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Monday, April 03, 2017

Are Schools Natural Learning Environments?

I've been engaging in debate about what creates good learning lately? I'm a fan of relevant learning experiences that intersect with local lands and organizations. I think that the more we can make the school environment a more natural learning environment, the better the learning will be.

For example, rather than exclusively teaching science with the use of kits, I think we should intersect that learning with the natural lands, gardens, and environmental/science organizations in our midst. I believe this makes the learning more natural and relevant while also giving students a learning palette they can continue to access with their families, as they play, create, and explore, and in their later life as interns, employees, and potentially for career paths.

I want our learning/teaching environments to be as natural, playful, and inviting as possible. For example, yesterday as I interacted with numerous exhibits at the Boston Children's Museum, I was witness to the playful potential learning holds when the environment invites natural learning.

So how can we make our learning environments conducive to playful, natural learning--what might we do? I have a number of ideas I'd like to implement in the coming years.
  • Create interactive nature paths through our wonderful border forest and wetlands. We tried this before, but we did not give the effort the time or dedication it needed for success.
  • Intersect our science units with the schools' composting and gardening efforts.
  • Intersect our teaching and learning with local environmental and science organizations.
  • Replace desks with rolling tables that can be easily moved and used for individual learning, teamwork, and project/problem based learning.
  • Limit the number of traditional tests and build in more holistic assessments instead. 
  • Create a math-friendly playground where students have the chance to interact with math-friendly playground signage and equipment on a regular basis.
  • Instead of spending lots of money on cabinets, instead use the money to install playful, science exploration exhibits, the kind of interactive exhibits you see at local hands-on science discovery museums.
  • Use the new idea I read about for substitute teachers and hire experts in the field of science, music, and art to come in with special programming when a teacher is absent. Imagine that an origami artist teaches a day of origami when a teacher is ill rather than a substitute coming in to replicate a teacher's plans.
  • Look at staffing and scheduling in an effort to create a more dynamic teaching/learning day for all. 
I will be thinking about ways to develop a more natural, playful, creative and fun learning day for my students as I move forward. Yesterday's visit to the museum further inspired this quest for me.