Nature as a Learning Tool

Article excerpt

As summer days cool and students venture back to the classroom, they often return with stories of family trips to new and exciting places. Many go to the beach or local, state, or national parks--all of which provide great learning opportunities. Whether through art, history, writing, or geography, drawing on students' firsthand experiences can help them develop an appreciation for nature and its historical roots.

Earth Day Network

The Earth Day Network's 40th Anniversary Curriculum (see "On the web") can help students explore their summer experiences. The curriculum focuses on the history of the Environmental Movement and includes videos, graphs, lectures, timelines, and archival footage from five eras of environmental history: Preconservation, Conservation, Modern Environmental Movement, Environmental Justice, and Sustainability.

All of the lessons are easily adaptable to the K--12 environment and can be incorporated throughout the school year. Using these lessons at the start of the year can offer a more detailed approach to what students may have only casually witnessed on their summer break.

Conservation--The Seed Is Planted

This lesson, which falls under the second era, focuses on different artistic interpretations of land and how it influenced the birth of the modern national park system. Following the Lewis and Clark expeditions in the early 1800s, artists--such as Ansel Adams, George Catlin, and Albert Bierstadt--were sent west to document those areas of the United States that had never been explored or inhabited by Europeans. People who couldn't travel relied on these artists' works, which were available in books, magazines, and newspapers.

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Ask your students to research the landmarks they visited over the summer and compare their findings with their own pictures and descriptions. Are there differences? What were the larger social and political implications of showing the American public this land?

If students are less traveled, have them research places they'd like to visit and find different artistic interpretations. What accounts for these differences? How have these landmarks been represented over time?

Numerous political battles have been fought over land preservation--another great classroom discussion point. The battles of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and their contemporaries brought issues of conservation and preservation into the political sphere and to the forefront of America's consciousness.

To understand early conservation issues, split students into two teams to debate wilderness versus civilization: Do the negatives of logging forests outweigh the need for timber? Is untouched wilderness more important than damming a river for water and power? …