Studying nature is the best way to inspire the mind. Is it too much to say that students that understand nature are smarter? There is a lot of data supporting this assumption. Those that get out often in nature are healthier, even more data supports this. The diagnoses of a new disease, Nature Deficit Disorder, is not fiction. We need for our children to put their electronic devices down and put on their hiking boots. Getting out in nature is a “game changer.”
We tell parents that getting kids out in nature solves a lot of issues surrounding them. They develop empathy toward wildlife. They learn to smell the flowers, and appreciate life. They become in awe; they begin to appreciate the power of the universe. Looking at a sunset, they smile and breathe deeply. Seeing the awkward walk of a land turtle brings joy and appreciation. Noting differences creates understanding and respect. Knowing that without bees, our plants would not reproduce leaving hunger and famine ever present. Ah, the power of knowing about nature leads to growing up well.
Nature Based Learning is an adaptation of Problem Based Learning or Project Based Learning. The Problems presented to our students is not just any problem, but Nature Problems or a Nature Questions. NBL calls these problems, Challenges. Each challenge presented to students needs to be solved, and students are encouraged to use the 4 Cs (Creative or critical thinking, collaboration and communication) to achieve success.
While PBL (Problem Based Learning) is complex and involves students in many weeks of research, study, collaboration, critical and creative thinking and communication, NBL (Nature Based Learning) is PBL – Lite. That is, the problems, questions or projects are challenging and rigorous, but do not involve a whole semester of work. Most challenges are less than 15 or 20 minutes. While the developers of NBL love PBL, our program is specific to nature with quick burst of thinking and collaborating.
NBL challenges are not designed to be conducted in classrooms, but outdoors, in nature. NBL is shorten to fit into a visit to a park, a nature preserve, a farm, mountain or a river. NBL nature challenges are short and focused. Most challenges can be solved in 15 to 20 minutes, and there are about 10 challenges in each unit. As Nature learning and studies are usually limited to quick field trips or overnight camps.
There are two interconnected educational elements to NBL. First, there is the Topic Reading to create an interest and understanding about the topic. Also, the Topic Reading highlights the link between our world and the topic. We recommend that students read the Topic Reading before taking on The Challenges. Specifically, if students are going to take the water challenge, they should read the NBL:Water Topic Reading prior to the challenges.
The NBL Challenges are designed to give students educational challenges. These challenges require students to think both creatively and critically, communicate with each other and collaborate. Questions or Problems posed by The Challenge are not simple to solve. The answer to the problem cannot be found on the internet or a book. The problem has to be solved with thought and usually a mini-experiment to test the validity of their thinking. Some problems are easier than others, but all problems or questions increase students’ understanding of the nature subject.
Leaders and Groupings
Teachers or leaders are there to help and guide, but not to give the answers. Students really have to work together to solve or answer the question by using the 4Cs (creative or critical thinking, collaboration and communication). For the best results, each challenge should be tackled by a small group of students between 4 to 8 students. One teacher can handle up to 3 groups if they are doing the same challenges.
Groups should not mix challenge topics as they are designed as a unit. It is okay that a particular challenge is skipped or extended based on the time and interest of the participants. If you only have 2 hours, you will find that you cannot complete all challenges, so you can drop two or three. The educational benefit is in the participants working together to solve the problems, and in presenting, that is, explaining to others the answers. The process used in solving The Challenge is incredibly enriching and builds confidence. These mini presentations are critical to the success of NBL as just like in PBL, it is the attempt at putting thoughts together that help develop one of the most important 21st century skills: communication.
The 4 Cs are critical to the success of NBL. Students will gravitate toward using collaboration and communication without being told as long as they are in groups. and have an interesting problem to solve. They don’t need to be invited to collaborate, they will automatically do it! It is important that all students participate and that the leader encourages all. If there are dominant participants, leaders will need to involve them as assistants to help others.
NBL has produced an extensive Guide Book to help leaders and teachers encourage student centered learning. The Guide Book will help leaders with some tricks to encourage participation and to tamp down some that are overly or too enthusiastic students. The Guide Book is a great source of ideas that encourage students to participate, praise others, encourage a learning environment, support the production of ideas (whether great or not), brainstorming and exploring “out of the box” solutions. All teachers or leaders of the NBL program should order The Guide as this will help make the NBL an extremely rewarding experience.