Science teachers have never had it easy in the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Century – teach about the real world, which mainly exists outside the classroom BUT DO IT WITH A TEXTBOOK AND SOME STUFF YOUR BROUGHT INTO THE CLASSROOM. It is amazing that the subject which most lends itself to being outside was ever brought in although I am sure it had something to do with educational change.
Over the years I have been fortunate to teach near a beach (less than 1 K meters), near a chaparral/mountain area (on school grounds), with a pond, with an outdoor garden including a compost pile and worms and have a mini-zoo experience in a large classroom. Finding these jobs was difficult as taking children off campus and having them adequately supervised is a challenge; creating a garden takes time and energy; other teachers are scared/threatened by doing something so drastically different (what, the text-book stays in the room??) and so many other dilemmas. What I found though was these jobs were awesome – my students often did as much physical activity in science (walking, running, skipping, hiking, carrying, schlepping….)as in physical education and they did not complain about it.
I glommed on to Sara Stein The Evolution Book, used Peace Corps experiences and harnessed many parents to make these outings normal, routine and incredibly valuable. Many students did not know it could be ‘that quiet’ in a park (NYC Central Park) until they were taught how to calm down, find their pulse and relax.
All the while I kind of wondered about the problem of students not seeing enough nature but it was not until Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods that it dawned on me the world was really different and not my imagination as a crazy science teacher with issues about being inside. Not only was it poor education practice to not have students interact with the real world, it seemed to me there was a true disconnect about using ones senses. I did not have data other than some test scores which only demonstrate the standards yet there was this underlying feeling that if children were not active outside, not only was education effected, ones state of mind and state of physical health would be also troubled. It just seemed logical if you never knew what the smell of a fresh orange was or how magical a full moon on the desert floor could be, you would not know what you were missing and could not crave it.
Apparently I was right and the insight was not far off from reality. The greatest advantage to the research above is that not only can it help effect change in child health, it can improve science education. I would like to think it is never too late to make this planet one worth living on.