At a school in Copenhagen, students have pigs, chickens, alpacas and a tipi in the garden. In a greenhouse, second-graders have sown seeds from vegetables and fruit they have included in the food package.
Mango, pumpkin, melon, cucumber and tomatoes sprout in the students’ pots when we are shown around by Susanne Borg. She is a nature guide and teaches science in the garden.
– The children fall to the sky when they see how big the plants have become. They become very proud, she says.
Together with Borg, the students carry out their own studies, for example of insects and plants, in the garden, in parks and on the beach.
– I’m trying to make them curious. I hope to give them an understanding of nature’s small cycles and knowledge of where things come from, says Borg.
Nature strengthens the barn understanding
The fact that nature can stimulate students’ curiosity and give them a better understanding of scientific processes is supported in a new release from the Danish University of Education (DPU).
– Research shows that students learn and remember science better when they use nature in teaching, says Theresa Schilhab, who is an associate professor at Aarhus University and author of the peer-reviewed reports.
The report uses nature in subjects such as biology, geography, chemistry, nature / technology and physics.
– In the scientific literature, there are several examples that the rivers remember more, and that science makes better sense for the student when they are allowed to put what they learn in the classroom in perspective in nature, she says.
Science needs to enter
Outdoor school can grow motivation
Outdoor school, where students are taught outdoors in all sorts of different subjects for several hours each week, can help children become more motivated to go to school and that they thrive better.
You can read more about the school form in previous articles at videnskab.dk.
Several of the scientific articles Schilhab has reviewed suggest that children who carry out their own observations and studies find it easier to relate to the scientific workflow:
- Observe a phenomenon.
- Establish and hypothesis.
- Examine it systematically.
– Does not have to be superfancy
I studied from Malaysia fifth-grade students, for example, have been divided into groups. One group had to look for animals and plants in the schoolyard, focusing on «animal reproduction strategies» and «plant dispersal strategies».
The other group was taught in the classroom using textbooks and presentations.
The students then received a test that consisted of 20 questions about scientific research methods.
Both groups became better. But the biggest improvement was meals from those who had conducted their own studies outdoors.
– In the research literature, there are several examples that it does not have to be superfancy. It can be the close nature, for example beetles under the stone in the schoolyard or a small spot with grass, which can give a feeling that what we are talking about in the classroom is where we are different, says Theresa Schilhab.
The school has no tradition of using nature
I tried in Malaysia that the children had not been to the schoolyard and that they could observe and classify species.
– The basic element in science teaching is nature. So it should be obvious to go out and find examples so that things become more concrete, says Schilhab.
– Unfortunately, it is not a tradition for it in Denmark. It is a notion that it is more serious when sitting in the classroom. But sedentary teaching is in stark contrast to modern knowledge of how to learn as much as possible, she adds.
The experience of learning, which is based on reading texts, doing assignments and being taught in the classroom, has roots all the way back to ancient Greece.
Later, the method formed the basis for Western European educational institutions in the 12th century, says Theresa Schilhab.
Books were read closely and discussed according to established procedures. The method evolved into today’s classroom teaching.
– It was assumed that teaching in a classroom provided children with opportunities to get away from everyday chores and concentrate on learning. It could be to curb the children’s physical activity so that they could concentrate, says Schilhab.
Today we talk about learning being situated – it means that you learn something in all the contexts you are in, not just in the classroom.
– Modern research shows that you learn best when the teaching takes place in an environment that is meaningful, that can get a bodily experience with the material. In science, it is smart to supplement classroom teaching with teaching in nature, says the researcher.
Today’s children have to deal with the climate and nature crisis the world is in. According to Schilhab, research suggests that children feel more willing to take responsibility when they feel connected to nature, and science education in the open can contribute.
The pigs get toys
At Langelinieskolen, the student is introduced to scientific methods when they carry out their own studies outside.
Susanne Borg also tries to get them to take a stand, for example on the size they eat.
Among other things, the students get 20 minutes to build and pig barns of materials found in nature.
– Most people build something that is incredibly beautiful that the pigs can play, says Borg.
How much do I have a slaughter pig?
Then the students see pictures of reality’s pig barns, among other things with fixed sows. They also learn about the differences between organic and conventional agriculture.
– I show them how little space pigs have, and then I put one of the pigs in there. The students are shaken, says Borg.
– Then we talk about that humans are predators, but that we can choose whether we want to eat meat or not. It makes them think about what they eat and where the materials come from.
– Not enough to focus on science
Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard researches sustainable education and has edited the book «The pedagogy of sustainability – research perspectives and examples from practice.»
– Teaching about nature in nature is absolutely central to my field of research. But that is not enough, says Lysgaard.
He believes that sustainable development should have a place in the school system, not just in science.
Sustainable development can be in focus in all subjects, the researcher believes.
– In the school context, the understanding of sustainable development is almost always linked to science and climate, Lysgaard points out.
– But for me it is not exhaustive. A more modern understanding of the concept also contains social, economic and political perspectives.
Nature experiences in science teaching, Pedagogical Insight 10 (2021)
Can Lin Ting & Nyet Moi Siew: Effects of Outdoor Education on Students’ Science Process Skills and Scientific Curiosity, Canadian Center for Science and Education, 2014. DOI: 10.5539 / jel.v3n4p96
© Videnskab.dk. Translated by Lars Nygaard for forskning.no. Read the original case on videnskab.dk here.
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