Seeds of Change: The Natural Classroom

Many of us have heard the metaphor, ‘our education is planting the seeds for the future,’ or something similar or maybe not! Regardless, I believe this needs to be taken more literally. The metaphorical seeds should include literal seeds. Humans and our environment are partners in a mutually eternal relationship; however, the harmony has been disrupted because of industrial neglect amongst other causes. We must teach the balance and sustainable treatment of the planet and mustn’t forget that environmental education is also under the umbrella of peace education. If teachers can keep this in mind, student’s learning will breach the walls of the confining classroom. The world will become their natural classroom, always available for exploration and discovery.

This focus on the natural world was also a critical philosophy of Maria Montessori.

“It is also necessary for his physical development to place the soul of the child in contact with creation, in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the directly education forces of living nature.”

– Maria Montessori

We should teach to this kind of connection. Outdoor education is often survival or work based, a get your hands dirty kind of approach. The time spent doing these activities outdoors will help rebuild this relationship.

Outdoor education requires children to use all 5 senses and think about the world around them. They will learn to explore, discover, and reflect. Unstructured outdoor education will allow for the student to become independent. Outdoor education gets students physically active and our shown to be more nutrition savvy. Recess is a perfect example and oftentimes very profound interpersonal lessons are taught on the playground, however recess is often taken away earlier on in a child’s education. For the sake of environmental education, the playground should remain natural as opposed to manufactured products.

After a bought of outdoor kinetics, a teacher can switch into classroom mode again without going back into the classroom! Math and English, two subjects that we might think are impossible to be taught outside can be taught outdoors as well. Math can be taught be adding and subtracting pine-cones and sticks and drawing out the equations with chalk for example. English can be taught by prompting students to reflect on their outdoor experience. Also, reading outside and holding lessons outdoors as much as possible is an great way to reap the benefits of the natural world – this was always a exciting option for me as a young learner.

What if it’s raining? In that case the inside of the classroom should have a similar feel.

More plants! Raymond De Young, an environmental psychologist at the University of Michigan, believes in the power of plants to bring peace. “I have one colleague who, whenever she’s going into a very important meeting, places a small potted plant on the center of the table. She says it has a really calming effect on everyone around.” Plants also help with preventing illness. Teachers have the option to incorporate live fauna in the classroom. Maybe have the students water the plants? Start a garden? The symbolism behind the growth of a plant can be related to the growth and progress of the child. It’s no different then having a pet in the classroom.

Open the windows! Let it shine. Not only is sunlight in the classroom healthy but research has shown that those who sit next to windows are happier, more enthusiastic, more calm, and more productive. Those plants you brought in are going to need some UV rays!

Don’t stop there! We love to fill our lives with images of the natural world, from cave paintings, to our computer desktop, to our fairy tales and folk stories. Placing more images of the planets natural wonders inside the classroom will keep students curious and connected with the diversity of the outside world they are in a serious relationship with.

Get moving! Make movement and music a priority within the classroom as well. Music can be easily incorporated into learning and research proves music’s contribution to positive child development. This helps students express themselves emotionally and stimulates creativity and imagination. Music can be included to enhance other subject areas as well. Choreograph a dance? Bring in natural instruments? “This land is your land” is a song with a lot of history and a very peaceful message. These sorts of things you never forget, as a student and a teacher.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr5fkRmP_Q0

Here are some other ways to breach the walls of the classroom and pedagogically implement natural elements.

http://www.whitehutchinson.com/news/learnenews/2003_05/article101.shtml

http://education.audubon.org/tips-bringing-nature-classroom

What can teachers do today?

Pick some of the previous suggestions and take action! Teachers have control over the structure of their classroom and what is included. Students depend on the teacher to create for them a rich and diverse learning environment. Music, movement, and nature cannot be overlooked. This is proving to be dangerous and unproductive. I remember an exercise from the ‘Peace Education Exploratorium’ I attended a couple weeks back where the instructor pushed us outside into a cold field and had us walk around thinking about the environment. She was simultaneously playing relaxing music and I can honestly say a connection was established, if only for a brief moment. The naturalist inside of me was satisfied.

What an educator can do for tomorrow?

Environmental Psychology is an emerging field, which seeks to study built and natural environments and how they influence human behavior, and is great for the creative educator’s inquiring mind. We need to design future schools and classrooms in a way that embraces the exuberance and freedom of being a child, while rebuilding the bridge between the environment and us. The classrooms of the future allow for the extension of learning outside the walls of the classroom and for the inclusion of the outside world within the classroom.

Who will benefit?

Children and teachers will benefit from embracing a more natural learning environment. Children learn more from the actions of adults rather than their words. A teacher cannot effectively incorporate any of the previous recommendations without fully believing in and understanding music and movement as healthy expressions of emotions and the outdoors as an infinite classroom. A teacher must be an authentic role model and teachers will conversely share in the learning if they are willing. But, our home, our planet, the extension of our bodies, and the canvas for our lives, will appreciate it the most.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”

– Mahatma Ghandi

They are one in the same.

Roots Of Empathy – The Education of the Heart

Ken Robinson in a very charismatic talk at the Dalai Lama center for Peace+Education in 2011 claims education should be not just the education of the mind, but the education of the heart and I wholeheartedly agree. Particularly in relation to Peace Education and nurturing a civil society of responsible and caring citizens, the education of the heart and how to “feel” is just as important. We focus a lot of our educational energy on lecturing on the outside world and I believe Peace Education is the necessary inverse – it invites students to turn their gaze and perspective inward. They key to this inverse is the connection between humans and the power of empathy. In conflict we shut empathy off but empathy holds the power to solve conflict! There are numerous scientific studies that show the student’s early environment plays a large role in who they become as they grow, so this has become common knowledge. Empathy and nurturing emotional intelligence is one of the seven pillars of Peace Education and can be cultivated and groomed at different levels in the classroom. This was absent and not seen as important in my early childhood education, but it was in the household and this can vary from student to student. It is the role and duty of Peace Educators to foster a sense of empathy or increased emotional intelligence in our students and be part of the solution.

Sir Ken Robinson – Educating the Heart and Mind

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1A4OGiVK30 (more specifically the last 10 mintues or so)

“Roots of Empathy” is a unique and award winning yearlong charitable program that is actively part of the solution in a desensitized and emotionally out of touch society. It takes place in a Elementary through Middle schools and has programs available globally. It has been researched and has been proven to create significant change in participating schools. The program pillars are specific and include Emotional Literacy, Neuroscience, Temperament, Male Nurturance, Inclusion, Infant Safety, Perspective Taking, Prevention of Teen Pregnancy, Attachment/Attunement, Participatory Democracy, Infant Development, and Violence Prevention. Instead of targeting violence, bullying, and aggressive behavior directly the program takes a holistic approach and engages all the students in the classroom.“Roots of Empathy” focuses on the relationship between parent and child and gives students the opportunity to observe an infant and its development. This program is at its core a reflective practice, because the students are actively identifying problems with their child and solving them, which effects the way they solve their own problems and manage their own relationships. The program is very personal and children very quickly learn through this program their own temperament traits and the situations that may spike or increase the chances for conflict.

Roots Of Empathy

– A more in depth video

There is a healthy amount of useful information and great resources on the site as well as contact information if you or a school around you is interested in running the program. Many of the activities like asking the students to depict creatively episodes when they felt afraid or helpless and using the community to help create an atmosphere of social responsibility are activities that can be incorporated in any classroom at any level.

http://www.rootsofempathy.org/

Humans uniquely possess the ability to empathize with others, including non-humans. We must embrace this distinct trait and connect students with themselves and their feelings, so they can go on and empathize with friends, family, and people on the opposite side of the globe. If we are to create a future culture of peace, we must start with the future, the children and the power of empathy can go a long way.

Moose, Elephant, Walrus

POSTED ON BEHALF OF ANNSLEIGH CARTER

This week, I tried to look at games and activities that could be done with elementary school children. I work at an elementary school and sometimes work with children in the extended day program. I (and probably the children) get bored with playing Tag and Sharks and Minnows over and over again, so I wanted to try to find some fun activities that also promote peace and collaboration. I found a website called peacefirst.org, which has a “Digital Activity Center.” Here is the link: http://www.peacefirst.org/digitalactivitycenter/resources/search. I have already passed this along to my school to use, and I will be sharing a few of the activities at our next staff meeting.

I like this resource because you can narrow down your search by selecting your age group, type of activity, skills you want to promote, and then a theme. The themes and skills are all aligned with those that we have been studying in the class. I think this is a really great, well-varied database, but I was instantly drawn to a game with a fun-sounding name: Moose Elephant Walrus. (http://www.peacefirst.org/digitalactivitycenter/node/295).

This game is geared towards elementary students, and falls under the themes of “Friendship, Inclusion/Exclusion.” To start, you have the kids make a circle. You demonstrate for them how to make a moose, an elephant, and a walrus with three people. Here is how the site tells you to make the animals using only three people:

Moose: The person in the middle places the thumbs of their open hands to their temple, creating moose antlers.  However, moose have extremely large antlers, so the people on either side hold up their hands (with fingers spread out) adjacent to the middle antlers.

Elephant: The person in the middle sticks one arm straight out in front of them to create the trunk.  The people on either side use both of their arms to create the elephant’s ears.

Walrus: The person in the middle tucks their fists up under their neck, letting their elbows jut out to form tusks and their fingers point down to form whiskers. The people on either side lean in then clap their hands to the outside, creating flippers.

So, one person stands in the middle, spins around and then stops and points to someone in the circle. The pointer yells out one of these animals and counts to three. The person pointed to and the people on either side of that person must make that animal within three seconds. If one of the three fails to make the animal in three seconds, he/she becomes the pointer. That way, the circle is moving, the children have to work with different people, and they all get to be silly.

The lesson plan provides the following debriefing questions: “What happened during the game? What did we find out about how to play the game successfully? How can we use what we learned through this experience in situations outside of the game?” I think these are really good questions, but I might add a few to unpack them further, such as “What did it feel like to be the person who got picked? What did it feel like to be the person who had to go in the middle? Was this game fun, and if so or if not, why? Do you feel like you got to know the people in your class better from this game?”

It would not be hard to find activities on this site that promote all 7 pillars of peace, but I think “Moose Elephant Walrus” promotes Community Building and Nurturing Emotional Intelligence. It promotes community building because the goal of this game is to work together. It forces children to work with whoever is next to them (hopefully different people throughout the game), which creates opportunities to get to know different people in a fun way. This game fits the Nurturing Emotional Intelligence pillar because it focuses on ideas of friendship and inclusion. It demonstrates how it feels good to be included when you’re not the one who’s “out,” as well as the anxiety you might feel when you are “out.” There is also sort of a yogic element to this game because kids get to stand up and use their bodies.

I think that if you wanted to do this same type of activity for high school aged kids who would be turned off by the cuteness of this particular game, the equivalent might be the game Sarah Jackson introduced to our class in which students have to group themselves together in the number that the teacher calls out. These games share ideas of community building and emotional intelligence, but are geared towards different age groups.

Let’s Hold Hands: A Lesson in Peace for Young Learners

POSTED ON BEHALF OF LEAH THOMPSON

I’m excited to share an activity I have facilitated to young learners in North Carolina, Egypt, and Bolivia.   The Let’s Hold Hands project was created by illustrator and author Susan L. Roth.  Roth co-authored Listen to the Wind, the children’s version of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea.  This picture book uses minimal text to tell the story of a community working to build a new school, and is best known for its unique illustrations.  Roth uses bits of scraps, fabric, pieces of paper, and other materials to create textural collages for the book’s illustrations.  See example below:

Stemming from the book’s illustrations, the Let’s Hold Hands project was created.  The purpose of this project is for students from around the world to create self-portrait dolls to serve as “ambassadors of friendship.”  As part of the activity, students are instructed to use creative materials (yarn, traditional fabrics, recycled paper, etc) to create a paper doll that represents who they are.   The dolls are meant to be connected and displayed holding hands with other dolls.  When I facilitated this activity in an international setting, I took with me dolls created by American students to be connected with the dolls made by students in Egypt and Bolivia.

Here are examples of dolls created by my students in Bolivia:

Dolls created by my students in Egypt:

Susan Roth’s website features a page for the Let’s Hold Hands project: http://susanlroth.com/letsholdhands/index.htm

The website provides specific instructions for how to make the dolls, including a list of materials and a printable pattern.  There is also a link for students and teachers to submit their dolls to be exhibited on the website.

I think this activity is most appropriate for young learners, though I have done this activity with students ranging from kindergarten to high school.  Creating the dolls and using recycled materials as part of the learning experience is a lot of fun.  Students use fabrics native to their region, and dress them in traditional attire specific to their country.  A main objective of this activity is to develop a conversation around what it means to hold hands with people from around the world.  Students begin to consider how their doll will be connected, hand-to-hand  with another doll, sometimes from another part of the state, country, or world.  What does holding hands symbolize? What does it mean that all the dolls do not look the same?  What does it mean to be a part of the global community?  As always, the discussion can be tailored to be appropriate for the age level of the participants.  This activity works best when classrooms around the world can connect to share dolls across boarders.  I think of this activity as something akin to a modern day version of pen pals.

This activity best supports the two pillars of Community building and Engaging Multiple Intelligences.   I recognize it as community building because it allows students to find similarities and unite with others, while still celebrating their individual differences.  Students are encouraged to consider what makes them unique and special, and how despite any differences, they are capable of connecting with others.  The activity also utilizes the Multiple Intelligences, encouraging students to be creative and artistic, and developing interpersonal skills.  By using recycled materials, students have the opportunity to be “nature smart” and use resources from the natural environment to create their self-portrait doll.

On her website, Susan L. Roth says “these hand-made collages will be symbols for the good will of today’s children as they work towards being tomorrow’s peaceful, accepting, respectful, adult friends.
 Put out your hand to find a new friend. Hold hands across the street, across the city, state or country. Hold hands across the ocean.”

UNOY Peacebuilders

As a Global Affairs major, I was really interested in finding a blog topic that had a global approach and perspective to peace education. Through searching on the web, I found this amazing organization called UNOY (The United Network of Young Peacebuilders). UNOY (prounounced  ‘you know why’) is a global network of young people and youth organisations committed to establishing peaceful societies.  They have been around since 1989 and are based in the Netherlands. they consist of 49 member organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

UNOY’s mission is ” to link up young people’s initiatives for peace in a global network of young peacebuilders, to help empower their capacities and to help increase the effectiveness of their actions” They achieve this goal by implementing a wide range of activities in each of their main areas: advocacy and campaigning, capacity building and gender. UNOY believes that young people are an essential part of peacebuilding because:

  • Young people are more open to change
  • Young people are future-oriented
  • Young people are idealistic and innovative
  • Young people are courageous
  • Young people are knowledgeable about their peers’ realities (http://www.unoy.org/unoy/who-we-are/our-vision/)

Some projects that UNOY has implemented in 2012 include, the Educating for Peace seminar that brings together members from all over the world, the Peace of Mind educational program for students, and training courses on peace building. Members even traveled to Colombia, Argentina, and Nepal where they were able to teach workshops on issues such as human rights, democracy and gender to youth there!

This organization caters to a wide range of peace educators and students alike. UNOY has created excellent resources that can be incorporated into a classroom or community setting for youth. The beauty of UNOY is that the wide array of projects it creates can be applied in a global AND local context. Most importantly, UNOY gives  young people the opportunity to get involved!!! I would especially recommend checking out their volunteer programs if you’re interested in working on an international level 😉 Through its broad scope of activities and projects, UNOY teaches youth the necessary skills and tools needed to become peacemakers in their own communities.

A clip describing one of UNOY’s projects in collaboration with other international youth organizations:

Resources:

UNOY home page http://www.unoy.org/unoy/

 

 

Is Spiderman The Key to Educational Success?

http://www.comicstriparchive.com/category/spider-man

Some of you may be surprised to find out that the answer is partially YES! In recent years, reports have been made claiming that adults exiting school and entering the work force are not meeting the demands of their employers. Employers are complaining that young workers do not have the writing capabilities and the critical thinking and analysis capabilities that are crucial to be successful in the world today. Our economy is extremely vulnerable and employers need workers who are able to adapt to constant fluctuations and still turn some type of profit. Why are people leaving school today and not being able to fill the needs of their employers? What must our educators do in order to change this trend of students leaving school who are ill equipped to be successful in today’s economy? Well, its simple…put the fun back into learning!

The International Reading Association (IRA) has proposed an alternative form of writing other than the standard book reports that all grade school students are required to write at some point. The IRA suggests teachers to have students to create their own comic strips for books instead of writing a standard book report. Asking students to create their own story line for a comic strip regarding the books they read for school will enhance their critical thinking and analysis skills far more than a book report could. Through creating their own comic strips, students will be forced to access the creative thinking parts of their mind in order to symbolically depict the characters in a way that is congruent with their portrayal in the original text.

The education system that is used in the United States and majority of the world today has been the same for centuries now; a very structured student-teacher classroom where the teacher relays information to their students that the students need to report back to the teachers verbatim in order to achieve “success.” In his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, Ken Robinson refers to this as the banking method of education. However, this removes any opportunity for students to develop critical thinking and analysis tools from a young age. As you grow older, these tools are harder to develop. In order to start promoting this type of creative thinking that is necessary at an early age, we must start using alternative ways of learning.

This type of “alternative book report” can be a key alternative form of learning in the coming years. It could be used successfully at any grade school level; first grade all the way through twelfth grade. The amazing thing about asking students to write a comic strip instead of a book report is that the teacher is still providing students with a structured assignment. The comic strip would have to depict the major scenes of the novel and the assignment would still have a due date such as any other traditional school assignment. The difference is you are providing the students with creative ownership over the final outcome. How they choose to depict each of the major scenes is entirely up to them. Thinking of interesting and innovative ways to portray the characters will force them to think in ways they never have thus sparking their critical thinking and analysis tools. Also, providing student with this type of alternative assignment can allow them to be excited about their work again. I know that I am more likely to put effort into an assignment that I feel passionate about and that I feel I have ownership over. This type of assignment provides exactly that for our students. Why shouldn’t we provide them with an opportunity to have fun with their homework?

How about a day for peace?

Actor turned filmmaker Jeremy Gilley founded Peace One Day after realizing that there was no starting point for peace, no day of global unity, no day for intercultural cooperation, and no day for when humanity came together. Gilley felt that if we united as one then that might be the key to humanity’s survival. He started his advocacy for his Peace Day by writing letters to every state leader, their ambassadors, Nobel peace laureates, NGOs, faith based organizations, and other various organizations. Then in 1999 his dream of Peace One Day came true. In 1999 all the member states of the United Nations adopted the 21st of September as Peace Day. This day is recognized as an annual global ceasefire and non-violence day.

Jeremy Gilley’s Peace One Day is recognized every year, but unfortunately the day hasn’t gotten the full attention it deserves. Gilley was to make a statement with Kofi Annan on September 11, 2001 to advocate for his event, but because of the attack on the World Trade Center the statement never happened. However, the events on September 11, 2001 made Gilley work even harder. He was even more empowered and inspired to move forward with Peace One Day. This led to Gilley, along with actor Jude Law, to start work for peace in Afghanistan. Because of the pair advocating for Peace Day the Taliban sent him letter and said they would observe the day, and not engage in violence. The Taliban doing this led to 1.6 million people vaccinated for polio and violence on that day was down by 70%.

Due to this success Gilley has initiated a new plan for 2012, a Global Truce Day. This day will show younger generations that we can make a stop to violence with small acts of non-violence in our everyday lives. Gilley wants to utilize all kinds of resources from dance to social media and globally network with government, intergovernmental, and education leaders.

Gilley’s idea of utilizing education into his plan for 2012’s Global Truce Day helped persuade me to write this blog post about his event. Gilley wants to get young people to be the driving force to inspire individual action, so he has complied an educational resource for teachers to implement non-violence and other peace concepts into the classroom.

I can see this educational resource implemented in almost every formal grade level classroom. The students would need a little background on what conflict is, so because of this, starting at the fourth or fifth grade level would probably be best. However, this could fluctuate determined on how the students are influenced by conflict in their everyday lives. By implementing these resources in a classroom setting these children can practice non-violence in their schools, and also bring what they learn outside of the school setting and teach others.

Ways to use this resource:
Gilley includes many different types of lessons in his educational resource. This comprehensive resource includes 21 one-hour lesson plans for exploring issues of peace, nonviolence, and the protection of the environment, with extended projects for Peace Day on September 21st. I think this resource would be best integrated by first starting with showing Gilley’s documentary for one day of class, doing the lesson that corresponds to that, then moving on to the individual lessons maybe once a month until the actual Peace Day on the 21st. The students could help plan how they want their school to recognize and celebrate the event. In addition to using Gilley’s lesson plans I think it would be important for each teacher to incorporate their own discussion in their classrooms on non-violence, and other peace education areas. This would help each individual classroom relate to what types of conflict are going on in their societies.

The goal of each lesson, whether it be with Gilley’s lesson plans or the teacher’s, would be to spread knowledge about ways to bring about peace in small ways. These can be from their knowledge on non-violence to their knowledge of eco-resolution. Each lesson will more than likely encourage a student to go out and spread what they learned to another, and therefore spread the movement of peace.

“We should oppose violence in all situations and of course there’s no better way of bringing that about than through the power of education.”-Jeremy Gilley

Resources:
Peace One Day website: http://peaceoneday.org/
Peace One Day’s educational resources: http://peaceoneday.org/teachers/