Natural History of Spain: Teaching Students About Nature and Culture in a Foreign Country

Gorka Sancho & Deborah A. BidwellDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

An ideal liberal arts and sciences undergraduate education in the 21st century should expose students to the natural world as well as to different human cultures. Unique to the College of Charleston’s semester abroad program in Spain, our Natural History of Spain course is designed to provide students with both immersion in natural history, as well as simultaneous immersion in foreign language and culture. Lengthy field excursions focus on basic nature observation and field annotation skills, exposing students to the unique flora and fauna of Spain across multiple ecosystems. An integrative approach comparing and contrasting environmental, cultural, and rural land use issues in Spain and the United States promotes conservation and emphasizes critical thinking skills. During semester-long offerings, Spanish language coursework and cultural immersion through lodging with host families rounds out the interdisciplinary course of study. Our approach allows for an in-depth and truly internationalized perspective, resulting in an integrative immersion in Spanish nature and culture that is grounded in time and place. Students responses highlight the importance of field trips and extended time spent immersed in natural settings as essential to their learning and overall experience. One hundred percent of students rated their international experience positively. [full article]

Organizing a Natural History Gathering: inspiration from the Northeast Warblers and Wildflowers Weekend

Audrey D. Clark & David S. GilliganDownload PDF | Volume 7, 2013

The first annual Northeast Natural History Gathering was held in Craftsbury, Vermont, May 17-19, 2013. The gathering was the second such event organized in relationship with the Natural History Network. Our planning was guided by the philosophy that natural history at its best is an interdisciplinary, egalitarian practice that connects us with others and with the stories in our neighborhood. Forty-five people attended the gathering at a local summer camp, which provided food and lodging for overnight attendees. Participants chose from among eight three-hour field walks led by local and regional naturalists. At the end of the gathering, attendees said they felt “invigorated,” “renewed,” and “nourished.” We wrote this article to encourage others to organize gatherings in their own regions and to guide them through the process. [full article]

Field-based and hands-on ecology labs increase undergraduate interest in the natural world

J. ResascoDownload PDF | Volume 7, 2013

Courses with field components and emphasis on natural history have been fading from college curricula. Interest among young people in observing the natural world has also widely been observed to be declining. Here, I measured whether participation in a college-level general ecology lab (with hands-on and field-based labs) increases student interest in natural history. I created a scoring system to assess students’ interest in natural history (“naturalist score”), and students used this system in self-evaluation before and after completing the course. During the semester, students participated in labs rooted in ecological theory and natural history including two field-based labs, one experiment using live plants and animals, and independent projects on topics of their choice. Naturalist scores increased significantly post-course. This pattern was apparent in students across a wide range of career interests. [full article]

Field School

Lyn BaldwinDownload PDF | Volume 7, 2013

This article uses the form of a creative non-fiction essay to illustrate that the teaching of an ecology field school can be informed by lessons learned from natural history. Throughout the essay, I use migration as a lens through which to interpret the teaching opportunities and challenges that occur in a two-week, capstone field course provided every two years at my university’s research station. Just as shorebirds refuel and rest at migratory staging areas, field school has its own educational waypoints that mark the progress of both individuals and the larger group. As a unique way of knowing that allows university students to attend to the natural world, this story argues that field schools make an important contribution to biology students’ undergraduate education and are worth preserving. [full article]

What Early 20th Century Nature Study Can Teach Us

Anthony Lorsbach and Jerry JinksDownload PDF | Volume 7, 2013

Students are becoming more and more disconnected from nature, a phenomenon labeled “nature-deficit disorder” or “ecophobia.” Some relate the problem to overly conceptual science curricula and argue for science programs to be based, in part, upon local natural history. Such a curriculum, called nature study, was developed at the beginning of the 20th century for similar reasons. Nature study developed in response to the industrialization of American society and became the foundation for science teaching in elementary schools. Nature study proponents believed nature could be studied locally to discover scientific truths, develop within children affection for nature, bring joy to children growing up in an industrialized world, and develop a sense of conservation. Early 20th century nature study educators provide arguments for the study of natural history that sound remarkably contemporary and provide pedagogical practices that can be scrutinized and adapted to the needs of today’s classrooms. [full article]

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