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Place-based learning in teaching and teacher education November 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Ecology, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Katherine Bates

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.  (Benjamin Franklin)

Place-based education is part of the broader ecopedagogical movement in education that connects learners with and immerses them in their natural locale (Kahn, 2010; McInterney & Smith, 2011). These connections are understood to be best developed authentically, over time and with gentle positive immersions in the natural world (Sobel, 2014). This ‘in-place’ approach is also argued to be a built on process, connecting students with their local community through repeated immersions in order to develop a sense of agency with and planetary citizenship for the lived-in world (Hung, 2014; Sobel, 2014). Place-based education therefore plays an important role for engaging students with notions of ‘place’, identity’ and ‘community’ and, for developing local-global connectivity and citizenship in these times of significant environmental challenge (McInerney, Smyth & Down, 2011; Misiaszek, 2016).

Place-Based learning is also a particularly useful and energising approach in light of today’s Australian Curriculum reform and eco-pedagogy paradigm shift (ACARA, 2012). With the inclusion of an eco-pedagogical approach in curriculum and syllabus documents, immersing children in the natural world, it moves from an optional fringe pedagogy to mainstream when implementing the Humanities and Social Studies Learning Areas in the Australian Curriculum and the NSW BOSTES History and Geography Syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2012; NSW BOSTES, 2012). However, if we are to implement this approach in a school context for deep learning about the world around us, educators need to leave indoor classrooms so that students can be immersed in the natural world ‘up close’ (Kahn, 2010; Knight 2016; Liefländer et al, 2015).

One of the core aspects in the Human Society and Its Environment subject in the Master of Teaching at Western Sydney University provides future teachers with a sense place by involving them in place-based activities within their local university environment. These strategies provide future teachers with a starting point for understanding hands-on, nature-based enquiry and provide model lessons for implementing positive immersion nature based explorations in their future primary Geography and History teaching contexts.

Many of these place-based tasks are supported by using technology in the learning experience and in the creation of learning objects back in the classroom thus making technology an invisible tool in the learning rather than a tokenistic add on (Hunter, 2015). One of the popular choices amongst the selection of activities is the nature audit. Vertical or horizontal metres are measured out and using a mobile device, photos of the components within the metre space are taken. Students then audit the collected data, categorising the manmade and natural objects, the interaction between the objects and the dominance of, or integration between these components (Fig. 1). The photos are then generated into a ‘Zoom’ slide show with a sustainability theme.

comp-1Figure 1: Nature Audit




Kinaesthetic experiences are also popular with our preservice teachers such as matching paint colour swatches with colours from the natural and man-made local environment (Fig. 2). Students then ‘colour-map’ their environment, collecting data on colour dominances and tonal preferences. These data mapping activities are connected with earlier work in using Google maps, geo-mapping and geocaching for learning about local and global communities with school aged students. Conversations and ‘fat questions’ are raised about the dominant colours in our children’s school and in their wider communities. Other kinaesthetic activities involve recording natural and man-made sounds in their environment, which instigates interesting discussions about the impact of sound and the ‘white noise’ in children’s seemingly ‘always on’ world.


Figure 2: Colour in my world task


The strategies described here are but a sample of the place-based inquiries that our preservice teachers take part in but are ones that demonstrate the opportunities for rich discussion that these activities generate in terms of implementing place-based education with primary aged students. Moreover, the significant positive in task engagement that transpires when groups of preservice teachers work collaboratively in and about the natural world reinforces the different ways of knowing and learning that the outdoors offer all ages. As facilitators of these activities our team always looks forward to working with our groups as we share a common passion for supporting our future teachers in developing students’ connections with nature and develop pro-environmental agents of change (Liefländer et al, 2015).

 So children can thrive and grow strong in challenging times ahead, let us engage them in nature, ethical conversations, and the building of caring and peaceful communities, in their schools and beyond.  Winograd, K. (2016, p 266)



Australian Institute for Teaching and Leadership (2016). Australian Professional Standards of         Teachers, Author, Sydney.

Hung, R. (2014). In Search of ecopedagogy: Emplacing Nature in the lLght of Proust and Thoreau. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 46(13), 1387-1401.

Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPack,

Routledge, New York and London.

Kahn, R. (2010). Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy

Movement. New York: Peter Lang.

Liefländer, A., Fröhlich, G., Bogner, F., & Schultz, P. (2015). Promoting Connectedness with

Nature through Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 19(3), 370-384.

McInerney, P., Smyth, J., and Down, B. (2011). Coming to a Place Near You? The Politics and

Possibilities of a Critical Pedagogy of Place-Based Education, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1), pp 3-16.

Misiaszek, G. W. (2016). Ecopedagogy and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization:

Essential Connections between Environmental and Global Citizenship Education to Save the Planet. International Review of Education, 62(5), pp 587-607.

Sobel, D. (2014). Place based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Green

Living:  A Practical Journal for Mindful Living, 19(1), 27-30.

Winograd, K. (2016). Education in Times of Environmental Crisis: Teaching Students to be Agents of Change, Routledge, New York and London.

Dr Katherine Bates is a sessional academic in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.  She currently lectures in Human Society and Its Environment at Western Sydney University and also in Literacy and Numeracy in Secondary Schooling at the University of Wollongong. She has had extensive experience as a classroom teacher across ES1-S4, EAL/D and literacy support, as well as senior leadership roles in curriculum and assessment with the Department of Education and Sydney Catholic Education.

Reflections upon attending an indigenous world gathering for peace October 10, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Education and the Environment, Social Ecology, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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By Roseanna Henare-Solomona







On International Day of Peace 2016,

INVITATION to all indigenous tribal nations, to participate in a world gathering of:
❣ Chieftain’s / Grandmothers convening in global council;
❣ All respective Indigenous Nations of Mother Earth tending sacred fires, on their sacred land with community.

In this sacred way for Mother Earth and all her children, in solidarity:

Kia Ora, Talofa, Malo e lelei, Nisa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Taloha Ni, Aloha, Fakalofa lahi Atu


Last month I participated in a delegation to attend this Peace gathering in Seoul Korea, and since returning to Sydney have decided to put pen to paper in an attempt to understand some of the outstanding issues raised by my colleagues in that forum. I also want to take a brief moment to present my own observations about some of the underlying problems to emerge when Non-Indigenous helpers attempt to organise Indigenous people.

Let me begin with two key issues discussed in depth during our assembly. The first was the degradation of papatuanuku, or earth mother, and the seas that surround her. On the very first day of discussions a representative from the Kiribati nation highlighted their plight with rising sea levels and the consequences of a sinking island or the loss of their home. He noted that this issue had been on the United Nations agenda for some time and wondered why very little had been done to date. The urgency, he explained, was such that my people are close to becoming like a homeless coconut floating in the Pacific Ocean.

I thought about my own home and what it might feel like to lose the place where we gather as a family to eat, laugh and love. My heart sank as I thought about the rising tides and the effects on the children and grandbabies of these Kiribati people. Actually, I could not even begin to fathom the loss to the families and the generations to come.

As the days progressed many more stories of horror and environmental destruction were shared. The Rena oil spill off the coast of Tauranga in New Zealand was another stand-out for me. The lack of accountability fuelled outrage, sadness and sometimes despair in me as the local people told of the lasting effects this oil has had on their food, water, health, and surrounding seas and land. And to think that the company pays a fine and then gets back into their boat and leaves the local people with an ongoing problem to fix.

This is outrageous! How can this occur? Corporate shipping companies who use our backyard as a highway to take their cargo from port to port with no real regard or accountability to the people whose lives depend on that sea and the land around it to live. It is ironic these companies are granted government approval to traverse our waters risking the food source and livelihood of many. Governments, in my view, are just as destructive and guilty as the shipping companies.

All that aside, my reflections about this dialogue and in particular, how it aligns with peace, left me somewhat perplexed as I struggled to find a composed resolve to an issue that forces such destruction on others. Moreover my intellectual brain started to think about the ongoing conversations we have in the academy; like the over production and never-ending need of humans to keep taking natural resources from earth mother, the sea and even our own species. I also thought about the people who are privy to knowledge about this global situation, and I realised just how vast the gap is between who know what is happening and those who do not.

This has left me in a state of continuous reflection and thought about how I may contribute, to at least let the people from the Pacific know what is happening beyond their beautiful paradise. The decision to write and tell this story is for now my resolve, and perhaps nowhere near as grand as a United Nations report, but at least it is a genuine attempt to make a change for the better.

The second and final issue I want to raise is the divide between non indigenous and indigenous peoples’ realities. This Korea trip taught me that we are still a very long way from understanding each other, because in some parts of the world there are non indigenous people whose intentions and purposes still operate within a bubble lined with romanticized ideologies. The thought that one can invite elders and leaders to travel halfway around the world where the biggest and strongest typhoon is causing havoc just a stone’s throw away from the gathering place is absurd to say the least.

And what about the missiles fired outward by North Korea only a few months earlier in the direction of Seoul? If that is not enough to get a person wondering, then how on earth does one respond to the hullabaloo antics of an organiser linked to the United Nations and academia who promises to transport our elders to the gathering place. Many travelled long distances and at their own cost to the allocated pick up point, only to be told at the 11th hour there is no plane. In my ‘cranky me’ voice I asked for a please explain. I soon saw how easy it was to disconnect an email, skype, telephone or communication link to suit one’s needs. It is these sorts of shenanigans that intensifies the divide between “us and them” and keeps the collective from bridging the gap in a time when there is an urgency to work together.

As I sat thinking about my world peace experience and the different emotions and lessons I found along the way, I can’t help but feel very blessed to have been taught by some beautiful grandmothers whose wisdom brought me full circle. They watched with great interest and curiosity as people including me shared stories of fear, frustration and despair. They listened with an open heart, and one by one each nanny spoke to an issue with clarity and wisdom. They also offered a solution to the problems we face. This response I shall ponder a little longer.


Dr. Roseanna Henare-Solomona is a sessional academic in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.

Expos as sites for learning and engagement July 29, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Social Ecology.
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by Karin Mackay  

On a Sunday morning in 2008, I was standing at the front of a small community gallery in the midst of a women’s arts and ecology festival in The Blue Mountains. I was watching belly dancers, choirs and African Drummers and Dancers tell stories of place through movement and song. In the gallery behind me were over sixty diverse artworks and stories about life, love, loss and resilience from the diverse women’s community group I was part of.  This was “Earthspirit” festival day where all were invited to come and view creative work exploring relationship with water, people and place. Surprisingly the audience was not only women but younger guys and mature men, teenagers and young kids.

The opening addresses had just finished. One of these was a poem by an Aboriginal artist about her relationship to ancestral place at La Perouse. The other speaker was a local academic who had been asked to talk about the significance of water. The academic’s talk was not well received…..she lost people midway but barrelled on regardless. I felt terrible for her as I had asked her to come and talk but it seemed like it was not the right venue for her ideas to reach the light of day.  I mused on this, anxious about this mismatch and was thinking how I would reassure her, it was not her fault. Perhaps it was just not a receptive audience. Instead the words that came out of my mouth were very different. I turned to her and said, “This is how learning will happen in the future”.  She looked at me just as bemused as I was about what I had just said. What on earth did I mean? Why would people come to a festival to learn? This is not proper academic learning. Weren’t we just a few women mucking around with art and performance?

I had recently enrolled in a Doctorate with the Centre for Cultural Studies because I wanted to know what kept the women coming along to creative groups at The Women’s Room and what kept audiences returning to the community festival, beyond the superficial aspect of entertainment and curiosity. At the first showing of art works at the galley in 2006, the organising committee expected friends, family and a few curious passers-by to show up. Instead 300 people crammed into a small gallery space and overflowed into the gardens. The six women organisers of the event were totally overwhelmed but also ecstatic and invigorated by the whole process. There had been no plans to repeat this event however, after this success, they wanted to do it all over again.

It began to unfurl for me many years later, that what I had been doing in the community groups and festivals, was not just mucking around but was a powerful and potential site of learning and engagement. My own anxiety and shyness in an academic setting made this realisation slow in coming. It is only now, six years later and after teaching about diverse pedagogies to beginning teachers that I can reflect upon my initial comment and witness the emergence of expos, as valuable and legitimate pedagogical approaches in teacher education. Not only do creative project settings like festivals and expos develop important adaptive skills to cope with a rapidly changing globalised society, but learning in real life community settings develops highly desirable collaborative skills needed in 21st century classrooms.

 The expo format is an emerging assessment tool in several of the UWS academic units I am involved with such as a market place in the M.Ed. Learning and Creativity unit and the inaugural Education for Sustainability Unit Expo held in May 2013. What I witnessed in the organising of both the community festivals and expos in the university context was a nexus of concepts, challenges, ideas, problems, failures, tryouts, adaptions, solutions and hands on skills that culminated in one event. It seemed to be a messy chaotic process in the beginning but through careful planning and scaffolding, discussion and negotiation the expo or festival seemed to create itself into being. The end result was a synthesis of knowledge and responses, addressing and identifying specific problems or themes, which became manifest in a culturally constructed artefact. In other words the learning became visible in a physical three dimensional way and was reflective of who had made it and what cultural, religious and political values and discourses participants bought with them. Herein lays the value of expos and festivals as a legitimate pedagogical practice. Participants are able to construct learning from their own unique cultural and grounded perspective and bring their experiences into the community, opening a dialogue where aspects of “otherness”, diversity and place can be negotiated. Of course negotiation is still reliant on which leaders exert what kind of power and so there is the continual need for both teachers and students to “critique their social and institutional positionings” when engaged within community contexts (Gannon 2010: 9).

Using Expos as a pedagogical tool has the benefit for teachers, students and researchers of challenging us all to adapt content and present this in creative, engaging ways to a highly critical audience. This is clearly one of the important roles for all of us to develop as 21st century citizens where boundaries of supposed static systems require constant and timely adaption. This can be a ‘sink’ or ‘swim’ experience in an expo format. From my intimate experience of failure and flourishing in a community festival context, I have learnt that if people are not engaged they just walk away. You have to think on your feet quickly and find alternate ways that work to inspire interest. Once interested you need to hold an audience’s attention and give them something they will remember while not taking away from the depth of learning you want to encourage. I have also learnt that collaborative practice is necessarily challenging, requiring flexibility, strong leadership skills and mediation in relationship breakdown. It may seem like a tough gig but as evidenced in the recount of my community group experiences, satisfying, invigorating and empowering when it works.

 In a classroom, students may not be able to physically walk away when they feel disengaged but they will walk away mentally and the consequences of disengagement are well documented (McGregor 2011). To engage this generation we can choose to use culturally responsive and adaptive pedagogies to remain relevant in the visually saturated fast paced globalised life that young people are used to (Kea et al 2006). Using adaptive pedagogies is not a simply pandering to the next generation’s needs but a carefully thought out strategy to meditate the parallel words of disembodied cyberspace and the intimate sensory cues that face to face interaction expresses.  Expos allow participants face to face experience of the life story firsthand by becoming fully immersed in the moment, rather than being distracted by the promise of being at a better place in the past or the future by social media (Rushkoff 2013: 118). I also agree with McArthur (2010: 73) who suggests the need for embodied interactions alongside online communication as “face-to-face experience challenges the notion of cultural otherness by confronting students with the realities of one’s essential humanness”. McArthur’s (2010: 74) research suggests that;

Culturally adaptive pedagogy creates collaborative platforms and spaces where students, educators and institutions can begin to envision creative ‘whole world’ solutions to societal challenges via open-ended inclusive methodologies.

Perhaps instead of falling head over heels for the expo as peak sites for learning and engagement delivering an assured promise of open dialogue, congenial collaboration, equitable and deep learning, we also need to be aware that like any pedagogical tool it can be misunderstood or misused. An expo is not the learning itself. It is the container and the outward manifestation of a larger process. The expo or festival is a moment in time and its success is not the result of linear planning but rather systems thinking. When assessing the learning through the experience of the expo, it is important to remember that just assessing the expo moment or event will not be an authentic measure. The value of the expo experience lies in active participation, regular reflective practice before, during and after the event and a recognition that the assessment is for learning rather than of learning (Flowers 2010). In other words the expo assessment design needs to be able to facilitate learning in process, not just an allocation of a mark for an end result.

It is a philosophical leap to use expos in academic settings and one that I welcome whole heartedly. Reflecting back to my initial recount of the academic’s disengaged audience, we too need to heed the lesson of engagement and relevance. Our world is shifting from institutions being the only legitimate sources of knowledge to a radical pedagogy of knowing from below, a pedagogy of the people. In my experience, this pedagogy is still able to provide a critique of worthwhile ideas but the decider of what is worthwhile has shifted and the space where learning happens is not fixed in one location but is agile and flexible. The expo as assessment tool acknowledges that learning is part of life rather than something that only occurs in the classroom. Expos offer a way for us to put into practice theoretical ideas of learning, critique how power is played out, negotiate relationships and develop projects that may become active beyond university and school gates.

My immersive experience in the community Earthspirit festival has helped develop within me, a greater appreciation for expos and festivals as sites of learning and the inherent challenges they ultimately bring. In support of culturally adaptive pedagogy and open ended methodologies my next adventure into this arena now awaits me in the Simply Living Expo at the Winmalee Public School in the Blue Mountains on Saturday, 5th April, 2014. This project crosses the boundaries of community, academia, institution and social media to explore how one community engages in sustainable practice. It is not a research project but a passion that I share with others in my community. In the spirit of open ended inquiry and culturally adaptive pedagogy, I will remain curious and wondrous about what this new experience will unearth and what pathways this will lead me down. I’ll be sure to let you know.


Flowers. R. (2010). Climate advocacy and climate organizing: Should we be interrogating our theories and practices more? CARG Conference, 5th March 2010 Draft working paper for discussion 1. Available at: http://www.ccs.uts.edu.au/pdfs/flowers-2010-carg.pdf

 Gannon. S (2005). I’ll be a different sort of teacher because of this: Creating the Next generation. Australian Educational Research Association. Available at:  http://publications.aare.edu.au/05pap/gan05103.pdf

Kea. C., Campbell-Whatley. G. D., Richards H. V., and Peay, A.  (2006). Becoming Culturally Responsive Educators: Rethinking Teacher Education Pedagogy. The mission of the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (nccrest) http://www.nccrest.org/Briefs/Teacher_Ed_Brief.pdf

McArthur. P. (2010). Creating Adaptive Pedagogy. Cumulis Creative Thinking Conference proceedings. 69-79. Available at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30857482/Cumulus_Proceedings_Shanghai.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIR6FSIMDFXPEERSA&Expires=1374985425&Signature=2F3Ws5BLlYp7PdF5BP5bM6gDr3I%3D&response-content-disposition=inline

McGregor. G. (2011).  Engaging Gen Y in schooling: the need for an egalitarian ethos of education Pedagogy, Culture & Society Vol. 19, Iss. 1. Retrieved from; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14681366.2010.510803#.UfStYLF-_VI

Rushkoff. D. (2013). Present Shock: When everything happens now. Current: New York.

 Karin McKay is a Lecturer in Social Ecology in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

Children, Nature, and the Future of our Species April 8, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Education and the Environment, Social Ecology.
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From Stephen R. Kellert, Professor Emeritus, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies who will be speaking at the 2013 UWS Social Ecology Symposium 18-19 April, 2013

The current trend toward an increasing disconnect of children from the natural world constitutes a profound threat to our future as a society and even as a species.  Recent data suggest children are engaged with electronic media (computers, television, games) on average 52 hours a week, while spending less than forty minutes outside. What is at stake here is not simply a dispensable recreational amenity, the chance for children to go outside and enjoy and learn about nature, or even fostering a conservation ethic and an attitude of good stewardship.  Far more, children’s healthy maturation and development is in jeopardy and, with it, the future of humanity.

The psychiatrist, Harold Searles, remarked long ago (1960:27): “The non-human environment, far from being of little or no account to human personality development, constitutes one of the most basically important ingredients of human psychological existence.” Theory and evidence increasingly suggest that people possess an inherent need to affiliate with nature (something we have called, biophilia) instrumental to human health, fitness and wellbeing, and this relationship is especially important during the formative years of childhood (Wilson, 1986; Kellert & Wilson, 1993; Kahn & Kellert, 2002; Louv, 2008; Kellert 2012; Children and Nature Network, 2012).

Yet, the importance of children’s contact with nature remains of marginal interest to most of the general public, policymakers, and educators. The assumption still prevails that progress and civilization is a consequence of our society’s ability to transform, separate from, and transcend the natural world. We have become increasingly blind to the reality that our species, like all species, evolved in a biological not an artificial or human created context, and that our physical, emotional and intellectual fitness continues to be reliant on a vast matrix of experiential ties to the natural world, especially during childhood.

Humanity is the product of its evolved relationship to nature, countless yesterdays of ongoing interaction and experience of the nonhuman environment. Our senses, our emotions, our intellect, even our spirit developed in close association with and in adaptive response to the natural world. Our physical and mental health, productivity, and wellbeing rely on myriad direct and indirect connections to nature, even as our world becomes increasingly fabricated and constructed. This dependence on nature has shaped and continues to shape our capacities to feel, reason, think, master complexity, discover, create, and be healthy. Whether we choose to be farmers or financiers, foresters or professors, labor with our bodies or toil with our minds, our safety, security, and survival remains contingent on the quality of our experience of the world beyond ourselves.

The sparse data available suggest our most cherished capacities – physical health, emotional attachment, self-concept, personal identity, critical thinking, problem solving – depend on myriad and irreplaceable experiences of nature, particularly during childhood. Despite our remarkable capacity for learning and creativity, we remain bound like all creatures by the constraints of our evolved biology in a natural not human created world. The extraordinary formative influence of nature deeply effects children’s health, fitness, and even moral and spiritual capacity. A child’s optimal development, the emergence of a secure and positive identity, the ability to think critically and resolve problems, and the creation of self-confidence and self-esteem are all an outgrowth of a vast web of interactions with the natural world.

Children experience nature in direct, indirect, and symbolic ways at home, at school, and at play. Nature is not just a place to visit outdoors in a park or forest, apart from everyday existence. It is also more than organized programs at school or at a nature center. Children also need unstructured and free play opportunities to experience nature in spontaneous and unsupervised contact in the realm of their everyday lives. Restoring children’s connection with nature is not just about enhanced intellectual understanding and outdoor exercise, but also about the experience of wonder, joy, exuberance, challenge, coping, awe, even dealing with fear and anxiety, all and more the basic stuff of normal development. Contact with nature is not just about direct physical contact with the outdoors, but also the representational experience of the natural world in pictures, stories, myth, legend, and design.

Even in the modern age, children’s contact with nature continues to be a vital and irreplaceable source of healthy maturation. The profound impoverishment in contemporary times of children’s contact with nature constitutes a threat to their physical and mental health and development. Intimating this possibility, the precipitous decline in children’s experience of the natural world in recent decades is correlated with alarming increases in rates of obesity, adult diabetes, myopia, attention deficit disorder, and autism among children. The crisis of deeply diminishing connections between children and nature may, in effect, be a threat to the future of humanity. The scale of the problem calls for bold steps and a deeper understanding of what is at stake. Some of this understanding can be found in a new book of mine, “Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World” (Kellert 2012).



Children and Nature Network. 2008.  Research and Studies, Volumes I-VI. www.childrenandnature.org.

Kahn, P. and S. Kellert, eds. 2002. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural,

and Evolutionary Investigations.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kellert, S. and E.O. Wilson, eds. 1993. The Biophilia Hypothesis.  Washington, DC: Island Press.

Kellert, S. 2012. Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. New Haven: Yale Press.

Louv, R. 2008. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Press.

Searles, H. 1960. The Nonhuman Environment: In Normal Development and Schizophrenia. New York: International Universities Press.

Wilson, E.O. 1984. Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Professor Kellert will be speaking at the 2013 Social Ecology Symposium The Expanding Universe of Social Ecology to be held 18 – 19 April, 2013 at the University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury Campus

The humble green cucumber: Lessons from inside the classroom March 10, 2013

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments.
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 from Dr Carol Birrel

Often the classroom itself provides unique learning opportunities if, as teachers, we remain alert to the possibilities.

Early in this semester, I walked into one of my classes (most of these students are pre-service teachers and I teach Social Ecology subjects)) to find a Muslim scarfed woman crunching away on a small green cucumber. I laughed at the sight of this delightful new way of eating this delicious morsel, as a healthy snack food, in contrast to my narrow pre-occupation of throwing it into every salad I can lay my hands on. I then had a rant to the class about what a wondrous food these Lebanese cucumbers are and asked who else eats them and how, which led into a bit of a discussion on the shaping of the Australian diet (and hence culture) through these ‘legal’ and vital imports. Next? On to the ‘real’content for the class that day.

 The following week, the same student, right at the beginning of the tutorial, unearthed from her bag, a wad of bread, pickles and of course, Lebanese cucumbers- one for each student and two for the teacher. Her mother had asked her, on hearing the story of the previous week in class, how many students were in the class. On the appointed day, she had arisen very early, picked the cucumbers fresh from the garden, made the bread, added the home preserved pickles, and packed them into neat individualized bundles. I was very touched by this gesture, not only by the generosity of my student’s mother, the care and time and effort she had made in this offering, but also, it felt like a real gift from her culture. It was a very humbling moment.

 As all of us crunched and munched on our superb simple repast, I asked why I had been given two (you can imagine what sort of explanations I had come up with!!). The reply? ‘Because in Lebanon, the person held in highest regard after the mother, is the teacher.’ Another humbling moment. And then, discussion took off with absolutely no prodding or poking. A lively, thoughtful and sometimes emotional sharing of the role of the teacher and student in whatever cultural background that student was from. Personal stories of suppressive relationships in China, harsh physical punishments in Iraq, imposed rote learning of huge tomes of texts in Afghanistan, no space for class discussion in Pakistan. On and on it went, the rolling out of these stories that everyone wanted to tell, even the Australian born students- and the rest of the class sat riveted. As the teacher, I was background, yet an integral part as learner also, to the crucial learning that was taking place spontaneously.

 It reminded me of what the ‘real’ learning is.

 In Social Ecology, we speak about the creation of a ‘learning ecology’, a place where the emphasis is on relationships, on ‘connectivities’ that bind us into a learning community that has breadth as well as depth. The teacher in this model is as much a part of the actual learning as are the students. Gone is the role of teacher as sole holder and purveyor of knowledge to be transmitted onto the blank slate of the passive student. A learning ecology is an interactive and vibrant site. You know when it is happening. You can feel it as an opening up of a space that is authentic and heart-felt. It attempts to give voice in the midst of the overwhelming noise of competing curriculum directives.

It is as delicious as any freshly picked Lebanese cucumber eaten whenever and in whatever circumstances!

Dr Carol Birrell is a lecturer in the School of Education, University of Western Sydney

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