Nature and Education
The Importance of Nature in School
Author: Anika Rümmele Supervisor: Karina Adbo Examiner: Elisabeth Elmeroth Date: May, 2015
Subject: Educational Sciences
Nature and environmental issues are topics you can find all over our society, therefore also in education. The aim of this study is to find out how to combine nature with subject matters, therefore what kind of considerations teachers in Europe (Sweden and Austria) make about combining the theme nature with their subject matters and what activities they do to combine it. Interviews were used to collect data. Some concrete activities about education in the nature (outdoor education) and education about the nature (about environmental issues) as well as the considerations teachers make about this topic were found out. This research finds out that teachers can see the importance of combining nature with subject matters and are motivated to do a lot of activities in the nature (outdoor activities) with the pupils. The teachers have the opinion that it is more important to give the pupils a good attitude towards our nature/environment than giving them a lot of knowledge about environmental issues.
Education, Children and Nature, Environment, Outdoor, Attitude towards Nature
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the interviewees for their time and interest for participating in this research, thank you for the helpful and interesting answers.
Special thanks also to my parents who made this possible and were a big support in all my time of study.
1 Introduction _________________________________________________________ 1
2 Background _________________________________________________________ 3 2.1 Nature __________________________________________________________ 3 2.1.1 Environmental issues ___________________________________________ 4 2.1.2 Nature and children (being outdoor) ______________________________ 6 2.2 Theory chapter ___________________________________________________ 8 2.2.1 Vygotsky _____________________________________________________ 8 2.2.2 Dewey ______________________________________________________ 9 3 Aim / Research Questions _____________________________________________ 10
4 Method ____________________________________________________________ 10 4.1 Methodology ____________________________________________________ 10 4.2 Interview questions and Participants _________________________________ 11 4.3 Method discussion and Ethics ______________________________________ 12
5 Results _____________________________________________________________ 13 5.1 Considerations of the teachers ______________________________________ 13 5.2 Activities _______________________________________________________ 16 5.2.1 Activities in the nature _________________________________________ 16 5.2.2 Activities about the environment _________________________________ 19 6 Discussion __________________________________________________________ 20 6.1 Considerations of the teachers ______________________________________ 21 6.2 Activities _______________________________________________________ 23 6.3 Conclusion _____________________________________________________ 24
7 References__________________________________________________________ 25
“Each and everyone working in the school should also encourage respect for the intrinsic value of each person and the environment we all share.” (National Agency for Education, 2011; 9) That is a quote from the beginning of the Swedish school
curriculum for the compulsory school. It is written in the chapter 'Fundamental values and tasks of the school'. Fundamental values are the democratic foundations the Swedish national school system is based on. Therefore it can be seen that respecting nature and the environment is an important value school has to mediate. In a subchapter of the chapter 'Fundamental values and tasks of the school' all the tasks schools have are named. In this subchapter the sustainable environment is mentioned. Pupils should get an “environmental perspective” (National Agency for Education, 2011; 12) This does also mean that they should get some respect for the nature and the problems concerning the environment. It is written there that “Teaching should illuminate how the functions of society and our ways of living and working can best be adapted to create sustainable development.” (National Agency for Education, 2011; 12) In the chapter about overall goals and guidelines there is a subchapter about norms and values where it is written that there are some goals which each pupil should achieve during the time in
compulsory school. One of these goals is that the pupils should learn to respect the environment. School is moreover mentioned to be responsible for teaching the pupils how they can think critically and how they can form their own opinion about topics where they already have a lot of knowledge and where they already thought about the ethical questions behind. Nature and environment could be one of these topics. In the same passage it is also specifically mentioned that school is responsible for the pupils' knowledge about sustainable environment and how one can make the environment a good one. The pupils should also know how they can influence the environment, their own health and also the society (National Agency for Education, 2011). Similarly this topic can be found in the Austrian curriculum for 'Volksschule' which is the school for pupils at the age from 6 to 10 (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Frauen, 2012).
Already in the first part of the first page it is mentioned that one of the most important values of our society next to humanity, solidarity, tolerance, peace and equity is environmentalism. The Austrian curriculum for 'Volksschule' ( Bundesministerium für Bildung und Frauen, 2012) includes, in addition to the subjects the pupils have, also 11
these tasks next to for example education for reading and education for economy is education for environment protection. It is written there in the same paragraph that one can include these educational tasks into your subject matters with for example some projects you make with your pupils (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Frauen, 2012).
The topic environment is not just found in one specific curriculum but is an important subject in both countries where this research is taken and for sure in more countries all over the world because environment and nature is of course a worldwide topic.
Therefore it can be seen that as a teacher it is important that you include some theory about environmental issues into your subject matters. But on the other hand to show the pupils the nature in a practical way it is important that they experience something outdoor in the nature. This is why it is interesting to give a closer look at the concrete activities one can do with the pupils concerning nature and environmental issues combined with subject matters.
In chapter 2 it is written about what is ment by nature and why this topic is important in our society, which means that the environmental issues are described. Also in chapter 2 the background about why the topic “nature” is important for children can be found as well as a subchapter about the theory behind. Based on this background the aim and the research questions will be found in chapter 3. In chapter 4 the method is described and discussed and chapter 5 includes all the results from the research. There is a discussion chapter at the end, which answers the research questions with the help of the results from the research and the already known facts from the background.
Due to the writer of this research paper this research takes place in Sweden and in Austria but tries to see it as one whole research without comparing those two countries.
There might not be enough differences in those countries to compare with each other, there will rather be a lot of similarities and about the same result from both countries due to the fact that the educational program in Austria and Sweden is not that different and as we already know both curricula include the topic nature and environment. Even though the data, the research and the results might be more interesting from two
countries than from only one. The environmental issues are an important subject not just in Europe but in the whole world because it concerns all human beings in the world, which can be seen in the chapter about the environmental issues. Therefore this topic is interesting to give a look at concerning education because education is also something
concerning the whole world. The writer of this research is going to be a teacher in Austria and has already made some teaching experiences in Sweden and Austria.
Growing up close to nature and in a family with a respecting attitude towards nature and our environment this topic was always a big theme in the writer's live and therefore there was also a personal interest into this research.
In this paper the term “nature” is used in two different meanings: on the one hand it means the nature we have outdoor, the outdoor area, which is important to know when the text is about the outdoor activities in the nature and on the other hand nature means our environment which is important to know when the text is about the environmental issues. This chapter first defines and proves these terms so it is clear for the reader what is meant and then looks closely at the environmental issues and on the issue of nature and children which means about children being outdoor in the nature and what influences this can have on the nature but also on the children.
Looking into a dictionary (oxforddictionaries.com) the word “nature” simply means the whole physical world which includes animals and plants and the landscape – which is in this paper also called outdoor. Nature does not include everything produced by human beings. Therefore it means all the different landscapes like for example forest, lakes and grasslands which you can find outdoor. Also in the dictionary (oxforddictionaries.com) it is written that the word “environment” means the surroundings but also the conditions where we live in or where any person, an animal or a plant lives in. Furthermore Turner and Buckingham (2008) state that “the environment at any point in time is a product of the interplay between social, physical and natural/biological processes” (Turner and Buckingham, 2008; 11) and therefore the environment is affected a lot by the acts and practices of human beings.
2.1.1 Environmental issues
It can be seen in the definition of the word “environment” and also Meinert (2013) states that the environment is something which is influenced by man. She writes in her book about nature and environment and that the consequences of man influencing our environment can be felt all over the world (Meinert, 2013).
“Climate change as the result of human activity is one of the most important issues facing humanity today.” (Karpeduwan et al, 2015; 31) This quote is from an article (Karpeduwan et al, 2015) where it is written that one of the causes of climate change is global warming, which concerns all the societies in the world because it effects our natural environment. Turner and Buckingham (2008) state that scientists have proven that between the years 1850 and 2005 they measured that the temperature on the world has risen almost 1°. Also when looking at the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica this warming can be analysed and is “faster than any natural change seen in the last 650,000 years” (Turner and Buckingham, 2008; 176). In the IPCC report (2014) it is written that the emissions of pollutants are the cause for the climate change. They show the importance of this topic when they say that “national governments are addressing climate change in the context of other national priorities, such as energy security and alleviation of poverty” (IPCC, 2014; 113) The concrete effects this climate change, global warming, has on our natural environment are named in the IPCC summary (2007). It would be too long to mention all of them but some effects shall be mentioned here: A lot of natural systems are affected, for example oceans and also a lot of glacial lakes. Changes can be seen in some ecosystems as in some Arctic and Antarctic
ecosystems and also the food chain has changed. Furthermore hydrological systems are affected as for example it is proven that lakes and rivers got warmer which then affects the quality and thermal structure of the water. Biological systems are affected too which can be recognised in spring for example when some spring events are earlier then they have been before. (IPCC, 2007)
Meinert (2013) points out that the relationship human beings have with the nature is therefore really important. “Climate change is one of the most serious global
environmental problems and for that reason there has been lately a great interest in educating pupils, the future citizens, about it.” (Papadimitriou, 2004; 299) Future
generations should therefore be aware of how they can prevent the environmental issues to get worse. According to Karpeduwan (2015) this is why all individuals have to know
how they can do it and why they need a lot of knowledge about this topic. This knowledge means especially knowing how one person can change something with his/her own small actions. Also the more someone knows about climate change and the consequences, the more he/she cares about how to behave with our environment and our nature. If you belong to a whole society you have to know which consequences your actions have – especially if the consequences are negative for our whole environment (Karpeduwan, 2015). Another aspect mentioned by Karpeduwan (2015) is the attitude towards climate change. Knowledge is not the only thing which is important when looking at this subject. It is also important which attitude the members of a society have towards a topic like that. “Knowledge and attitude collectively are recognised as human factors that have considerable effects on the achievement of a safe environment.“
(Karpeduwan et al, 2015; 32) If the individuals have knowledge and attitudes on
problems we have with our environment then they can act more responsible and behave sustainable. This positive attitude towards our environment should already start at an early age and Karpeduwan et all (2015) state that primary school is a good place where an individual can start to get knowledge about environmental issues and a positive attitude towards the environment. "Developing environmental awareness and supporting positive attitudes towards the environment beginning from the primary school level may help to foster environmentally literate citizens and to build sustainable future.“
(Karpeduwan et al, 2015; 32) In the book 'The Multicultural Park' (Roth, 1999) attitude is something, which can be changed in school. There they talk about attitude towards a multicultural society, but every attitude can be influenced by a society like a school arena. It is written in this book that “...school is one of the most important arenas where attitudes are influenced...” (Roth, 1999:11). The pedagogical perspective therefore is that “affective and sensory learning” (Cosgriff, 2015; 55) in the nature is very important and is already done by a lot of teachers. Karpeduwan (2015) states that at elementary school teachers should start to give pupil's an understanding of climate change but also of the weather first of all, which means for example what happens when physically when there is a thunderstorm. Some relevant science concepts as for example the greenhouse effect or the water cycle are already tought in elementary level schools.
From some studies it can be seen that if the pupils learn active about climate change than it has a bigger effect. There are some studies which prove that if pupils have learnt it like that their understanding of the climate change has improved (Karpeduwan, 2015).
“The aforementioned studies suggest that active learning approaches provide better
opportunities for learning than teacher directed, lecture-based approaches.
Constructivist approaches improve students’ conceptual understanding concerning global warming and greenhouse effects” (Karpeduwan, 2015; 34) Carrier et al (2014) say that “teachers with positive attitudes and feelings of responsibility toward the environment have more positive attitudes about including lessons about the environment in their science classes.” (Carrier et al, 2014; 2197)
2.1.2 Nature and children (being outdoor)
Looking at our history White (2004) states that children previously grew up close to nature. Also even when cities started to grow bigger children were always still in contact with nature because they then played in some parks for example. Looking at the history where children were given the freedom to choose where they want to play they always choose something wild in the nature for example climbing on a big tree. And when nature was not really wild anymore in children's surroundings and there where just a lot of parks in the cities even then children preferred to be outside there. (White, 2004) “They spent the bulk of their recreation time outdoors, using the sidewalks, streets, playgrounds, parks, greenways, vacant lots and other spaces "left over" during the urbanization process or the fields, forests, streams and yards of suburbia.” (White, 2004; 2)
But nowadays it changed. The children don't really have the same opportunities they had before to go outside. They don't really have the possibility anymore to play free outside and also the possibilities for being in the nature got less. This is also because a lot of parents are afraid of letting their children play outdoor. White calles this the
“culture of fear”. (White, 2004; 2) Another reason according to White (2004) might be that the lives of the children nowadays are structured by adults. The schedules they get from their parents mostly already include some lessons in the afternoon and some sport because the adults think that this will make the children more successful when they get older. Instead of being outside the lives of children take their place indoors now. The problem we can see from that is that children's contact with the nature gets less. They don't make a lot of experiences outdoor in the nature anymore. Children take their experiences now more from the media. A lot of their free time is combined with visual images and “the virtual is replacing the real” (White, 2004; 3) When children nowadays learn something about nature in their free time than it is often something they watch on
TV, where nature is often shown as something exotic and far away from their real life.
This means that children loose their direct connection to the nature as something which is close to their real life. They don't have nature as something which can be found close to their home for example in their own gardens, in the neighbourhood, in the park of the town or in the nearest forest. Therefore their knowledge about nature and also their appreciation of what nature can give them and what they can experience in nature gets lost more and more (White, 2004). Places where children spend a lot of time at are kindergarten, child care and schools. White (2014) claims that those places might be the only opportunity for our society where we can give children the opportunity to get to know the nature. It might be also the best place to “create a future generation that values and preserves nature.” (White, 2004; 3) Cosgriff (2011) states that outdoor learning is nowadays something common and that there are already some outdoor activities in school programmes.
Respecting the nature
“Research is clearly substantiating that an affinity to and love of nature, along with a positive environmental ethic, grow out of children's regular contact with and play in the natural world.” (White, 2004; 3) White (2004) writes about the fact that children will lose their knowledge about nature when they stop being outdoor. White (2004) even states that our future generation will not value nature as the last generations did because of that and instead they will probably exploit and destruct our nature. White (2004) claims that therefore children should be outdoor more often because it will change their attitude towards the natural environment a lot. As we already heard in the chapter about environment the attitude towards nature is also important when it comes to the
environmental issues (Karpeduwan et all, 2015). According to White (2004) this
attitude children have has to be changed in their first years because if they don't learn to respect nature when they are young then the risk is higher that they will never respect it.
(White, 2004) Cosgriff (2011) writes that there is a connection between doing outdoor activities and the relation humans get to the nature while those activities.
Influence on children’s learning progress and development
“Direct physical contact with natural and cultural phenomena increases the authenticity in learning by providing a link to an approach that should reasonably be innate in human beings.” (Szczepanski, 2009; 83) Szczepanski (2009) writes that we don't just learn with the senses seeing and hearing but also with all the other senses. This is why education outdoor in the nature is also learning when the children use senses like smelling, touching, feeling and even tasting. Also the children get motivated for being creative and for learning something meaningful when they are outside. “Learning in the cultural and natural environment is more than an opportunity for fresh air and exercise.”
(Szczepanski, 2009; 84) Szczepanski (2009) writes in his article that outdoor education is a way of learning and not just an activity you do outside. When the children are outdoor their emotions and actions get connected, which is sometimes not the case inside in the classroom (Szczepanski, 2009). White (2004) claims that when children stop playing outdoor they will loose the contact with the natural world as we already heard but this will also have a negative impact on the development of the child, which is a meaningful statement. (White, 2004)
2.2 Theory chapter
When looking at the Theories of Vygotsky and Dewey it can be seen in the following that they have similar opinions on the relationship of the development of children and activities.
“Pedagogy – or education, more generally speaking – is, after all, a multifaceted form of organized cultural activity that operates at multiple levels.” (van Compernolle and Williams, 2013; 279) Van Compernolle and Williams (2013) write about what the psychologist Lev Vygovsky thought about pedagogy. It is written in their text that not just teacher-fronted lessons, where the content and a lot of skills are learnt, but also other methods are good for children to learn something. Other methods are for example when they learn something individually or when they have to make a task for example also in a small group. (van Compernolle and Williams, 2013) Therefore it doesn't
always have to be this classical classroom situation where the teacher stands in the front and pupils just listen and answer questions, but it can also be a completely other
situation which can be connected to the idea of learning something while being in the nature where they can make their own experiences. In another text about Vygotsky's sociocultural theory (Kozulin, 2003) it is written that Vygotsky claims that the development of a child is a consequence of all the experiences this child makes while learning. It is important that children experience something on their own and that they learn how to think on their own. There is a quote in this text which stresses that children should always learn for something they will need in their whole life: “One of the main tasks of schools today consists of preparing students for lifelong learning. That means, first of all, enabling students to learn and think independently and efficiently.” (Kozulin, 2003; 267)
Dewey (1938) also thinks that you should prepare pupils for their life. This can be seen when he writes about that the main purpose of instructions of education is to prepare the children for their future and especially for the responsibilities they have to take in future. When it comes to children or pupils experiencing something on their own Dewey (1916) writes that “experience has shown that when children have a chance at physical activities which bring their natural impulses into play, going to school is a joy […] and learning is easier.” (Dewey, 1916; 187) Dewey (1916) claims that the pupils can get knowledge through activities. He means that while children play this is for example when the teacher should educate them because then what they learn by doing is useful for later on. The teacher has to know which exercises are right for the children but it is also really important to “keep alive a creative and constructive attitude”
(Dewey, 1916; 189). Dewey (1938) states that learning often means that the pupils just take what is already known from books and that everything is “tought as a finished product” (Dewey, 1938; 19). In another article where Klaar and Öhman (2014) write also about Dewey's theory they maintain that when children act they grow intellectually but also morally. This article is about nature-oriented teaching and Klaar and Öhman (2014) talk in that case also about how important acting and experiences are. Klaar and Öhman (2014) mention John Dewey's theory because Dewey's opinion is that educative
experiences are “experiences with different qualities that make people grow, in terms of extended possibilities to act” (Klaar and Öhman, 2014; 41).
3 Aim / Research Questions
The aim of this research paper is to find out how you can combine nature with subject matters and by combining it is meant how to put some lessons into the nature but also how to put the topic about being outdoor and environmental issues into your subject matters.
As a result of these considerations the research questions to find out how you can combine nature and therefore also the environment issue with subject matters are:
1) What sort of considerations do teachers make about nature concerning their subject matters?
2) With what kind of activities is it possible to combine nature with subject matters?
The method chosen for this research is an interview. It is written in the book 'Research Methods in Education' (Cohen et al, 2011) that an interview means two persons talk about a topic they are both interested in. That is why this method fits the research questions because when you interview the teachers they should also be interested in their lessons and into subject matters and of course also into the learning progress of children. According to Cohen et al (2011) the interviewed person could tell how they look at a this topic and what they think about it. By expressing themselves the
interviewed persons were still humans which made the interview intersubjective and therefore this research was not just collecting data. There were always “multi-sensory channels to be used: verbal, non-verbal, spoken and heard.“ (Cohen et al, 2011;409) An interview is not just a normal conversation because there is a person who asks specific questions and this person is called the interviewer, which in that case was the researcher and writer. There is a reason why these interviews were hold so that is another
difference to normal conversations. It was planned and contained a structure which is why it was not really a natural situation.
Cohen et al (2011) describe different types of interview in their book about methods.
The type which was chosen for this research is the Standardized open-ended interview.
The interviewer already prepared questions and asked all his/her interviewees the same questions, with always the same exact wording, in the same order. Therefore the
interviewees always had the same questions they had to respond to but in a difference to the Closed quantitative interviews for example the responses were not fixed. But
because the questions were always the same and already determined before the interviews took place there was this little weakness of this method that the interviews were even less natural. However this method was chosen because it is easy to compare the data one gets from the interviews if you have the interviewees all answering the same questions. You can't get lost during your interview as an interviewer because you have the exact worded questions in front of you in the correct order. That is why nothing was forgotten or not paid enough attention at.
When it comes to working with the data the interviews were transcribed and then put together into categories. The results were categorised into two subchapters concerning the research questions. Therefore the first subchapter is about the considerations
teachers make, for example in which subjects they combine nature with subject matters, which possibilities they have for outdoor activities in their school surroundings and which results they can see from combining nature with subject matters. But also written there are the concrete conciderations they make. The second subchapter is about the concrete activities because here the writer wants to find out how they combine nature with subject matters. Activities outdoors and activities for the environment are named here. The interview questions were a big help when categorising the results.
4.2 Interview questions and Participants
These are the questions which were asked to six teachers who teach pupils from the age 6-10:
• What kind of outdoor activities do you have?
• To which subjects are they connected?
• How do you plan the outdoor activities?
• What possibilities do you have in your school for outdoor activities?
• Why do you think it is important that you combine nature and environment with subject matters?
• What kind of considerations do you make when you plan a lesson concerning the nature and environment topic?
• How do you make children aware of the environmental issues?
• Are there some special practical activities for that?
• Do you see any results from that?
All of the six teachers are from different schools. The writer had problems to find interviewees in Sweden due to little contact to Swedish schools here. Therefore five of the six teachers are from Austria and due to the writer living in Sweden during the research the interviews with those teachers were hold via Skype.
4.3 Method discussion and Ethics
The method chosen worked out well because the interview was well structured. But sometimes the interviewer had to ask further questions which came to his/her mind during the interview. After someone answered there were sometimes more explanations needed for the interviewer to know what is meant by the answer or to know more details. On the other hand when someone answered a question and talked a little bit more than what was asked it sometimes already answered a following question.
Therefore the order how the questions got answered were sometimes not the same.
Sometimes it was necessary to explain the questions, for example what is meant with some terms like 'nature' or 'environment'.
When it comes to the ethics in a research it is important that the interviewed people
“should be protected to the highest degree possible from harms or wrongs in connection with their participation in research.” (Gustafsson et al, 2011; 16). This is what is written in the article “Good Research Practice” from the Swedish Research Council's expert group on ethics. It is also mentioned there that the researcher is responsible for
everything he/she publishes. What is also known from this article are the four norms for research ethics: The first norm is Communalism and it means that the community of the research is always allowed to get to know the results. Universalism is the second norm
and it points out that the criticism for a research has to be scientific and it is not allowed that you criticise it by the researcher's gender, race or position in society. The
researcher's interest in doing this research should be because he/she wants to get new knowledge and no other reasons. So disinterestedness is the third norm. The last norm is organized scepticism which means that the research always has to question
himself/herself (Gustafsson et al, 2011).
In this research no participant was harmed and the reader is responsible for the written report. The researcher's interest in this research was named in the introduction and it can be seen that the researcher wants to get knowledge (for herself and for the whole
5.1 Considerations of the teachers
Subjects you can combine with nature
All of the six teachers said that they combine the topic nature with Nature Studies (for example biology, geography, …) and with social aspects which means “it is good for the climate of the classroom”. Two of the teachers mentioned that it is especially connected to Nature Studies when they make an excursion. Social aspects were always mentioned in connection to playing something together outdoor or just experiencing the nature together. Three out of six teachers said that it is possible to combine nature with subject matters when you do sports outdoors with the pupils. Also 50% of the
interviewees told that you can see that it is automatically combined with the first language subject (Swedish, German) because they experience so many things that they try to express it in their school essays. One teacher said that the pupils have something to talk about when they make some observations in the nature and they can also write about their own experiences. Another teacher said that there is a lot of good literature about animals and plants where the pupils are able to see things from their perspective.
Two out of six teachers said that they can combine it with Mathematics because “there are some many things in the nature you can use to do Mathematics” and one teacher said that it is not really easy to combine it with Mathematics because “there is no
connection between Mathematic and nature”. One of the two teachers who thinks you can combine nature with Mathematics told about teaching them the set theory with natural material for example. When it comes to the creative subjects two out of six teachers said you can combine it with Arts and one said with Crafts when you try to make for example an animal out of wood. One teacher said you can combine it also with Music. “I think if you want you can combine it with almost every subject.”
Possibilities for outdoor activities in the school surroundings
Five out of six teachers mentioned that their school is close to the nature. “We can be at the lake in three minutes.” A lake, forests, grasslands and fruit trees were mentioned as examples for that. Three out of six teachers have the possibility to make a patch in the garden of the school where they can plant vegetables and other things. Two of the six interviewed teachers said that their schoolyard is really big so they can make a lot of activities there. One school of the interviewed teachers is an old house in the middle of the nature where the pupils have a lot of possibilities to get into contact with nature during the breaks for example. Another school has also a lot of possibilities for outdoor activities in the school surrounding: They have a stream next to the school, some big trees on the schoolyard and also some bushes with for example strawberries or mint which were planted by another teacher from that school with his class. “They can always go to the small river in their breaks and look at the fishs and play there but sometimes we also go there together.”
Considerations and Planning
When the teachers were asked why they want to combine nature with subject matters, why they think it is important to teach the pupils about the nature, all of the interviewed teachers answered because the topic is a basis of life and belongs to the general
education. “The earlier they learn something the better they really know it.” Three of the six teachers told that it is important to give the pupils an insight into the nature because then they respect the nature and get a good relation towards it so they want to protect it on their own and the teachers also said that you have to start with that when the pupils are young. “When they have a good relation to the nature then they want to protect it automatically.” Two of the six teachers said that nowadays this topic is really
important because due to the new media and children being indoor more often and also due to their already scheduled leisure time they are not close to the nature anymore otherwise. One teacher mentioned that children already know about the environmental issues and school should show them how they can do something against it. This teacher also said that every child comes to school with different previous knowledge. Two other teachers said that you should always start with what the pupils ask/asked before and then you can build up your lesson on that.
“We always plan that together.” When it came to the concrete planning of the lessons where the teachers combine nature with subject matters, 50% of the interviewed teachers said that they plan outdoor activities mostly together with another teacher and not alone. Also three out of six teachers say that they speak with the pupils about the topic before they make an outdoor activity. “First I always talk with the children about what we will do and what they have to know before we go.” One of this teachers also mentioned that you always have to start where the lesson before ended. Two out of six teachers said that you should discuss the outdoor activities with the parents and three teachers said that they sometimes ask one of the parents to come with them. One of these teachers also said that you should inform the parents if there are some special costs. Also mentioned by two teachers were appropriate clothes depending on the weather conditions but also depending on whether the clothes will get dirty. Two teachers also said that you have to organize all the material first. Mentioned was also by two teachers that you should always build your subject matters on the questions the children asked before. Some other questions the teachers asked themselves but in each case only mentioned by one teacher were: How do I get there? What should the pupils learn from that? How should I talk with them about the topic after the activity? Are there any dangers for the pupils? How much time to we need for the whole activity? Do the pupils know how far they can go so they can still hear me? (The last one was about when the pupils are allowed to play freely in the forest.)
Results the teachers can see
“They are connected to the nature.” The children learn through their own experiences that they have to care for the nature and our environment. This is what 50% of the teachers said as an answer to what results they can see from their activities. One of
those three teachers said that they got an understanding for the coherences between our environment and human activities. Three out of six teachers said that you can see that the knowledge the pupils get also has an effect on their whole family. Two teachers said that the parents are also animated to take public transport and one teacher said that she heard that her pupils “are really strict with their parents when they throw away waste.
They tell them they have to separate it because that is what they learnt here.” That the pupils are more motivated and have more fun at learning is what three out of six teachers told at the interviews. Two out of six teachers said that they can see that they are a role model for their pupils. When it comes to how they work two out of six teachers mentioned that they “can see that they can concentrate better when we are in the classroom again.” and also two teachers said that the pupils' learning ability was raised. One teacher said that the pupils are more active in the lessons due to the practical activities. Another one told about how healthy they are because they are often outdoors (once in a week). Also mentioned by one teacher was that combining nature with subject matters promotes the social behaviour of pupils.
5.2.1 Activities in the nature
Constant activities and big projects
The interviewed teachers named a lot of activities they are doing with the pupils outdoor. There were two big projects mentioned by two different teachers:
One teacher is making an excursion on each Wednesday. They walk through grassland to an ecologic farm and then back. At the beginning they were just walking there but then they already knew the way so they walked faster and were able to play at the farm.
The class stays there the whole Wednesday and also the animals from the farm are there. The farmer doesn't want the pupils to play with the animals but still they can observe them and play next to them. This takes place in however the weather is so they have a lot of experience in the nature in all weather conditions. In spring or summer instead of walking to this farm they also sometimes walk into the forest where they can observe different flowers each week because each week different flowers are in
blossom. So the pupils are able to observe the changes that take place in spring. Also
they can build some shacks there. “It is more important that they are there then explaining them everything about the forest.”
Another teacher told about a project week where the whole class is in a house in the middle of the nature next to the forest. “Every class does it. It is once in a year and the children can choose the topic.” The topic is almost always connected to nature. This year this class had the topic animals, last year the underwater world and the year before the topic was the rainforest. The week is full of outdoor activities. For example when they had the topic animals the pupils searched for small animals, also those under some stones. Small animals were discovered, observed and identified. Also searching for ruts of animals (animal faeces, gnawed pine cones, …) was one of the activities next to collecting naturals and creating some animals out of it. One outdoor activity in this project week was taking a walk in the night all together and another one was playing the game “treasure hunt” in the forest. But next to all this organized activities the teacher told that it was also important that they had some time for free playing in the nature.
Single examples for activities in the nature
One teacher mentioned going outdoor to the riverside to clean it as one of the activities in the nature. Another thing a teacher told that you can do next to the river is making a campfire and you can combine it with making a barbecue with the whole class. There are also a lot of trips to different special places which were described by the teachers:
One teacher told about a trip to a beekeeping where they got explained a lot by the beekeeper and also a trip to a riding stable was mentioned, where the pupils where also allowed to ride on a pony. Another teacher told about a trip to a sawmill where the pupils got an insight into the processing of wood. Going to the harbour was another special trip one teacher talked about.
Also described by the teachers were activities which are combined with sports:
Running, playing some ball games, rope skipping, skating and sledding were the named activities. But one teacher also told about some special sport activities like walking on a slackline and also once they did archery. To go ice skating was also mentioned by one of the teachers. Another teacher said that in general she likes to do some gymnastic exercises outside but also to play some sporty games she likes to go outside with the pupils. Going to the playground was another activity one teacher talked about. One
teacher painted the whole schoolyard with her class. Also for drawing and painting one teacher was already outside with the pupils to draw something from the nature in the nature itself. With natural material one teacher went outside to the schoolyard to teach her pupils the set theory there with big examples lying on the ground. At one of the schools there is a stream next to the school where the pupils are allowed to play there in all the breaks and also sometimes the whole class goes there together. One teacher said that you can make a lot of outdoor activities to train the senses of the children by just letting them experience the nature by smelling, feeling and listening.
Further special activities which already happened to one of the five classes where the teachers were interviewed were for example building a tree house together with some parents or a workshop about birdcalls were they tried to imitate birdcalls outside also with the help of flutes. Another teacher mentioned workshops where the pupils learnt to identify some plants and also some animals. When one teacher was talking about cows with her class once there was a pregnant cow in the grassland next to the school so the lesson was therefore hold outside next to the calf after it was born. “You can't have that in every school of course.”
Examples for activities mentioned by more than one teacher
One teacher said the outdoor activities she is making are walking tours, excursions, and biking tours. Those three kind of tours were also mentioned by two other teachers and one of them described it a little bit more: “We go to the forest or to the lake. We go into the mountains or we also already went to a farm.” Three of six teachers told that they like to go to the forest and also to work with the natural material they find in the forest:
One teacher collects leaves and fruits with the pupils and they have to identify them, another one teaches her pupils the set theory with natural material like for example chestnuts which they have to collect first and the third one collects eatable things like mushrooms and edible wild herbs. Two teachers said that they make exhibitions to take a walk in the hometown or in the surroundings of the hometown to discover the nature in the town or in the land they live in. Another activity outdoor three of the six teachers make is working in the school garden. There the pupils can make a patch together and can dig and sow some flowers and also vegetables.
5.2.2 Activities about the environment
Teachers were asked here how they make children aware of the environmental issues and which activities they have for that. But four of six teachers mentioned that it is not necessary to make activities for that. They said that it is more important that they get a good relation to the nature and then they get to respect the environment on their own.
“Feeling is more important than thinking.” One teacher said that the experiences the pupils make in the nature is enough for them to see the environment as something important and that is also when they learn to sympathize with the nature. Another teacher said that the good relation they will get with the nature, when you as a teacher let them have some activities which were already mentioned outdoors, is enough for the children to know that they have to protect our environment. One phrase which was mentioned by all the teachers is to “gain experiences in the nature” in connection to how they learn to respect our environment. “They have a lot of experiences in the nature.
And then they also want to protect it … because they start liking it because of these experiences.” The one teacher where they have a stream next to the school says that because of the daily experiences they have at this stream they know that they have to be careful for example with the animals which live there. Also when the teachers were asked about the knowledge about this topic all the teachers said that experiences are more important in that age and two teachers said that the children already have a lot of knowledge about this topic because they overhear it from the media and that they will come up with some questions on their own if they think about this topic. One teacher said “I try to avoid the negative stories about the environmental problems and focus on the positive examples you can find in the nature.” He claims that this motivates the pupils more to learn something about how you can protect our environment. One of the other two teachers, who had some concrete suggestions about how to teach the pupils about environmental issues, said she talks with the pupils about some environmental issues with the help of literature. But also one of the other teachers said that there can be specific topics where the children ask questions and then you need to give them some knowledge about it. As an example she told about when they talked about the
underwater world they got to the topic about plastic waste in the sea. There the teacher needed some good books to work about that subject with the children.
Even though some specific activities were mentioned during the interviews: The teacher who talked with the children about the plastic waste in the sea told about a book where a fish is telling a lot about it (it was a book written in German, the teacher couldn't
remember the name of the book). The same teacher once was asked by the pupils about the bee death and that's when she told them a lot about it – so the activity there for the children was listening and asking questions. One teacher from Austria told about the
„Klimameile“. It is something they have in whole Austria. Every children gets a little map where they can get a sticker each time they go somewhere in their free time and don't go by car but by bike or by walking. This teacher said that not a lot of teachers really do it but in her class the pupils have this map and are happy when they get a sticker. There was one activity already mentioned in the outdoor activities which was told again when the interview was about the environment activities: it is the activity when the teacher talked about going to the riverside and cleaning it (collecting waste).
Two teachers talked about waste separation. They talk with the pupils about it and explain them why it is important to separate waste. One teacher said one of her activities is that she is always going by public transport when they are doing an excursion. There was one teacher who did a whole project with her pupils. The teacher recognised that a lot of parents drive their children to school by car. So through this project the pupils were motivated to walk instead and to find out why it can be nice to walk. They found out that it is nicer to walk together because then you are together with some friends and they also experienced a lot from the nature as mentioned by the teacher: “They told me that they can listen to the birds and observe them now.” The pupils even told the teacher that they already know that it is also better for the environment if they walk instead of going by car. So they also started to talk about this but it was the children's idea.
When you look at the results it has to be assumed that some teachers might have made themselves a little bit better as they are. This is because they all know that nature and environment is an important subject. They know that they should care about it and think about it and this is why the results might be a little bit changed due to them overplaying their stories. But the data collection gave also a lot of good answers to the interview questions and therefore also to the research questions.
6.1 Considerations of the teachers
To answer the research question “What sort of considerations do teachers make about nature concerning their subject matters?” it is important to look at what kind of
possibilities they already have in school and how they plan their activities. Also relevant to know is in which subjects they try to combine nature with subject matters and what kind of results they can already see from doing it. In the surroundings of the schools where the interviewed teachers work there is a lot of nature. There are grasslands, trees and also some gardens and patches. Therefore we can tell that schools place value on having their buildings surrounded by nature. It makes it easier for the teachers to plan some activities in the schoolyard and if they have a lot of possibilities there then it's good. As it can be seen from the results the teachers have a lot of possibilities in the schoolyards itself and also five out of six teachers mentioned how close the school is to nature, for example to a lake or a forest. In the background it is mentioned that children lose their direct contact to nature nowadays because they don't have nature close to their homes (White, 2004). This is why it is good and important that these schools are really close to nature and also often provide some nature in their own schoolyards. In that case the pupils have more possibilities to be close to nature now and can also develop a relationship towards it and as Szczepanski (2009) says the emotions and actions get connected while those outdoor activities so therefore it is a way of learning. It is easier for the teachers to have some ideas for some activities outdoor if some possibilities are already there in the surrounding of the school.
When looking at the answers of the teachers concerning the question about in which subjects they try to combine nature with subject matters, all of the interviewed teachers said Nature Studies and social aspects. But they also know that it is an important topic for all the subjects as it is already known from the curricula of two different European countries and this is why some of them also really do combine it with other subjects.
The considerations they make about combining nature with subject matters is that they know that it is important to do it and all of the teachers know that the topic nature and environment belongs to the general education. Half of the teachers mentioned what is also known from Karpeduwan (2015) talking about the environment: The teachers said that it is important to give the pupils an insight into the nature. They will respect the nature and our environment when they have a good relation to it. This positiv attitude
they talk about is what Karpeduwan (2015) mentions in his text when there is written that you should already start at an early age and for example in primary school to get the children to know a lot about nature and the environment and also to respect it
(Karpeduwan, 2015). But actually the results show that the teachers think attitude is more important than knowledge because when looking at the results from the
considerations about activities about environment especially then it can be seen that four out of six teachers think that there are not even specific activities needed. This is
because if the children have the positive attitude towards nature they want to protect it without the knowledge about why they should protect our environment. But this is something also mentioned by White (2004) when he says that children should get this attitude in their early age because they have to learn to respect the nature when they are young. At this point one of the interviewed teachers also mentioned that the pupils already have a lot of knowledge anyway when they come to school and school should just show them how they can protect nature and the environment and doesn't have to tell them about all the environmental issues which they already know from the media. But like one teacher said you should not forget that pupils always have different previous knowledge so it can't be bad to give them also some knowledge about our
environmental issues because you always have to start where their knowledge ends.
This is something what teachers also have to think about when they plan a concrete lesson. One teacher also mentioned that you have to start the lesson where the lesson before ended and half of the teachers said that they always speak with the pupils about the topic before doing an outdoor activity. So they get some knowledge before doing the activity.
The interviewed teachers were able to tell a lot of results and half of them mentioned that through all those experiences the pupils have in the nature the attitude of the pupils get changed so they care for the nature and for our environment because as already mentioned they get to like it a lot. As Dewey (1938) already mentioned pupils learn a lot through experiences.To come back to the knowledge pupils get in school it can also be seen that the knowledge goes over to the whole family and therefore not just the attitude can change something but also the knowledge as already heard. On the other hand combining nature with subject matters is not just good for our nature and for the environment. As written in the text about Outdoor Education (Szcepanski, 2009) being in the nature and being able to use all their senses while learning is something which increases the children's learning progress. A fact that was also mentioned by all the
teachers is the influence on the children's learning progress. Some said that it has an influence on the concentration, some said the pupils are more active and others talked about the influence on their social behaviour. This is all because of what is also written in the text from Szczepanski, that children connect their actions outdoors with a lot of emotions (Szcepanski, 2009).
When looking at the second reseach question “With what kind of activities is it possible to combine nature with subject matters?" there were two different things to find out: On the one hand there were a lot of different actions in the nature mentioned by all the interviewed teachers when it comes to the activities outdoor in the nature. There were big projects, constant activities and also a lot of special ones. Activities which seem to be easy and popular to do because they were mentioned by more than one teacher are for example excursions to mountains, lakes, farms and forests but also activities one can do in the schoolyards like making a patch for example. But what can be seen from all the specific activities it is mentioned that there are a lot of ideas and if a teacher is motivated to go outside with the children than it is not difficult to do. It is good to see that all the interviewed teachers really are motivated to do some activities in the nature because the children will have a lot of experiences there and as we heard in the
sociocultural theory (Kozulin, 2003) it is important for the childs development.
It can be seen that the interviewed teachers themselves have a good attitude towards nature and this is what Carrier et al (2014) state, that this is relevant for if the teachers want to include lessons about the environment into their subject matters.
On the other hand when it comes to activities about the environment there were not a lot of specific activities mentioned but this was because all of the six interviewed teachers think that it is more important to improve the relationship between children and the nature and then they want to protect this nature and our environment on their own. It is something we can call learning by doing or learning for your life. Learning for your life is what school should be about and this is also what the sociocultural theory (Kozulin, 2003) mentioned in the theory chapter recommends, that you prepare the children for a lifelong learning so they learn to think independently. Learning by doing is mentioned by Dewey (1938) as something where experiences can teach children a lot but also by Kozulin (2003) when he talks about Vigotskys opinion about learning through
experiences. Therefore the children get the knowledge and attitude in the school with making a lot of experiences in the nature when their school life is connected to nature and because of that they can think about why they want to protect this nature and our environment and they can decide for their own life how they want to act. The attitude seems to be more important then the knowledge. Karpeduwan (2015) states that knowledge and attitude is both very important but acoording to the teachers attitude is which can change more. As Meinert (2013) says for our environment the relationship children get to build with our nature is significant. The children are our future citizens and therefore their attitude towards nature and the environmental issues can change a lot. As known from Roth (1999) school is a good place to influence pupil's attitude.
Teachers nowadays already know why it is important to combine nature with subject matters. Because of the schools being close to the nature the teachers have a lot of possibilities to realise some ideas. At least the teachers interviewed for this research.
Therefore it can be seen that the surroundings of a school is important but even more important is the attitude of the teachers themselves. The teacher's attitude towards nature seems to be a good one when looking at how many activities they plan for being outdoor in the nature. The most interesting part of the research was to find out that in the teacher's opinion they don't really need specific activities to give the pupils a lot of knowledge about the enivorenment and about environmental issues. More important is to give children a good attitude towards the nature so they will become people who want to save their environment because they learnt to love and respect nature.
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