The purpose of this Section is to introduce an approach to the understanding of ecological concepts that takes an inductive rather than a deductive approach to teaching. This approach is based on analogy, metaphor and models. It is sometimes visual, but frequently creates opportunities for learning to take place through the other senses of touch, hearing and smell and occasionally taste. This Sub-section focuses mainly on games which convey ecological understanding through the senses of sight and hearing.
As with most activity based, guided discovery learning the questioning at the end of the activity is essential, if pupils are to internalise the learning which each of the activities outlined sets out to achieve.
These games originate largely from practitioners in the American forest camp system. The approach owes much to the work of van Matre and Cornell. The teaching and learning strategy is experiential based on rich first hand experience of the natural environment. While these games can be used in classrooms or the grounds of a school they are undoubtedly most potent when used in forest surroundings.
The games outlined here are mainly concerned with the development of understanding of ecological concepts such as food chains and food webs. However these games can have other foci such as sharpening the senses, creating solitude experiences or creating aesthetic or affective learning experiences.
Cornell (1979) proposes five tenets for outdoor teaching using environmental games:
1 Teach less and share more: share your own emotional and inner thoughts and responses to nature with pupils. What are your feelings in the presence of trees? Do you experience feelings of awe and respect for forests and the plants and animals in them? 'Only by sharing our deeper thoughts and feelings do we communicate to, and inspire in others, a love and respect for the earth.'
2 Be receptive: Respond to pupils; listen and be aware of every question, comment and joyful exclamation.
3 Focus the child's attention without delay: Involve everyone as much as you can. Lead your pupils into close observation.
4 Look and experience first; talk later: Don't worry about labelling. Observe things from unusual angles. Use all the senses to experience nature.
5 A sense of joy should permeate the experience: Remember that your own enthusiasm is infectious.
van Matre (1990)
suggests a number of questions that can be asked when teachers use environmental
At the Start
Does the activity:
Hook learners by pulling them in and attracting them?
Deal with fundamental ecological processes?
Establish a friendly atmosphere?
During the Activity
Does the activity:
Include first hand contact with natural systems and/or communities?
Stand on its own without a lot of discussion to get its point across?
Follow an organised sequence of steps?
Engage all learners physically and mentally at an appropriate level?
Make the concept concrete?
Emphasise meaning before names and labels?
Use terms and analogies which learners understand?
Use questions which facilitate the flow of the activity?
Focus on specific outcomes which learners can identify and relate to?
Does the activity:
Result in an outcome that will be useful to learners now and in the future?
Require learners to do something with what they have learnt?
Accomplish what it set out to do?
A sense of adventure can be created before an activity if you work out your route, study the ground, prepare your equipment, rehearse activities, think about the outcomes of the activities and try to build in a story line or meaningful sequence. During the activity adventure can be nurtured by offering the pupils a challenge, making the ordinary appear extraordinary, asking for assistance, presenting a mystery, organising it as an expedition, pretending there is a risk.
van Matre sees
the hall mark of the teacher's personal contribution to these activities to
be rewarding, relating and reinforcing.
Besides the obvious strategies he suggests that pupils can be rewarded
giving them a chance to beat the teacher
offering tangible tokens, as long as it is not the tokens themselves that become the motivators
doing something uncommon or adventurous.
he suggests for relating include:
challenging pupils to come up with examples from their own lives that relate to the point of an activity
asking pupils to share stories about their natural neighbours at home
using metaphors such as a house as an ecosystem (see Unit 1 Section 4)
asking pupils how they can live more lightly on the planet, e.g. saving energy
asking pupils to share examples of natural things that make them feel good
analysing daily routines to see which activities use the most energy (see Unit 5 Sub-section 5.4.2)
selecting a plant or an animal and asking pupils to show how they are similar to it.
he advocates for reinforcement are those
that most good teachers would use:
link points to previous learning
use additional concrete examples
ask pupils to put a point in their own words.
ask pupils to find other examples and explain them
provide reasons for learning that make sense in the pupils' world.
Sub-Section Activity Notes
The best way to appreciate the value of these activities is to experience them. The message is in the method; appreciating the power of focused experiential education by experiencing it. It is up to the trainer to decide the venue and sequence of the activities outlined here.
However the sensitisation sequence on the video-cassette does look mainly at games which are linked more to the affective domain and emotional intelligence than the cognitive domain and the understanding of ecological concepts. It would be a challenge for your staff to think of ways in which these games might be used to convey ecological understanding. The following episodes on the tape have the closest connections with the understanding of ecological concepts:
Episode Five: Logging
Episode Eight: On the Minibeast Trail
Once you have finished the sequence of games it is crucial that you ask teachers to analyse the games using the questions in the training materials. You can use the trainer's notes as a guideline answer to the last question by recording on a flip chart the different principles that each group identifies. You may wish to supply your staff with a copy of the trainer's notes as a summary of the session.