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Thursday, June 02, 2016

Teaching Well: Living Systems Challenge

Our spring has been filled with naturalist study as we tackled the Massachusetts science standards and learned about the interconnections between and amongst organisms in our local environment.

As we learned with many experts from Drumlin Farm, Framingham Transition, and Wayland Transition/Green Team, it became more and more clear to me that it's time to move our schools in the direction of living systems. Even the surprise visit by a leading NASA engineer supported this move as he told us about the way he studies the natural world to find design solutions for survival in space. He used the example of the way leaves hold and drop water to demonstrate one path to creating life-friendly, elegant design. Last year, I found information related to this with regard to math teaching in the book, A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe, Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science.

I find myself at the edge of this information and perspective. As I ponder its implications, I am thinking about the following questions:

Why is school teaching/learning often separated from the local environment?
Why don't we use the local habitat and environment more with regard to teaching and learning? Our Town's Green Team has patiently been moving us in this direction as they worked with teachers, parents, and leaders to build a school garden and start a composting system. There's so much more room for this movement with activities such as creating nature paths, greater use of the school's courtyard and surrounding forests throughout the curriculum. And greater efforts to "green" our classrooms with regard to classroom routines and behaviors. I know there are teachers and leaders in my school and throughout the country that do this better than me, but I'm ready to learn, and for starters our grade level team has decided to consider ourselves a "green team" from the start of the year next year. To begin this effort we'll encourage greater use of reusable bottles and food containers as well as efforts to compost our "plant" snack leftovers. We'll try to use less paper and promote the purchase of recycled goods as much as possible. If you're classroom team is a "green team," please let me know how you develop this in ways that matter.

What systems confound natural learning and teaching, and what systems promote "living systems" in schools?
I want to think more about this. I'll start by rereading Wheatley's ideas during the summer and taking apart the work I do in the classroom so that our classroom mimics living systems more. I'll work with colleagues in and outside of education to promote a "living systems" perspective as compared to the kind of "corporate mindset" that has infiltrated education. After listening to the NASA engineer and Dr. Straeten recently, I was more inspired to do this as the promotion of living systems, as I understand it, will help us to forward learning and teaching that helps students partner with the natural world rather than take over that world. It seems that a partnership like that has tremendous potential for good living.

There's lots lot to learn as we think about "living systems" and schools. I enjoy a challenge like this, a challenge that helps students to learn with greater depth, strength, and breadth. The NASA engineer and Dr. Straeten shared very sophisticated concepts of physics and biology with students. Students grasped these concepts. They listened carefully. They understood the potential. These experiences demonstrate to me that our children are ready for a much more interconnected, deep, and sophisticated curriculum--one that accelerates learning in ways that matter. In part, at my level, the Common Core standards have been a path to greater depth, so instead of getting rid of these standards, I think we should use them as a guide to greater depth and interconnected teaching and learning.

This is a rough post. A post that's at the start of a new learning perspective and effort.  Please let me know what you think about this and how you would build teaching/learning work in this way.

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