The connection between student learning and retention was the focus of the breakout session, entitled “Education: Learning from Nature: From Indigenous to Urbanized to Indigenous 2.0.”
The four speakers all worked to bring nature to the forefront of education but ranged significantly in the way they do so in their daily and professional lives.
“We can’t just fix the schools, we have to embody it as adults,” said Beverly Winterscheid, who works with adults and is a founding partner of The Institute for Nature & Leadership and Marlboro College Graduate School faculty.
Winterscheid said most of the adults she has worked with are either on to a secondary career or are members of the Gen-X or Millennium generations are rejecting the current economic priorities.
Winterscheid focuses on making sure people understand that the true part of using nature as an educator is to be mindful and aware of what is ongoing in the world around us. She said that children are predisposed to do this but that adults often need to be reminded to do this.
“Our minds are always going when we get quiet,” she said, adding that adults need to focus on being quiet.
Rebecca Martenson, who moderated the session, works at Vermont Wilderness School in Brattleboro, Vt., and works on day long programs that bring children out into nature and help them connect to the world around them. Martenson became involved with the program after spending the day watching students participate in it.
She talked to the audience about activities like “sit spot” – when a person is asked to sit for 20 minutes a day in a place close to home but outside in any weather and any conditions – and indigenous natural learning through play.
“What do we learn from just being there?” she posited.
Emily Hoyler, a curriculum specialist, and Sarah Kadden, an educator, both work with the Sustainable Schools Project, a part of Shelburne Farm in Shelburne, Vt. Shelburne Farm has a variety of different foci and programs.
Hoyler and Kadden work mostly by providing professional development for teachers that work at the elementary school level. Their goal of working with teachers and schools is to focus on curriculum, campus practices, collaboration opportunities and campus partnerships.
Kadden said they take a very pentagonal approach to education and help teachers develop curriculum around the idea that by focusing on a big question they can develop different curriculum focuses that are appropriate for a their individual grade levels and their core standards.
For example students could answer the question of what is the catalyst for change and focus on the direct answer in a chemistry lesson and a theoretical answer in social studies class when discussing social movements.
“What it looks like at the kindergarten level is very different then at the high-school level,” Kadden said.