Time in Nature = Happier, Better Students


Sometimes I’m asked why non-science teachers should bother trying to work nature into their curriculum.  Thanks to the Children & Nature Network I can share this handy infographic with those folks! The graphic focuses on younger students but there is no reason we can’t apply the same ideas to older students.  What teacher doesn’t want to see their students more focused?  Not to mention, studies show that spending time outside  boosts performance in reading and writing and enhances creativity and critical thinking.  As an English teacher, these are things I strive to help my students with every day.  How wonderful is it that we can help students achieve many of these things just by providing them with time outside?

And you don’t even have to get outside! Studies have shown that students who are able to view nature through school windows also receive a boost in academic performance.  Too often, our classroom windows are covered by blinds.  If they aren’t covered with blinds, teachers often end up scolding students for staring out the windows and daydreaming.  But what if we could harness students’ interest in what’s outside the window?

I am thinking about getting one of these window bird feeders for my classroom windows this fall.  I’m in the basement, so I don’t have large windows.  However, the windows I do have are under a tree that many species of birds use throughout the school year.  We also have resident squirrels and a groundhog.  My students can’t see much out of the windows, so I hope that adding something like this feeder might help bring a little bit more of nature into our classroom.

If your classroom is not in the basement you might be interested in some of the window birdhouses that are available.  They won’t work for me because no bird wants to nest that close to the ground.  However, they are great for classrooms on the 1st floor or higher.  The birdhouses use suction cups to stick to the glass and have a window on the inside allowing viewers to watch the birds build their nest and hatch their young.  It’s like a class pet, without the clean up!

These are just a few ways that we can bring the outdoors in.  How do you bring nature into your classroom?


The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

61cbvznrdjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_ picked up The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  after a friend recommended it.  I decided to listen to the audiobook when I discovered it was available through my library system as I would be spending a few hours in the car commuting back and forth to class.  I thought the premise sounded interesting.

I had no idea how enthralling Finkel’s book, and Christopher Knight’s story, would be.  I’m already making plans to include The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  in my upcoming Literature and the Land unit during the first marking period.  I think some of my ninth graders will be just as fascinated by Knight’s story as I was.

Chris Knight’s story is nothing short of compelling.  In 1986, he parked his Subaru Brat in the Maine woods, threw the keys in the console, and walked into the woods with nothing except a few supplies.  For nearly three decades he lived in the woods and did not interact with a single human being.  He stole food and supplies from unoccupied seasonal cabins in the area to survive and was finally caught by police when surveillance methods became more advanced.

The book is based on Finkel’s extensive interviews with Knight after his arrest and shines a light on man’s relationship with nature and man’s relationship with mankind.  The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  is a thought-provoking book that made me pause and think numerous times.  Why did Knight leave?  Is it always wrong to steal? What effect does cutting off human contact voluntarily have on a person’s psyche?  Knight confessed to 1000 break-ins and is not portrayed as some type of savior or hermit in the book. He’s very honest about his faults and that makes him even more intriguing.  Finkel presents his story alongside neurological research, interviews with experts, and nature studies.  It’s absolutely riveting.

This is a book I can foresee my student’s really digging into.  I can’t wait to share it with them.  It’s also a great book to pair with Thoreau or Emerson’s classic works.

#100HoursUnplugged Challenge- Can You Do It?

This summer, OARS, one of the largest rafting companies in the world, is challenging adults and children to leave their technology and devices behind for 100 hours this summer.  No social media, no Candy Crush, no checking email- just you and the great outdoors for 100 hours.  OARS explains that you can break the 100 hours up for the entire summer or spend a long weekend camping to accomplish your goal.  It’s not about when you unplug but how.  Spend time outside hiking, camping, playing in the backyard, or anything else you can think of!

According to OARS, children and teens spend between six to nine hours a day online.  And guess what?  That doesn’t include screen time for school!  I know I am guilty of assigning technology-laden assignments for homework so I play a part in this tragedy, too.  And yes, I think it is a tragedy.  I’ve spoken to my students multiple times about how much time they spend outside on a weekly basis and for most of them it’s barely any time at all.  They are scheduled within an inch of their lives by school and home and there just isn’t time.  Yet we know that spending time outside is good for our mental and emotional health.

Adults are even worse!  We spend up to 11 hours a day using technology.  (Yup, sounds about right….) So it’s time to start setting a good example.  Summer is the perfect time to get outside and start thinking of ways to bring your students outside in the fall.  Get comfortable with the parks and school yards in your neighborhood.  Observe and play. Relax.  And have fun!

Take the challenge and sign up!  Then share pictures of your adventures.  

Teaching With Science Comics

This is a fantastic resource from School Library Journal’s June 2017 issue.  “Teaching with Science Comics” examines the ways that comics and graphic novels can be used to share science and includes a list for recommended reading.  I’ve already added a few books to my next book order!

“Human beings are a storytelling species,” says Yang. “Our brains crave stories. They are the easiest way for us to receive and remember information.”

Source: Teaching With Science Comics

Literature and the Land: Reading and Writing for Environmental Literacy by Emma Rous

512B48BZV4L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHeinemann is one of my favorite educational presses and I buy a lot of their books; I thought I had a good handle on their backlist.  Then, about a year ago, someone mentioned to me that they had published a guide to nature writing in the English class a few years ago.  A bit of digging let me to Literature and the Land: Reading and Writing for Environmental Literacy by Emma Rous.  

I’m not sure if the book is still in print but there are definitely used copies available (that’s how I got a copy).  If it’s not still in print I certainly wish they would bring it back!  Emma Rous, an English teacher in New England, shares her amazing ideas for integrating nature into English class in this book and it’s perfect for our new CCSS/NGSS-centered teaching world.

When I read the book the first time I was constantly stopping to flag pages.  Today, it’s on a special (easy to reach) shelf in my classroom and it’s one of my most-used resources.  Often teachers tell me they want to get their students outside and they want to collaborate with their science colleagues but they just don’t know how to do it.  This book solves that problem.  Full of practical ideas that teachers can implement immediately in their classroom, Literature and the Land: Reading and Writing for Environmental Literacy by Emma Rous. is a must-have resource for any teacher who wants students to value nature.  There are book lists, writing assignment ideas, project-based learning ideas, and much more within the pages of this book.  I highly recommend tracking down a copy from a used book source.  It’s my favorite professional resource right now!

Bringing Science into English Class

I’m often asked, “But how do you have time to talk about science in your English class?”  This usually baffles me, likely because I love science and see it everywhere. I can’t imagine not incorporating science into my curriculum!  As an English teacher, I have the ability to share books, articles, films, podcasts, and more with my students.  My high schoolers love to debate so science topics are an easy go-to for me. We’ve read about (and debated) reintroducing mountain lions to our state, the importance of national parks, and development vs. preservation. We’ve read polemics, poems, and prose. We’ve written polemics, poems, and prose.

One way that I incorporate science into my English class is through nonfiction articles.  Many English teachers have adopted Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week and I’m no different.  However, I am lucky enough to have a newspaper subscription for my classes each day.  My students and I read The New York Times every day (you can read a bit about there here or watch a webinar I participated in) so that gives me a lot of opportunities to bring science into the classroom.  We read about environmental issues, scientific discoveries, and any other science news.  A personal favorite is anything about teenage brain development because my students and I read Romeo & Juliet through the lens of adolescent brain development.

I also collaborate with my biology colleague whenever possible.  We designed the 9th grade summer reading list together, focusing on creating a long list of fiction and nonfiction books that incorporate science in some way. The 9th graders also participate in One Class, One Read: The Forest Unseen by David Haskell. The book is a collection of essays so it’s approachable for students at different levels.  It also allows us to take a closer look at certain entries throughout the year without needing to dive into the book in-depth.  It’s one of my favorite books and I love sharing it with students.

Do you incorporate science topics into your English class?  I’d love to hear some of your ideas, too!

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

61a5rfrrftL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_I love using picture books in my high school classes.  People often tilt their head and look at me with a concerned face when I mention this but picture books are a fantastic way to introduce mentor texts and complex topics in a single class period.  I often use picture books to inspire my students to think about nature and Jess Keating’s Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  is the newest book I’m adding to my classroom pile.

A visit to the Battery Park Aquarium in New York City at age nine inspired Eugenie Clark’s obsession with sharks. She spent the rest of her life studying these fear-inspiring creatures even when she hit roadblocks.  Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  is the inspiring story of a female scientist who broke through gender barriers to follow her passion and in the process helped dispel many myths about sharks.

I teach at a STEM-focused high school located near the Jersey Shore and I think Eugenie Clark’s story will inspire some of my students to pursue their passions.  Sharks are always a hot topic during beach season and many of my students still believe the myths about sharks that dominate pop culture.  Keating’s book can help my students learn more about the sharks that live off our coast (even though we like to pretend they are not there!) while also inspiring some of my female students to continue studying STEM. It’s so important for female students to see themselves in books about science and there is a sad lack of these stories told by major publishers.  Keating’s book fills a glaring hole in the picture book canon and I am hopeful that there will be more female scientist-focused picture books published in the future!

(Not sure about using picture books with secondary students?  Check out this post for some ideas).