Saturday, September 15, 2012

Natural Curiosity - Environmental Inquiry: A Pedagogical Framework
Natural Curiosity Manual
As ecologist and scholar David Orr emphasizes, our ability to restore planet Earth rests primarily on the decisions we make about education. The kind of education which has given us the "skills, aptitudes, and attitudes necessary to industrialize the earth" is no longer practical given the vulnerable state of our natural world. Resource depletion, loss of species, and climate change threaten the sustainability of the planet. Orr suggests that we need a fundamental shift in the way we think and behave, a shift made possible by a fundamentally different approach to teaching and learning: Education that nurtures children's innate curiosity about the natural world, that fosters their understanding of the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things, and instils in them an abiding sense of care and responsibility for the well-being of their communities and planet Earth. 

The combination of evidence-based theory and practice is intended to bring clarity to main questions that teachers have such as:

  • What does this kind of education look like?
  • How do we even begin Environmental Inquiry in our classrooms?
  • What kinds of skills and practices are necessary for a shift like this to occur?
  • How do we authentically nurture children's sense of wonder such that they develop a deep and lasting appreciation for nature?
  • How do we empower children with the confidence to contribute to their own learning, rather than accept the status quo, environmental or otherwise?
  • How do we translate the Ministry's policy framework, Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow(2009) into practice?

These questions are fundamental to our role as teachers. They prompt us to re-examine our practice - to rethink what we do and why we do it. They invite us to imagine, for a moment, teaching and learning that looks like this:

Imagine children who continually question why things look and function the way that they do. Where their natural sense of wonder is at the centre of their learning and informs the direction it will take. Where children's formative conceptions are welcomed as opportunities for idea improvement. Where knowledge is dynamic, collectively constructed, and informed by many sources instead of ensconced in a single textbook, adult or classroom. Where information is investigated, analyzed, and negotiated between students. Where children are invested in the learning process because they have been given a key role in directing how and what they will learn. Where children learn from each other. Where the teacher learns from the children. This is Inquiry-based Learning.

Now, envision that kind of learning as a seamless, cohesive whole, where children's questions cross disciplinary boundaries. Where children draw upon Language, the Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies to both improve and represent their understanding of different aspects of the environment. This is Integrated Learning.

Next, picture children playing, building, researching, and designing experiments that test their current understandings. Imagine them venturing outside their classrooms to learn about nature in nature, gaining a full sensory experience of their natural surroundings, making close observations, and recording and reflecting on their findings. This is Experiential Learning.

Finally, imagine children who have developed a caring relationship with the natural world, who have been given the time and opportunity to experience it in meaningful ways. Imagine children who have a growing commitment to protect water, air, plants, and wildlife because they understand that these occupy an important place within the ecosystem. Imagine students who, through the Inquiry process, gain the confidence and sense of empowerment to effect change that will benefit both their communities and the environment. This isStewardship.

Inquiry-based LearningIntegrated LearningExperiential Learning, andStewardship: Taken together, this four-branch approach to teaching is called Environmental Inquiry.

Environmental Inquiry: A Pedagogical Framework
Branch I: Inquiry-based Learning
Branch II: Experiential Learning
Branch III: Integrated Learning
Branch IV: Stewardship


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