This is the second in a series of posts offering a reflection on the week I spent at Brandon Springs Group Camp in Land Between the Lakes with several teachers and people involved with environmental education. Here are a few more lessons learned.
Walking in a shallow stream calms the soul. After spending some time walking in a shallow stream, quietly looking for crayfish, minnows, and turtles, we began to contemplate how we might bring this stream with us to our own backyards. Most of us realized that we are not able to create shallow flowing streams in our backyards, but we are able to take advantage of the calming effects of quiet solitude in nature (even within larger cities). The time that we take to calm our souls helps fuel creativity and increases our quality of life. As many veteran teachers have often told us, “Practice self-care.” Walking in a shallow stream or spending some quiet time in nature is a great way to care for yourself.
We must remain connected to our collective past. Our fearless leader, Dr. Joe Baust, continually reminded us of the history of the Land Between the Rivers and its transformation to Land Between the Lakes. What we have today is the result of the sacrifices of those who have come before, and we must recognize and be thankful for that. This attitude of honor and thanksgiving keeps us from becoming too self-absorbed and arrogant. Land Between the Lakes is a great recreation area, a place for people to connect with nature, but it was created as the government acquired land, homes, towns, and farms. Seeing the cemeteries spread throughout this area reminds us that this “wilderness” was once home to many people. In our classrooms, we need to work to help students see how they connect to the past. As reflected in my last post, this is best done through story. Rather than list facts about the area, Dr. Baust connected us with real people and their stories. We saw their land, and their gravestones–the only thing left to indicate that this area had once been inhabited by people. As we heard their stories, we were connected (and humbled).
Research is best when it arises from a personal connection or perspective. As we explored one of the many cemeteries hidden away in LBL, we created our own questions. We were driven by our own personal desire to find the answers to those questions. Sure, it would have been easy for those in charge to give us a scavenger hunt asking about the oldest graves, the number of children buried there, the number of graves housed outside the cemetery fence, etc. By allowing us to ask and answer our own questions, we were able to tackle the questions that had meaning for us. I see two significant connections for our classrooms. First is the need to create a culture of question-asking. This is a component of the Next Generation Science Standards, so most science teachers are beginning to think about this. The second connection is just as important and will work to drive the creation of the question-asking culture. The second connection is allowing students time to answer the questions that they ask. This may require hands-on exploration, interviews, or “old school” research.
This week, may you find time to walk in a shallow stream, connect to the past, and explore your own questions. Then comes the hard part in trying to recreate those experiences for our students.