into the surrounding gardens.

The Gardens

The Birch Tree Allee leading to the Tea Houses

The Birch Tree Allee leading to the Tea Houses

The exterior living spaces were impressive in their own right. Architect Charles Schneider worked closely with the renowned landscape architect Warren Manning, whose extensive knowledge of horticulture and plant specimens was also utilized in such notable projects as the Chicago Columbian Exhibition of 1893, the planting design of George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and William Gwinn Mather’s Gwinn Estate in Cleveland’s Bratenahl Village on the shoreline overlooking Lake Erie.

Both men paid close attention to architectural details to ensure the elements of nature were experienced around the home, and also from within. The position of doors and windows, even the position of the house itself, set in accordance with the summer solstice, ensured maximum appreciation of nature. A 550-foot long birch tree allée was designed to connect the north end of the manor to twin Tea Houses that overlooked the Lagoon, where the Seiberling family would swim, fish, and canoe in the summer months, and ice skate in winter. A corresponding London Plane tree allée extended south, leading to a stone underpass that connected to an area known as the Dell, where a rim of rock ledges formed a natural amphitheater amid a clearing in the old-growth forest.

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

Directly behind the house, a winding Japanese Garden descended the bluff and a walled English Garden was designed and installed by the legendary Ellen Biddle Shipman, described by Manning to be “one of the best, if not the best flower garden makers in America.” Shipman worked with Gertrude Seiberling to create a hidden garden reminiscent of the classic English children’s novel, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When completed, it was said to be Gertrude’s favorite refuge and the place where she went for solitude, and to spend time with her children.

The English Garden by Ellen Biddle Shipman

The English Garden by Ellen Biddle Shipman

Manning designed many other structures to support and complement the estate including a Carriage House, Gate Lodge, and a Gothic-style Conservatory, used for fruit and flower growing, as well as a green retreat during the long winter months.

Mr. Seiberling once insisted, “We will have in our new home something for everyone no matter on what plane they approach it, whether physical, intellectual or spiritual.” True to his word, F.A. shared his new home with extended family, a circle of community friends, business associates, political figures and dignitaries from around the world.

Early Community Efforts
The period from 1910 to the early 1920’s was characterized by social, economic and political unrest that challenged traditional notions of class structure. During this time, the city of Akron had tripled in size and poor planning led to the construction of crudely built houses on small lots with a lack of amenities such as schools, parks and playgrounds. Working-class neighborhoods were notable for their congestion and grim appearance. Although Stan Hywet stood as a symbol of the traditional elite, the Seiberlings used their passion for the natural world to soften the harsh realities of the tumult that existed elsewhere in their community.

Gertrude Seiberling founded the Akron Garden Club in 1924 and also helped to coordinate similar efforts across the country. The exquisite gardens on the Seiberling estate served as inspirational settings for her various gatherings. F.A. complemented his wife’s efforts and became an influential member of the Akron Park Board where he convinced the board to employ Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the son of the renowned designer of New York’s Central Park and an accomplished landscape architect in his own right, to create a master plan for the community as he had also done for the city of Cleveland. F.A. donated the hillsides on the northern edge of the estate and Sand Run Creek to the Akron park initiative. His gift was the first major tract of land given to create a metropolitan park in the area and some of the most beautiful landscape in the Akron system.

Passing the Torch
John F. Seiberling was the grandson of F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling and lived in the Gate House at Stan Hywet with his father Fred Seiberling and mother, Henrietta. During his formative years on the Seiberling estate, John learned about the natural world from his father, Fred Seiberling. In his biography by Daniel Nelson, A Passion for the Land, Seiberling recalls one particular spring morning in 1926 walking through the woods with his father and sister. Fred “told us the names of the different kinds of plant and trees as we went along…It was a magical, eye-opening experience. It left me with a new, conscious love of nature.” He also developed a strong sense of ethics and an appreciation of culture from his mother. However, at that time, he knew very little about the world beyond the boundaries of the estate.

Twin Tea Houses overlooking the Quarry where the family enjoyed water sports.

Twin Tea Houses overlooking the Quarry where the family enjoyed water sports.

His parents, with the backing of F.A. and Gertrude, decided he should attend Staunton Military Academy, a college preparatory school in Virginia. There, he grew into a studious young man. He graduated as an honor student and although three of his uncles were Princeton alumni, he attended Harvard instead.

Seiberling flourished in Cambridge and was fascinated with history. The influence of several notable professors, combined with the liberal atmosphere of the university, convinced him of the possibilities of an activist’s role as an agent for change. He graduated from college as a New Deal Democrat and enlisted in the army to serve his country.

The destruction of Europe and the great losses incurred during World War II made a lasting impression on Seiberling. He emerged from the war a decorated officer with an expanded worldview. Upon his return to the U.S., he attended Columbia Law School on the G.I. Bill, graduated with honors and then joined a leading Wall Street law firm. He was married and started a family, settling into big-city life, far from the green-carpeted hills of the Cuyahoga Valley.

During his time in New York, John longed for the green spaces he remembered from his youth and took up downhill skiing and photography to fill the void. He vacationed out west and developed a passion for the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies, beautiful landscapes that strengthened his commitment to wilderness preservation in later years.

U.S. Representative John F. Seiberling
In January of 1954, John accepted a position as a corporate attorney for Goodyear and was drawn back to Akron and the extended Seiberling family. While the city was relatively unchanged, the same could not be said for the state of Seiberling family affairs. Gertrude Seiberling had died in 1946. F.A. continued to live on the estate in poor health. By the late 1940’s, the Seiberling children expressed concern about the future of the estate and began to discuss their options. The personal fortune that had created Stan Hywet was depleted by this time and none of the family members were able to afford the upkeep of the property. With incredible sacrifice, the family agreed that Stan Hywet should pass into the public realm and be made useful to the community, according to their parents’ wishes. The death of F.A. Seiberling in 1955 marked the end of family occupation of Stan Hywet Hall, but only the beginning of a family legacy that would last to the present day.

The Seiberling’s presented their dilemma to the community who responded with great interest. A group of volunteers was assembled to study the feasibility of converting the estate into a museum. On April 29, 1956, the Stan Hywet Hall Foundation and a board of trustees were formed and the estate became a non-profit entity. John Seiberling handled much of the legal work for the foundation for many years and became a strong advocate for the preservation of many similar buildings of historical significance throughout the country.

During those years, he and his family lived on 18 acres a few miles north of the original Seiberling estate in the town of Bath. His neighbors were actively involved in efforts to save the Cuyahoga Valley from developers and environmental degradation and introduced him to their cause. John Seiberling became passionately involved at this local level, fueled by fond memories of the forests and fields he had experienced in his youth.

In 1968, Seiberling decided to run for Congress, partially in opposition to the Vietnam War, but also with the conviction to reform Congress and ensure that public resources were directed to domestic issues. Seiberling used his position in Congress to push through legislation that would not only save the Cuyahoga Valley, which would eventually become Ohio’s only National Park, but he was also instrumental in creating 100 million acres of parks and wildlife refuges in Alaska and additional protected lands in national forests across the United States. As Chair of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands, he helped to create urban parks and promoted wildlife protection as the best approach to public land management.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Today, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) encompasses 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron and is one of the most visited parks in the system with over two million visitors each year. Outdoor recreational opportunities include biking, golfing, hiking, skiing and riding on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The park is the summer home to the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center, which also hosts a variety of concerts featuring rock, jazz and country music in an open-air amphitheater and sweeping lawn that together can accommodate over 19,000 people.

The barn at the Inn at Brandywine Falls in the CVNP

The barn at the Inn at Brandywine Falls in the CVNP

Historical buildings and structures have also been preserved within the boundaries of the park, such as Hale Farm & Village, remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal and working farms that represent the rural heritage of the Cuyahoga Valley. In 1999, the CVNP established “The Countryside Initiative” to rehabilitate historical farms within the park, supporting a new generation of farmers and also educating the general public on the history of the family farm.

CVNP_BWFalls_FallsMost importantly, the land, its habitats and cultural elements have been preserved and offer a unique glimpse into the origins of the Cuyahoga Valley and also the growth of our nation. From the glacier-scarred landscape before settlement, to early farming efforts of the nineteenth century, as well as the developments of our transportation infrastructure and modern day recreation facilities, the natural and cultural history of the area is protected for all to experience, explore and enjoy.

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens still stands just beyond the southern border of the park and is open to the public. The Seiberling flagship is a symbol of the past, but with a renewed present-day purpose. Set on 70 acres amidst a sea of rhododendron and flowering trees, the Manor House remains “a place with something for everyone”, just as the Seiberlings envisioned it, and maybe even more than they could have imagined.

Stan Hywet has become a center for programs emphasizing nature and the virtues of outdoor activities, with a variety of exhibits that highlight the historical, cultural and horticultural aspects of the early 20th century. However, it is more than just a museum. Couples come to the estate to exchange wedding vows in the Dell, or the English garden or on the West Terrace & Overlook. Shakespeare is still performed on the grounds in an outdoor theater near the Lagoon. Children play on the Great Lawn and search for hidden treasure in a game called “geocaching”, using GPS technology and portable hand held devices. Teachers bring students to the estate to learn about a variety of subjects, including science, local history, literature and more. Each season, visitors come from near and far to experience the legacy that the Seiberlings left behind.

The Legacy Lives On

Western Vista Overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley

Western Vista Overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley

As I stood at the front entryway on a recent visit to Stan Hywet Hall, I glanced up at the visionary statement etched into the family crest nearly a century ago. “Non Nobis Solum” (Not for Us Alone). I stepped across the threshold and my gaze was immediately drawn past the finery of the Great Hall and through the open rear door to the vista of the Cuyahoga Valley. I was reminded that, in word and deed, the ideals that inspired one family to make a difference, are as relevant today as they were then. Their passion for nature has truly been a gift bequeathed to us all.

Elizabeth


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My Take on the Flipped Classroom

There’s a grassroots movement trending in communities across the country. It started with a handful of tech-savvy pioneers and a few innovative educators. Slowly, it moved in to the mainstream, catching the attention of parents and kids searching for a better way. Forward-thinking businesses and avant-garde entrepreneurs saw the immense, untapped potential and jumped on board. Now, it’s cropping up everywhere.

No, people aren’t protesting on the city green or picketing the statehouse. But don’t be fooled, these demonstrations are no less transformative than the acts of dissent that you read about in the headlines today. Don’t worry … the demonstrations that I am referring to are peaceful (far more effective) and available online for participating students. Watch and learn. Once this movement goes viral, it just may change the world.

So what’s going on?

An increasing number of educators are experimenting with an innovative learning model using technology to streamline the delivery of subject matter, increasing access to quality curricula and also freeing up valuable classroom time for creativity, experimentation, collaboration, remedial work and further exploration of topics that can help students better understand the world around them and their place within it.

A caveat before I continue … It’s not my intention to be overly critical of our current education system. I was raised in a family of educators and know first-hand the positive influence that they have had on their students. But I truly believe this is a topic worth exploring. Here’s why …

The world is changing faster than we can understand it. To make matters worse, too many of our children are not receiving the education they need to be personally successful, let alone the information they will need to make a positive contribution to complicated issues of global significance. Salman Kahn, a former hedge fund analyst turned online educator, states in his book, The One World School House: Education Reimagined,

“To be successful in a competitive and interconnected world, we need every mind we have; to solve our common problems regarding relations among peoples and the health of our planet, we need all the talent and imagination we can find. What sense does it make to filter out a percentage of kids so early in the game, to send a message that they have nothing to contribute? What about the late bloomers? What about the possible geniuses who happen to look at the world differently from most of us and may not test well at an early age?”

It is important to realize that the traditional American education system was modeled after the Prussian philosophy of the early 19th century. Among the first countries in the world to introduce tax-funded and mandatory primary education, the Prussians did not create their education system to produce independent and innovative thinkers…quite the opposite. They wanted a uniform population of capable workers prepared to fill the jobs of the early industrial age and to produce loyal and law-abiding citizens with strict instruction in duty, discipline and obedience.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all important qualities that should be instilled in our children as part of their education. In truth, the current education model served our nation remarkably well up to this point in time. American democracy has been one of the greatest experiments in human governance that the world has ever seen. I believe our education system played a vital role in unifying our nation of immigrants, while preserving the rich diversity of our individual cultural heritages. It has encouraged us to live peacefully under one system of government through many challenges that could have just as easily divided us. However, as Thomas Jefferson once said:

“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions … But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their …ancestors.” – Jefferson to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval), July 12, 1816

So, here we are in the 21st century. Human minds have certainly progressed since the time of Thomas Jefferson. Our nation has matured and become more enlightened. Many new discoveries have been made. In fact, Jefferson never could have imagined the transformative power of the Internet, but he certainly left provisions for change when the need arose.  Well, it is no longer a question of when? That time is now. The U.S. education system has already been slipping internationally over the past three decades, according to the Council for Foreign Relations’ Renewing America Initiative. The more relevant question is, how?

Today, the stage has been set for digital learning. The Internet pervades our society. Social media has been dubbed “the single most disruptive innovation in the history of industrialized civilization”. It has changed the way we interact with each other, how we access information and get our daily news, the tools we use to conduct business and shop for consumer goods … even how we express our approval or dissatisfaction with everything from people and popular trends to government policies. However, when it comes to how we educate our children, we are still surprisingly behind the curve.

Fortunately, more and more educators are using technology in their classrooms, but challenges still remain. How do they successfully cover all of the requirements of the Common Core State Standards in the time they have allotted for each subject, and still adequately address students with different abilities and learning styles? Some have suggested extending the school day, or even the school year. However, many legal and logistical obstacles stand in the way of these changes, which may take years to implement. Meanwhile, kids are falling through the cracks year after year. Why not rethink the way we engage students within the existing system to ensure that they assimilate the information more efficiently?

The flipped (or blended learning) classroom is one such alternative where students first study the topic by themselves, typically using video lessons prepared by the teacher or third parties like the Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website created in 2006. In the classroom, students apply the knowledge they learn at home by solving problems, participating in discussions and doing practical work. The teacher has an increased amount of class time to tutor students when they become stuck, rather than lecturing the entire class period.

Complementary techniques used in a blended learning environment include differentiated instruction, providing students with different ways to acquire and make sense of ideas. Teachers develop lesson plans and assessment measures so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively regardless of differences in ability. Online resources allow teachers to tailor instruction to student’s individual needs, providing real-time measurements of achievement and concept-level proficiency. The flipped classroom structure also allows time for project-based instruction where students first learn the core curriculum, but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce real results.

Both of these methods incorporate digital tools to produce high quality, collaborative instruction; refocusing the motivation to learn on the student, promoting a greater depth of understanding of concepts, a broader knowledge base, enhanced communication and leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing proficiency.

For most of the students who now populate our schools, the Internet has always been a part of their lives and social media is their preferred method of communication. So it makes sense to reach (and teach) them where they live. Refitting the classroom with innovative technologies is a powerful way to customize the learning experience and promote increased engagement with subject matter, to ensure that all students are prepared to meet the rigorous demands of an ever-changing world.

Elizabeth

“Education is a powerful instrument of change. Let it be the first tool that we reach for in our arsenal of solutions, when facing life’s many challenges.”

Up Next:
Environmental Education in the Flipped Classroom, and
Making a Teach Green Nature Journal