In The Importance of Naturalists as Teachers & the Use of Natural History as a Teaching Tool, James J. Krupa discusses the demise of naturalists in academia. He expands upon a conversation started by biologists Reed F. Noss (1996) and Douglas J. Futuyma (1998) in the late 1990s about the concern that “keyboard” ecologists are replacing traditional field ecologists and that there is an urgent need to cultivate a new generation of naturalists (Krupa, 2000). In response to their concerns, Krupa (2000) proposes an approach teachers at all grade levels can use to use natural history as a teaching tool in their classrooms.
Krupa (2000) suggests teachers…
- Bring their own field experiences into the classroom.
- Create outdoor experiences on campus.
- Go on a day trip not too far from campus.
- Take students to a biological field station.
- Plan a weekend field trip for their students.
If organismic biology was part of your upbringing in college (especially if you are of a certain age), Krupa’s suggestions will hardly be revolutionary. His suggestions will be very familiar and you probably have your own stories about memorable field trips and weekends spent at biological field stations. However at a time when outdoor experiences are being replaced by multimedia and Web-based classroom activities (Krupa, 2000), the seemingly obvious suggestions above are perhaps not so obvious at all.
In his own classroom, Krupa’s goal is to turn his students on to natural history by creating firsthand experiences either through his slides and personal stories or through live experiences in the field (Krupa, 2000). He wants students to feel nature before they read about it. He calls this first experience an “awareness exercise” (Krupa, 2000) that can only be achieved through observation. Krupa (2000) argues that his traditional approach allows for “spontaneity, discovery and awareness”, experiences that are not possible through the use of “pre-planned, question-oriented exercises” (Krupa, 2000).
Are you a naturalist?
Krupa (2000) defines a naturalist as someone with “extensive knowledge of the organism’s behavior, ecology, distribution, systematics and life history.”
Do you think of yourself as a naturalist when you draw or paint?
When you work…
You study your subjects in great detail.
You observe and document how they grow and how they move.
You are mindful of each phase of your subject’s life cycle.
You look up what you do not know about your subject.
Then you tell your subject’s story through your work.
Are you a naturalist?
If you’ve never thought of yourself as one, why not?
One of the possible causes behind naturalists’ declining numbers is that the word itself stirs up negative imagery (Futuyma (1998) as stated in Krupa, 2000). Biologists don’t want the “naturalist” label assigned to them. How about you?
What are your first thoughts and emotions when you hear the word naturalist?
You do not need a physical classroom or be fully employed teaching the “how to” lessons of botanical art to teach people about plants or to create the “awareness exercise” Krupa (2000) speaks about. There are many ways to be a teacher.
How do you teach people about plants through your art?
Futumya, Douglas J. 1998. Wherefore and whither the naturalist? The American Naturalist. 151(1): 1-6. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/an.1998.151.issue-1>
Krupa, James J. 2000. The importance of naturalists as teachers & the use of natural history as a teaching tool. The American Biology Teacher. 62(8): 553-558. http://www.nabt.org/websites/institution/index.php?p=451>
Noss, Reed F. 1996. The naturalists are dying off. Conservation Biology. 10(1): 1-3. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1523-1739.1996.10010001.x/abstract>