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Nature Deficit Children

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Cynthia Fong Cynthia Fong 3255 Points

Adah, I fully agree with you. In response to should teachers try to reverse the trend? Absolutely. If we don’t, then are we really providing them the rounded education they need and that we talk about? Lots of valuable learning can and is done outside and it is our duty to expose them to it, even if it means getting outside our own comfort zones. The effect that I have discovered is that I get to know the students in a different way that is really positive and hopeful for our future. As teachers, we are setting the foundation for our students future lives and no matter what we say; what we do is really the message we give them. I, being a geologist, can’t stand staying in my classroom and not getting outside. Our campus is really neat because we have a stream that runs through the campus and I decided to take advantage of it. I go outside with my students with a project they design. They have a lot of fun and learn more because they are actively engaged doing something they designed and is relevant to them. Further, the environment is different and it diffuses classroom disruptions because those students are no longer able to be the center of attention. Generally, those students quickly realize they no longer have a hold on the class and just start doing the work and learning. I started this trend by going outside in rainstorms during our weathering unit just to have my students observe what was happening in the stream and surrounding areas. It was valuable to have them record observations and discuss it right then and there. They got to practice making observations in real-time and it allowed the instruction to be relevant and interesting, which increased interest and engagement. With more in-depth questioning, they always have come up with more questions than answers, just like scientists and teachers. Two years ago, I got a grant to get a class set of GPS units and we now go outside for a full-week of data collection as part of a long-term project similar to science fair. Students can later check out the units to use on the weekends as part of the grant, which has really gotten their interest. Students design an on-campus mapping project to resolve “issues” related to being outside such as are their enough trash cans, benches, placement of a garden, planting of trees, what are the coordinates of the stream and different interesting vegetation etc. After they collect the coordinate data, they make a map and suggestions. This year, I’m opening it up to a more multi-media approach – maybe they want to put the map they generate in a video, prezi, etc. There is also a research paper component to help them glue it all together. It serves multiple purposes – using technology outside, collecting data for a purpose, analyzing it and making a map that can be used by others and practice making proposals using spatial data and information. It gets them outside, where they can practice being self-directed and collaborative learners using real-world problems that are relevant to them now. The multitude of skills they learn is incredible and the neatest part, is that they are engaged and learning a lot and the classroom dynamics change in a really positive way. That's my two cents and I look forward to reading more responses!

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Thanks, Adah, for posting this discussion thread. Next, I would like to just say "ditto" to everything Cynthia said before adding my two cents worth. I think whether or not this is an area for teacher concern depends on the perspective of the teacher. For myself, I agree 100% that this is an area we should be concerned about. But some teachers may not agree. When I taught in an urban school, we took our kids to a skill building camp (in the woods) every year. When we arrived they were scared of anything that moved. When we left, they had tears in their eyes as they begged to stay and chased anything with more than two legs (once they were even fascinated with something that had no legs and two fangs). Great discussion! Kendra

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

This hits so close to home! I have been working on an urbanization unit with my grade 11 and 12 kids, and it is amazing how little they understand about their own communities and environments, much less understanding of the world outside the neighborhood, local mall, and circle of friends. We recently watched a couple short clips about different grassroots approaches to urban policy as it affected the environment, one looking at development of a transportation system in Bogota, and the second based on the work of Wangeri Maathei in the Green Belt movement. The kids couldn't grasp how desperate both environments were, and how a small change in perspective can make a huge impact. From a suburban community, they can't comprehend a society that is not based on the automobile and instant communication. There are so many things we take for granted, and so many of our students can't comprehend how we could lose so much by not understanding our relationship to our environment.

Mrs Hawk Catherine Hawkins 2400 Points

Hi - as I read these posts I realize I am VERY lucky to live and work in a place where we are outside all the time. Even our teenagers are outside and aware of the world around them (at least the nature world). Not to say they are not plugged in all the time, but living in a place of natural and accessible outdoor activities really helps. I think a key is to start young. We offer garden classes for the youngest students and are always amazed at how they LOVE to go to garden class. The deep connections they make really help us to keep it going every year. So, I guess trying to implement something for young students helps. But, growing your own food is a totally cool way to get kids interested in gardens, outdoors and nature. Thanks for sharing and I do agree with all of you. I hope that someday all students will have great outdoor adventures that connect them to our earth and the beauties around them.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92186 Points

This is a great topic and a good discussion going on here! There was a similar thread not too long ago with the same book being brought up several times in that thread. For interested thread readers, you can find the conversation at: Life Science- Looking at How Field Investigations Fit Into Scientific Inquiry. Patty R. put together a collection of free resources from the Learning Center there that may be of interest to some of you wanting to do even more nature with your nurture. I love how changing the title of the thread slightly will produce such great new ideas for teachers looking for ways to bring their students and the great outdoors together in an intimate way. Patty M asked a great question at the end of the other thread, '. How can we expect this generation to become environmental stewards if they are never outside?'
So when Adah asks, 'Should all teachers try to reverse this trend?'
I say absolutely!
What are some ways we can promote environmental stewardship in our science classrooms and get our students communing with nature?

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25635 Points

I absolutely agree that building connections to the environment is crucial if we are to raise a generation that values and will take care of the planet. If you teach younger students try using some activities on Journey North; activities are phrenology-based. It is a fun way to start small. Looking at schoolyard projects such as those featured in the book Ten Minute Field Trips ( are another great way to immerse students in the outside world.

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

I actually have become fairly fruturated with this sort of issue in my classes. Living in Arizona, in the desert, my students really have no idea what a natural, living environment is like. I grew up in Wisconsin and we always were outside doing stuff. I took my students outside to play a game the other day and they whined the hole time becuase it was hot. We talk about succession, counting populations, biomes, and they really have no real world experience in this stuff...almost blows my mind how little they understand when they don't see it. We had a big discussion about snow and winter one was crazy.

Marianne Blemly Marianne Blemly 1100 Points

I think that this is up to the teacher, and how much it concerns them. Considering that I am interested in environmental issues, it is a problem that I would like to deal with in my classroom. I'm not sure that "reverse" is the correct answer, it seems that Americans and the rest world won't come down off of the technology wave for a while, if not ever. Maybe you could integrate social studies and science and to an activity on how kids their age played? Especially if you could discuss the hands-on ways in which scientists of the past discovered things like the planets, maybe that would spark their interest a bit more. If you are in an urban environment, maybe you could take your students on a wilderness field trip and ask them to do outdoors tasks that are hands-on and enjoyable for them. It would get them outside of the classroom and put them in an unfamiliar but fun environment for learning.

Shahinaz Nassar Shahinaz Nassar 2320 Points

I find this to be a very interesting discussion. I teach 4th grade and last year I managed to teach a unit about plant adaptation. It was very successful and that is because they planted an indigenous plant that was abundant in their backyards. They got to learn the history behind it. Furthermore, I invited the digital bus who came with their technology and equipment and students got to test their soil & water PH, temperature, and salinity and understand how these elements may effect the growth of plant. I was also able to get a grant and take them out on a field trip to visit a historical place in the community. There they got to see how different plants adapt to the environment. They also tested soil PH and temperature. I realized how much kids learned just by exposing them to the community and to guest speakers/scientists in the community. Unfortunately, this year I am not able to do that due to furloughs, lack of funds, and lack of time due to monthly testing (either State testing or Edison benchmarks).

Mrs Hawk Catherine Hawkins 2400 Points

Hi - what a great post about getting community speakers and experts in there with students. It is so true that kids get so much out of these type of activities. I think just letting them "muck around" with objects and ideas really allows for creative thinking and connections to be made. We had a root from a plant that we dug up (it was a weed) and I was fascinated about the way the kids looked at the roots, talked about the roots, drew the roots and were drawn to that station in the science center. Their conversations were incredible and when I read a book on roots later in the week - they had so much of their own knowledge that had been constructed by their "mucking around" time with the roots.

Liamarie Thomas Liamarie Thomas 2360 Points

Aloha! In response to Adah's first question, "Should all teachers try to reverse this (nature deficit children) trend? I think in our ever changing and technologically centererd world, for myself I would have a hard time doing that for several reasons. First, where we live and work is in an urban area. Not too much oppurtunity for hunting and being able to etch out a pocket for the kids to being surrounded by true nature. But, I do believe it is very imortant for students, especially those who live in urban areas to understand the role of nature and how it affects our live and most importantly, enriches our lives. There is a really neat "urban garden" near our city that is run by the University of Hawaii. There they grow almost anything that grows in Hawaii. They also offer a great program for classes to come and learn from and interact with Master Gardners. They learn how they can start a garden on the lanai of their apartment. They are also introduced to the "Herb Garden." Here they smell, touch and taste some fresh herbs and are given demonstrations on how they can easily incorporate the herbs into simple dishes, just by using herbs that are grown in small buckets. Yes I do believe students need to learn about, understand and truly experience nature and the benefits it has to offer versus computer games. But living in a changing society which has been "urbanized" I think being able to mesh the two worlds together at some point seems attainable. If you have to chance to come to Oahu, Hawaii, go to check out the Urban Garden in Pearl City. Aloha, Lia Thomas

Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

What a great discussion! I haven't read the book yet, but a friend read it and loved it. I am constantly trying to get my students outdoors on the weekends by offering hiking days, skiing days or service learning days. However, it takes so much effort to get the approval from my administration. They don't see the overall worth of exposing students to the outdoors or to promote play time outdoors. I teach at an urban charter school and am the only science teachers for grades 9-12. My question to you all is this: How do you organize these trips and actually get them approved? What phrases do I need to start using in order to be more clear about the importance of creating these exploration times outside of school? I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Kathryn

Cynthia Fong Cynthia Fong 3255 Points

Kathryn, I organize a lot of field trips. The easiest are on campus - I don't have to do the permission forms and I don't have to follow the adult:student ratios though the assistance is great. I let the administrators, security, and custodial staff know and they generally help keep an eye out for me as, it gives some of them an excuse to come out and join us - kind of a break from their routines to find out from the kids what they are doing and learning and just help out. This is the true sense of a community teaching our students. I start the school year developing a good rapport with my students and let them know I am thinking of a field trip – are they interested? I then build it up that this will be a lot of fun - but they have to follow certain guidelines or we will stay in the classroom. My expectations are high. I've had some really challenging classes outside, some with students who made me think that teaching was not the career for me...but amazingly, taking them outside, they became different creatures. The class distractors suddenly no longer have a ready audience that they finally just gave up and start participating and learning. It took them a little bit longer. My advise is as follows: 1. Pair up with a teacher who is experienced in dealing with the protocols of your school. More minds make easier work. Work with the office staff - they know the forms and most have packets put together with all the information you need, including a checklist. They are a wealth of information and can help you navigate. Plus, most really want to be helpful and part of the learning process at the school. Open the lines of communication with your administrators - keep them informed from the start. You need their support to do this and if you inquire early, it can happen. This is positive stuff they can share in their administrative meetings that make them look good which is important for you to have the needed resources. 2. Have your idea and share with your colleagues and your administrators. Find the right ones who are positive and willing to try. If you are dealing with colleagues who are stuck in a rut and negative - find others to talk to (go interdisciplinary as well). There are plenty of naysayers out there - ignore them. If the administrator is that way - work with your colleagues to develop your plan first – and provide it as a proposal. Very few will deny it if you can show the alignments to the standards, benefits, safety, expectations, discipline issues, food (cafeteria must be informed in advance - it affects them) and inclusiveness (many students can't afford a field trip - how is that going to be resolved). 3. Develop your plan - give yourself TIME. Set up a spreadsheet and calendar. If just a class – embed it; if middle school or high school, you must coordinate with other disciplines – the earlier you start, the more success you will have. I say, the first time, at least three months or more for a simple trip. You need to have information out to students and parents at least a month in advance with permission forms in at least two weeks in advance. More complicated ones, longer. One field to the local museum - it involved the entire 8th grade class - I started planning 7 months in advance - but only half could go each day. It involved a whole school effort and with all the information I had, it worked out well. There were some problems, most were trivial. I learned you also need to sit down with your chaperones and let them know exactly what to do and what to watch out for. I had a committee and it made it easier to do: we had to set up study halls, behavior and academic guidelines – students informed repeatedly that they need to qualify. Students need to “earn” the field trip based on at least behavior over a certain period, that way, they will value the trip that much more – let them know it is a privilege, not a right and things will go smoother. Have contingencies for the unexpected. Plan what to do if a student misbehaves - you need someone there who can immediately take the child back to school (if they know it can happen - nothing happens). 4. Do your own field check - go to the place, walk the area, plan it out without the responsibility of students. Museums are glad to give you free entrance. Have something that the students must fill out – this keeps their hands busy on their paperwork and not doing other things. Make a lot of observations, take a colleague with you and brainstorm or someone who has done this before. Go back multiple times until you are ready. This is time well spent that will make the experience memorable for both you and the students. DO NOT take students without visiting a place first if at all possible. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches this way. Have Fun and Best of Luck!

Mrs Hawk Catherine Hawkins 2400 Points

Hi - I am so glad to know about the UofH urban garden! Thanks for sharing that - I would like to visit it next time I am in Honolulu.

Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

Hi Cynthia - Thanks for all of the advice! It definitely sounds as though you've done your fair share of work with getting students involved in out-of-school learning. I will definitely follow your advice while organizing academic field trips. Have you had any experience in taking the students out during weekends or after-school? I'm a climber and my students are really interested in rock climbing. I successfully took students to the cities' climbing gym about four times last year, but had to fight with administration every single time. I also had to hound my principal to let me take students skiing at a local park reserve. It was such a headache, that I only asked that one time and whenever students asked when the next skiing opportunity was taking place, I told them to talk to the principal. The students pay for these trips and I don't ask for the school to compensate me in any way. The school's only cost for those trips is the use of the fifteen passenger van. What type of advice do you have for these types of trips? Any 'must have' phrases that would see these experiences? Thanks again for sharing your strategies!

Jim Lane Jim Lane 415 Points

Hi All, I am just joining the conversation but here is what I have to offer. I am a Knowles Science Teaching Fellow and have presented at our annual all fellows meeting for the last several years about the importance of nature in the development of the human mind. We are raising a generation of humans who are completely disconnected from the natural world, this is very true, but we can change that. Here is what I have to offer. I am currently having my high school students write a grant through Wild Ones to receive funding for seeds for a large pollinator garden. The focus on pollination really brings home the idea that humans are a part of a larger ecosystem rather than separate from it. Understanding where your food comes from goes a long way. I have had very profound responses and discussion from reading portions of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac. Specifically I have my students read "Land Ethic" which really helped them think about how they perceive themselves with relation to the land and environment. Another book that I would recommend for those that are interested in looking at a more non-traditional path of education in nature is Coyote's Guide to Mentoring Children in Nature. I use this approach in my classroom and in my outdoor aspects. Long story short, sometimes kids learn more by playing than they ever will through a structured lab. That is what I have off the top of my head. Nature in the classroom is my passion in teaching. I'm only in my third year but I already know that if we, as a species, forget our connection to the land we cannot survive. -Jim

Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

Hi Jim - What a great opportunity you are having as being a Fellow with the Knowles Organization! I also commend you for having your students help you write a grant for a pollinator garden. I'm going to consider doing this with my Environmental Science course for next year. I'm currently having my students read "The World Without Us" in class this year, but am finding that they are struggling with the reading and not gaining much out of it. I considered using AL in the classroom, but am leaning more toward "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. Did you consider this book and if so, why did you choose to not use it? I want to incorporate more reading in my course, but want to use material that is accessible for my students. In regards to your AL reading, how do you embed it into your day-to-day lessons? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Cheers! Kathryn

Jim Lane Jim Lane 415 Points

Hi Kathryn,

I have not read Ishmael so that is the main reason I have not used it in class. I read the synopsis on Wikipedia (I know, I know...) and it looks like an interesting read. I guess I would prefer Leopold over Quinn only because Ishmael is fiction whereas A Sand County Almanac is, I would argue, more of a memoir than anything else. I would put Leopold up there with Thoreau and Muir with regards to his impact to ecology in this country and the world.

Another reason I use Leopold is that he writes in a very simple easy to read fashion. That said, within those simple words is a very deep and powerful meaning. It is an easy read for students but still gets them a deep understanding and illustration of the overall purpose. Additionally A Sand County Almanac is broken down into smaller sections that are easily sprinkled into a course. I have used most of the book at some point or another across many different curricula.

Finally, I use Leopold because I live in the Upper Midwest, only about a 3 hour drive from Sand County, WI. Obviously the kids can directly relate to the subject matter with local and personal connections. I think it makes the reading even more powerful.

Honestly I think reading A Sand County Almanac should be a required reading for every life science instructor. It's just one of those books.


Alayna Maldonado Alayna Maldonado 1750 Points

It is sad that some children do not have the daily exposure to nature that it seems more of us had when we were growing up. I am lucky to live in Hawaii, so the climate allows us to go outside and explore really at any time. However, I do feel that more and more students are coming to school with cell phones, using computers, etc., which is great because our children will be ready for a world that increasingly relies on technology. At the same time, though, I do feel that as teachers we should expose our children to nature on a regular basis because children also need to feel connected to our planet and the need for conservation. Just the other day I took my students outside to hunt for pollinators and draw pictures of the flowers/flower parts they saw. I want them to see how everything in nature works in harmony some how and depends on one another. It would be great to see some posts of ways other teachers are getting their kids outside, not just for science lessons.

Kara Kitamura Kara Kitamura 360 Points

I teach biology and I totally agree that we are replacing going out and experiencing nature with technology based lessons. Webquests, virtual labs, and even powerpoint presentations that show pictures of organisms instead of having our students see it in real life. I believe that these things are great to see things around the World that we normally wouldn't see in our back yards but nothing makes it more real then actually getting to experience nature. I found some great ideas that you could use to bring nature in to the classroom if you can't get your students out of the classroom from the Audubon site.

Alicia Mochizuki Alicia Mochizuki 1470 Points

Hi Adah,

Excellent thread. Here is my responses to your question:

Should all teachers try to reverse this trend?

NO. First of all, technology is everywhere. I personally believe students need to learn how to use a computer and other digital devices, personally the earlier the better. I am a strong advocate for this because I did my student teacher at a Title 1 school. Many of the students had no access to a computer at home, internet, or other technological devices unless they were at school. In a couple of years, they would be graduating. I can't imagine those students trying to get a job that didn't required them the ability to navigate a computer, type, or open and save a word document. Secondly, some of my students use technological devices to communicate with me and others. I also feel that I should be teaching them more about the use of technology to help them prepare for the future cause if I don't am I hindering their future?


Alicia Mochizuki Alicia Mochizuki 1470 Points

I also forgot to mention that I teach in Hawai'i. So, that's part of my reason for my first response. Our students are outdoors everyday but it could also be because my co-teacher and I love the outdoors and we love doing fun little outdoor adventures with them. We have a daily job for a gardener (water our outdoor garden) and during our center time students love to go to the science center (second favorite to blocks) where they can look for bugs, play with colored sand, and other sensory activities. The science center is also outside. I feel we have incorporated the "outdoor life" for them but not so much the technology aspect since we only have one computer in the classroom.

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