— by Carol L. Malnor
Editor’s Note: As a long-time teacher, nature educator, and instructional designer for a national education company, Carol has a uniquely helpful perspective on the current demands being made of teachers. We recently asked her to shares a bit of the perspective she brings to her new Common Core blog.
Last week I heard a report that two of our most scarce natural resources are “darkness” and “quiet.” Thinking back to my childhood, I could totally agree. I grew up in a suburb located between Chicago and Gary. Steel mills and oil refineries surrounded our little town. I thought a “clear night” was when we could see the few stars of the Big Dipper. Most nights a combination of smog and light pollution turned the sky a dull gray.
Maybe that’s why I became enthralled with the brightness of the stars in northern Michigan. When I was twenty-something, my husband took me camping at Clear Lake. Not only was the water clear, but the lake also made a “clearing” in the dense forest canopy. One moonless, summer night I took a midnight swim. The stars reflected in the black water of the perfectly calm lake. Floating on my back in the middle of the lake, I couldn’t tell where the lake ended and the sky began. The power of nature flowed through me.
As a teacher, I wanted my students to experience the power of nature; too, and got them out into nature in big and little ways. Some of our most memorable end-of-the year field trips were hiking in the mountains near Big Sur, canoeing the Sacramento River, and whale-watching in the Pacific Ocean. Great moments to be sure!
But even during the regular school day, I tried to get my students outside noticing the subtle change of seasons, listening to migrating Sandhill Cranes high overhead, or just watching clouds.
But there were lots of days when going outside wasn’t an option. That’s when I turned to the power of books, especially picture books, to bring nature into my classroom. The simple text along with vivid illustrations, captured my students’ attention, even the 7th and 8th graders!
The books were such a success that I wanted to share them with teachers. That’s one of the reasons why I created my blog Inside Outside Nature. Each week I featured two or more books along with lessons plans for inside and outside activities. Most of the activity suggestions came from my own personal teaching experience.
I can hardly believe that I taught my first class of high school students 40 years ago! Over all these years, I’ve seen lots of educational reforms come and go. I’m excited about two new reforms that are being accepted across the country—Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I think these standards are an antidote to the rote memorization of isolated facts that has recently dominated education. As I’ve become more and more familiar with CCSS and NGSS, I’ve realized that the standards set the stage for helping students read, write, and think critically and creatively about science topics.
My NEW blog Common Core: Making the Connection (www.carolscommoncore.com) continues to feature great picture books with lesson plans, but there’s an added dimension—the lessons plans is are aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. I hope to make teachers’ lives a little easier by giving them ways to easily integrate the standards in their reading and science classes. You’ll find a new lesson each week until mid-June. Then the blog takes a summer vacation and will return in mid-August.