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.

Grades of Green

POSTED ON BEHALF OF SARAH JACKSON

http://www.gradesofgreen.org/initiatives

I found Grades of Green in a Google search for how to incorporate recycling into the classroom. I did this search after one of our class modules that challenged me to consider my impact on the earth, and choose one feasible strategy for mitigating that impact. Recycling in the classroom seems a clear place to start, and thus – this resource was discovered.

This resource is designed for use in a traditional classroom, however, the ideas, initiatives and resources can easily be adapted to fit any type of organization or business. The goal of the website is to propose alternative methods of communicating and educating – those that do not use so many of our planet’s finite resources. For example, one idea they posit is to post chalkboards throughout the building to present ephemeral messages, rather than using paper (ie: bulletin boards) to do this, which ultimately creates a lot of waste as the messages change each month. While this idea is geared toward a school, it clearly can be used for any type of business or organization.

At my school, I would use this resource primarily to model for my students (and colleagues!) how to be good stewards of our earth. I would start small – focusing only on what I personally can control: a recycling bin next to the trash can, creating small chalkboards to use instead of poster paper, taking charge of a display case to communicate ways to be environmentally conscientious, and conserving the use of electricity in my classroom. I believe that these types of actions would foster conversations with my students about why I’m making these choices, which would then lead to a greater awareness amongst my students and colleagues. The attitude I would most hope to develop in those around me in the school (including myself) is that of gratitude and care. I take for granted all that I have that directly impacts the environment. I want to appreciate what I use and consider how I use it. I hope that by making these small but determined changes I would create pause in the young people whom I have been tasked to influence.

Implementing this resource supports the pillars of community building and skill building. We all share one environment. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we are one community on earth. Becoming responsible members of that environment forces us to work together to care for it and share strategies and information of the best choices that will protect it. This illustrates the pillar of community building. Secondly, in order to accomplish change and promote awareness, the pillar of skill building is incorporated into the use of this resource. To be good stewards of the earth, we must develop an array of life-style changes and choices that promote conservation. In addition, we must have the knowledge to empower others to want to make changes in their lives as well. Innovation and practicality are both required to do this effectively, especially when it’s much more convenient to use it up and toss it out. To make better choices, we must access aspects of the skill building pillar as we reflect, analyze, innovate, and communicate.

Who Will Take the Heat?

POSTED ON BEHALF OF ANNSLEIGH CARTER

For this blog, I wanted to look for an activity that addressed some of the things we talked about during our last class about environmental education. As a class, we discussed the degree to which we should include environmental education in schools, which led to an interesting conversation about priority of values and if teaching about climate change is pushing a political agenda in the classroom. To address that concern, I found an experiential learning lesson plan from PBS about environmental political negotiation called “Who will take the heat?” Here’s the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/worldbalance/roleplay/heat.html.

This is a policy negotiation role-play activity, and the players are the US, China, environmental movement, and international business. This activity requires the reading/discussion skills of high school or college students. For the first part of the activity, students are broken into groups and given readings for one of these four roles. Students should understand that this is a role-play, not a debate, and the lesson defines negotiation as “a process in which two or more parties seek to understand one another’s interests and create options that will reduce or remove a conflict between them.” In teams, students have to figure out what is most important to their group, what they could compromise on, and propose solutions. Before the negotiation, they go over the following terms:

  • Interests: What a group wants and its reasons for wanting them.
  • Beliefs: There are two types of beliefs—values and truths. Values are the group’s belief that it has a “right” to something or a belief in the way the world “should” be. Truth is its understanding of how and why things happen and how the world “is.”
  • Identities: These are the words a group uses to name itself and encompasses its history, culture, qualities, and characteristics.
  • Emotions: This is how a group feels about something.

Then, the teams come together in order to create a solution that fits the necessities of all of the groups. As it says in this lesson plan, this part might extend over more than one class period.

After the negotiation, the class should debrief by talking about what went well and what could have been better in the negotiation, as well as a discussion of some of the major points that were brought up. There is also a closing evaluation, and the site gives a few different options for that. Personally, I would like to close this activity by having the students pick a solution that they agreed with from the negotiation and write about their role in real life would be in the commitment. This would require them to reflect on their level of engagement with climate change, and this might create a sort of negotiation with the self about what we are and are not willing to do.

I appreciate that the activity implies that something must be done to limit our harm to the environment, but it lets students come to their own decision about what must be done about it. It does not really push a political agenda, but forces students to take on a role in a real world issue. Through discussion and negotiation, students realize how environmental policy works. The negotiation skills they will learn from this activity will be useful for them as well.

I think this class fits well into our class themes of environmental sustainability and conflict resolution. It forces students to look at environmental sustainability on a global scale, then with the closing activity that I chose, makes them apply what they learned to their own lives. At the heart of the activity is peaceful negotiation and mediation of conflicting ideals. Students have to learn how to compromise to get what they want and to listen to others.

This Piece of Bread is an Ambassador from the Entire Cosmos

POSTED ON BEHALF OF KELLY RYAN

One of my go-to forms of meditation and relaxation is cooking and/or baking. I love making cookies, cupcakes, casseroles, and just about anything else that is edible. While some people might not think that chopping, scooping, or measuring are great ways to decompress, it works for me. After the module on meditation and yoga I began to think about other ways that food could be helpful in building serenity and peace. After some investigation I came across Deer Park Monastery’s mindful eating techniques. This process for eating—by yourself or with a community—is a great way to ensure that mealtimes are opportunities for meditation.

Deer Park Monastery is a sanctuary in California that brings together engaged Buddhists and lay followers to learn and grow under their teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. At Deer Park, participants and followers are not just encouraged to participate in the mediation hall or during formal sitting meditation. They encourage mediation in all activities in one’s daily life.

The eating meditation begins with serving. “Serving ourselves, we realize that many elements, such as the rain, sunshine, earth, air and love, have all come together to form this wonderful meal.” Eating is done in silence so that every individual is able to connect with the universe and reflect on their nourishment. Participants focus on several principles while practicing this mindful eating:

  • This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work.
  • May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
  • May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
  • May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.
  • We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.

The full process can be found online at: http://deerparkmonastery.org/mindfulness-practice/eating-meditation

This website is a great resource for many reasons. For personal use it provides great ways to enrich our individual meditative experiences and incorporate them into our daily routines. It provides some useful resource about the types of meditation practiced at Deer Park as well. It is also a great resource for teachers, educators, and practitioners trying to incorporate mediation into their classrooms or with their participants. Beyond the eating meditation, the website gives helpful meditation techniques for breathing, sitting, embracing anger, walking, and even hugging.

I chose to focus on eating meditation because it has a direct environmental component; it seems to bridge our meditation and environmental modules. Too often I—and I assume others—rush to eat our food so we can move on with our day. Taking time to understand how it impacts our bodies, nourishes us, and fuels us is crucial. Moreover, eating meditation allows us the time and space to reflect on what the earth has given us, what we have taken from the earth, and how we can become better stewards of the earth through our direct consumption.

This meditative practice can be used in any classroom I think. While I’m not a teacher, I remember how much my classes loved when our teachers brought food to share! A great way of practicing this meditation would be to encourage a snack day or just bring snacks to class for your students. Go through the meditation and ask your students to reflect on how the food went from the soil to their hands. Encourage them to contemplate the people needed to harvest the food, the process of cleaning/preparing the food, material used to wrap/package the food, the vehicles and fuel used to transport the food, and how the food got from the store to their hands. While every student may have different visions of the food process, of their nourishment, and of the impact food consumption has on the environment, this is a great visual and tactile way of teaching both mediation and an appreciation for the earth.

This hits on many of the pillars of peace education but I think it specifically speaks to skill building and nurturing emotional intelligences. This activity builds on meditative skills that are important to personal, academic, and professional development. It provides students with a way to practice meditation in their daily routine. Additionally, it supports emotional intelligences by promoting time and space for individual reflection on something as personal as eating and consumption.

This mediation might not be for everyone. Some people might find it hard to be silent during eating, especially if eating is a time of community building. However, it is one way of utilizing a standard routine (eating) and transforming it into a meditation practice. I encourage everyone to try the meditative eating and to build meditation around other daily activities in their lives.

All Natural Beauty Products

POSTED ON BEHALF OF BETH JIMERSON

Take a look at the alarming picture above. It points out the large number of chemicals that most of us come into contact with on a daily basis. How many chemicals do you recognize or come into contact with every day?

Not only do the chemicals found in everyday household and beauty products harm our bodies, but they also harm the environment. After being awakened to the alarming number of chemicals found in everyday products that we actually put onto our bodies on a daily basis, I decided to do some research into what exactly those harmful chemicals were, in order to avoid them. I then decided to go one step further to find natural ways to produce my own products as alternatives both to get away from the commercialism involved in beauty products and also to save some money, and the environment! Although this started out on more of a personal journey to health and well-being, I started to see the bigger picture of creating less waste and allowing fewer chemicals into our environment. The link below shows one of the websites that I found most useful and interesting, though there are many if you search around:

http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/style/50-all-natural-beauty-products-you-can-make-yourself.htm

The chart (perhaps minus the half-naked model) could be used to exemplify some of the harmful chemicals that we come in contact with on a daily basis and start dialogue about what other products might contain these chemicals (such as cleaning products?). As the beginning of a lesson, students could check out the labels of products they use daily or ones that are in their cupboards for any of the above chemicals. They will probably be surprised at the amount of chemicals they come into contact with on a daily basis! They could then look at natural alternatives and decide what natural products have which properties. For example, one of the products often found in natural beauty aid is lavender. A quick search even on Wikipedia highlights the benefits of lavender as:

believed to soothe insect bites, burns, and headaches. Bunches of lavender repel insects. In pillows, lavender seeds and flowers aid sleep and relaxation.[9] An infusion of flowerheads added to a cup of boiling water is used to sooth and relax at bedtime[citation needed]. Lavender oil (or extract of Lavender) is used to treat acne when diluted 1:10 with water, rosewater, or witch hazel; it also treats skin burns and inflammatory conditions.[citation needed] A recent clinical study investigated anxiolytic effects and influence on sleep quality. Lavender oil with a high percentage of linalool and linalyl acetate, in the form of capsules, was generally well tolerated. It showed meaningful efficacy in alleviating anxiety and related sleep disturbances.[18]Lavender can be used to treat different types of cancers, such as, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. Although it has not been completely proven that lavender is effective towards these cancers, many studies have shown that lavender has led to disease stabilization or tumor regression.[19]Lavender may be very effective with wounds; however, Lavender Honey (created from bees feeding on lavender plants), instead of lavender essential oil has the best effects of uninfected wounds. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender)

Students can explore using the recipes in the website, finding their own websites, or even experimenting with developing their own natural products through careful research on the different properties of natural products. It is important to point out that there can be negative effects of certain products as well, and allergies related to them. Even something as seemingly innocuous as lavender has shown to have the following negative effects:

Lavender oil can be a powerful allergen, and it is also recommended that it should not be ingested during pregnancy and breastfeeding.[21]

In vitro, lavender oil is cytotoxic. It increases photosensitivity as well. Lavender oil is cytotoxic to human skin cells in vitro (endothelial cells and fibroblasts) at a concentration of 0.25%. Linalool, a component of lavender oil, may be its active component.[22] Aqueous extracts reduced mitotic index, but induced chromosomal aberrations and mitotic aberrations in comparison with control, significantly. Aqueous extracts induced breaks, stickiness, pole deviations and micronuclei. These effects were related to extract concentrations.[23]

However, according to a 2005 study “although it was recently reported that lavender oil, and its major constituent linalyl acetate, are toxic to human skin cells in vitro, contact dermatitis to lavender oil appears to occur at only a very low frequency. The relevance of this in vitro toxicity to dermatological application of lavender oils remains unclear.”[24]

In terms of phototoxicity, a 2007 investigative report from European researchers stated that, “Lavender oil and sandalwood oil did not induce photohaemolysis in our test system. However, a few reports on photosensitivity reactions due to these substances have been published, e.g. one patient with persistent light reaction and a positive photo-patch test to sandalwood oil.”[25]

In 2007, a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine which indicated that studies in human cell lines indicated that both lavender oil and tea tree oil had estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities. They concluded that repeated topical exposure to lavender and tea tree oils probably caused prepubertal gynaecomastia in some boys.[26] The Aromatherapy Trade Council of the UK has issued a rebuttal, [27] and it is also disputed by the Australian Tea Tree Association, a group that promotes the interests of Australian tea tree industry.[28](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender)

Also keep in mind that more extensive research can be done on the properties of such oils.

This exercise or one similar to it touches on the pillars of exploring approaches to peace by looking at peace as an environmental standpoint, and skill building by building, practicing and adopting life skills that bring about peace through attention to our environment. As is stated in our module on peace through environmental education, many agree that “life on Earth has entered its most precarious phase in history.” Environmental education considers how to balance respect for nature and its sustained health with human needs. While we might argue that we need certain products to feel good and feel good about ourselves, there are options to do so without harming our bodies or the environment. I challenge everyone to try just one of these recipes and cut out some amount of harmful chemicals from our daily routines not just for the environment, but for ourselves!

The Farm at Walker Jones

POSTED ON BEHALF OF SARAH JACKSON

The Farm at Walker Jones was founded by my friend and former colleague, David Hilmy. David and I used to teach together at Lasalle-Backus Educational Campus in Northeast DC.  David is absolutely passionate about educating our youth through a service-learning, hands-on approach. He has his students learn about, grow, tend, harvest, and cook all their own food. He has D.C. kids eating eggplant! It’s a true breakthrough. The food they grow goes to their families and to local farmers’ markets throughout the city.

This learning resource would be great for kids of all ages – including grown ones. We all could stand to learn more about our food source and the benefits of growing and eating local food to create a sustainable existence.  It could be part of a formal curriculum or informal, depending on how thoroughly one would want to become involved with The Farm.

I would incorporate this into peace education in multiple ways. I would extrapolate curriculum that discussed how health, environment, economics, and community affect the choices we make in life and how this impacts our interactions with others. I would focus on how all of these areas of living overlap at The Farm and other places like it.

Students would build their awareness of the choices they possess in how they treat their own bodies, their environment, and others. They would journal and chart their own transformation both physically and emotionally through their experience at The Farm; perhaps even financially, depending on the involvement.

The two pillars of Peace Education supported by this resource are skill-building and engaging multiple intelligences. Through their work at The Farm at Walker Jones, students would learn how to create their own food source. This is a transformative learning experience, as it allows one to consider everything he/she does that impacts the environment and ultimately what grows in the environment. In addition, students would access a wide variety of their intelligences: interpersonal, naturalistic, kinesthetic, visual, logical/mathematical in the process of caring for the plants and bees at The Farm.

No Impact Man

POSTED ON BEHALF OF KATIE KASSOF

No Impact Man: The Documentary, a film by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, follows the experiment of author Colin Beavan and his family as they attempt to live with no environmental impact in New York City for one year.  It is a fairly well known documentary (and book) made in 2009 and is available streaming on Netflix and in the AU Library.

This film would be best suited to a high school and younger adult audience because of the open mindedness that often disappears in older age groups.  Also, since some of the themes are more mature (no, not in sexual ways…) I feel that the film might be lost on younger audiences.  Because of the way I envision using this piece, to launch into a larger project that would span 2-4 weeks, it would fit best in a more formal environment or at least an environment which offers repetitive meetings for a minimum of one month.  Because of the diverse themes the film presents, it could fit into many different subjects, but environmental science and psychology are the two that initially come to mind.

The idea for an activity around this film is pretty obvious but has many opportunities for discussion and introspection.  First the class will watch the film.  It is about 90 minutes so it may be split up over two class periods.  This will lead nicely into a discussion of the students’ impressions of Colin and his wife, as well what they thought were the most reasonable things to give up and the things they would not be willing to give up (I’m sure electricity will be top on the list of things no one would be willing to live without).  After this discussion the students will each be charged with a week-long project: choose something in their life to live without for one week straight.  Document this journey either with a written journal or video journal (depending on resources and/or student learning preference).  After their week of abstinence, the students must explore how this impacted their life, the environment and the world and present their findings in a creative class presentation.  The larger issues of personal peace and sustainability can be discussed after the students have a chance to ruminate on their experiences.

At first glance No Impact Man seems strictly like an environmental impact documentary, which does fit in with the peace concept of sustainability.  It could also qualify for a Pacifist theme.  While watching the film, though, another theme emerges: personal peace.  Sure you can take away all of the environmental positives from the film: waste less, use less energy, be less materialistic, eat locally, etc., and these are absolutely important.  But I think the more poignant take away was the improvement of the family and the personal peace they each achieved.  Better yet, this was a surprise to Colin and his wife as well.  They too went in with the environment in mind and came out with a much bigger picture experience.  Their health improved from eating locally and cutting out take away.  They state that they become better parents to their 3-year-old daughter by playing more family games and cutting out television.  They spend more time out of doors exploring the city and being social, especially when they give up electricity.  They are less invested in material possessions and more focused on the well being of their family.  Add to this the obvious environmental discoveries and you have a recipe for a great peace teaching film.

Check out the website http://www.noimpactdoc.com/index_m.php and watch the trailer .  Enjoy!