Posts Tagged ‘teaching & learning’

TheAlphabetOfTheTrees9780915924639 The problem most students seem to have is that they see nature as “Other.” Nature is a tourist destination, a place on a map, something saved by buying and selling crunchy candy. They rarely understand that they themselves might actually be part of it.

— Christian McEwen & Mark Statman

The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing
is a collection of twenty-nine essays by nature writers, poets, fiction writers and educators. More than simply a collection of essays about nature, The Alphabet of the Trees is a wonderful collection of ideas for the classroom and the field.

In their respective essays, contributors share their experiences teaching students how to write about nature. Contributors provide clear instruction, examples of student work and plenty of inspiration to last an entire school year.

McEwen & Statman (2000) published this book for teachers because they wanted to change how the subject of nature is approached in the classroom. They explain that they want nature to be more than a collection of facts. Their book has so many wonderful ideas and so many different ideas, it is impossible to summarize them. Instead of attempting a blanket summary, I would like to offer a glimpse into the type of nature writing activities contributors share with teachers. Listed below is the name of each contributor and the lessons and inspiration they invite teachers to bring into their classrooms.

Nature Writing Activities

  • Gary Snyder – The power of language and observation.
  • Matthew Sharpe – Ideas about how to lead a conversation about nature in an urban classroom.
  • Susan Karwoska – Using children’s literature to explore nature in the city.
  • Joseph Bruchac – Teaching the value of listening to connect with, and write about, nature.
  • Sam Swope – How to write about common objects in many different ways.
  • Eleanor J. Bader – How to write an advocacy essay.
  • Kim Stafford – Recording the thoughts and words of children.
  • John Tallmadge – Looking for wildness in the city.
  • Mary Oliver – How to keep a notebook of felt experiences.
  • Barbara Bash – Field sketchbooks in the city.
  • Sarah Juniper Rabkin – Seeing through the eyes of a scientific illustrator.
  • Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth – Nature journaling with school groups.
  • Christian McEwen – Using the five senses to write about nature. Also, how to set up an ode to nature or any topic.
  • Suzanne Rogier Marshall – How to transition from looking to writing.
  • Holly Masturzo – How to encourage observation through discovery.
  • Ann H. Zwinger – How to write a natural history essay.
  • Carolyn Duckworth – Tools for exploring an animal and an issue.
  • Mary Edwards Wertsch – How to write nature poems (specifically question poems).
  • Michael Morse – Writing about nature using the senses and observing transformations in nature.
  • Penny Harter – Lessons that address how to write about animals (grades 4-12).
  • William J. Higginson – How to write haiku and linked poems (includes renku topics and guidelines for teachers)
  • Cynde Gregory – A garden writing exercise that is a good lead-in to a unit about plants.
  • Jordan Clary – Using nature imagery in poetry.
  • Jack Collom – A wonderful collection of writing ideas for poetry.
  • Terry Hermsen – An exercise in creative memory (poems to help humans recall what they have forgotten about Earth, Wind, Air and Fire.
  • Margot Fortunator Galt – Nature as teacher and guide (circle poems, writing about landscapes, seasons).
  • Janine Pommy Vega – How to help students speak for something in nature (persona poems).
  • Barry Gilmore – Exercises in naming things, observing and describing.
  • Carol F. Peck – An idea to incorporate writing with social studies curricula.

Contributors each include a list of resources at the close of their essays. Editors McEwen & Statman reorganize these resources and provide teachers with a rich bibliography of nonfiction books, fiction books, books about poetry and books for children. They also provide a list of resource organizations and a short biography of each contributor.

The ideas in this collection can be used in many ways beyond the traditional classroom. Outdoor educators, naturalists and interpreters will also enjoy this book.

The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing is available at www.christianmcewen.com.


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There is no shortage of drawing, sketching and painting apps for iPads, iPhones and other gadgets. Which apps are the best? Which will help you draw, paint and match colors in a way resembling how you work with pencil, paper and paint?

Today I want to bring attention to a selection of apps created by Adobe and, specifically, to the interesting series of videos published last month about creating botanical illustrations on mobile devices.

Broadcasting from The Creative Cloud Classroom, instructor Mike McHugh demonstrates how to use Adobe’s Creative Cloud products to turn a botanical drawing into a finished painting. The products he demonstrates are Adobe Ideas (sketching), Adobe Kuler (color matching) and Adobe Illustrator CC (painting).

The color-matching app Adobe Kuler is especially interesting. Many of you are familiar with the color chart by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Well, Adobe Kuler essentially functions like the digital version of the RHS color chart. This interesting app enables you to point your iPhone camera or iPad camera at a subject and instantly establish a color palette. It is fascinating to watch it work.

Now, in just these two paragraphs I have laid the foundation for some very lengthy discussion. I know a discussion like this can turn into as heated a debate as those about religion and politics. My objective today is not to stir the pot, but to share thoughts. To facilitate the sharing of opinions, I created a short survey where opinions can be cast as anonymous clicks. If you would like to post more extensive commentary, please feel free to do so in the Comment box below. All I ask is that you keep passionate commentary friendly.

Before you visit the anonymous survey, take a moment to view the wonderful tutorials in Adobe’s Creative Cloud Classroom. Each video runs about 12 minutes. Here are the links:

Here is the survey

You’ll be able to see how your opinions compare with other readers at the end.

Also See

Adobe Touch Apps for iPhone and iPad. Adobe Ideas and Adobe Kuler are FREE.

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Drawing teaches the arithmetic of space, as figuring teaches the arithmetic of numbers.

– T. R Ablett, Esq.

How do you begin to use drawing as a learning tool in a classroom with 35 students?

Here is an approach that may be worth trying in today’s busy classroom setting.

What follows is a format proposed by T.R. Ablett, Esq. as it was explained in the January 1888 issue of the journal Science. The article, The Teaching of Drawing, is about a paper Ablett presented at the College of Preceptors. In this paper, Ablett argues that drawing must become a subject every student learns, regardless of their future vocation. He argues that incorporating drawing across the curriculum has many advantages, namely:

  • It helps students think about proportion and scale.
  • It makes students better at describing what they see when they combine writing with drawing.
  • It develops students’ “graphic memory”.

In his presentation, Ablett describes a way to teach drawing to different grade levels. Here is the approach he proposes:

    Class 1: Students should learn how to observe, how to create contour drawings of simple subjects, and how to “ward off color blindness”.

    Class 2
    : Students should learn about simple forms and curves, should learn art-related terms and continue to develop their “graphic memory.”

    Class 3
    : Students should learn how to draw the outlines of common objects.

    Class 4
    : Students should learn how to draw rounded objects.

    Class 5
    : Students should learn how to shade live subjects.

    Class 6
    : Students should learn about other branches of art.

Ablett also argues that public perception about drawing needs to be raised. He says teachers need to do their part to prove that drawing is “one of the bases of education”, equal to other subjects such as arithmetic. He says that if students are going to learn arithmetic, there is no reason they shouldn’t learn drawing at the same time.

To accomplish such a formidable task, Ablett says teachers must learn how to teach drawing in a group setting. He says they can do this by using drawing subjects large enough for all students to see, by ensuring that all students have the same view of a subject, and by demonstrating the principles they are teaching with lots of enthusiasm.

The Teaching of Drawing is available online through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. One-day access to this article costs $20. Alternatively, you can search for this issue of Science at your local college library.

Literature Cited

The Teaching of Drawing. 1888. Science. 11(259): 30-31. Published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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DrawingFood9781452111315 Here is a new resource that takes a fun and lighthearted approach to drawing. This resource provides more than prompts to remind you to draw everyday. It is a guided sketchbook complete with drawing techniques, instructions about how to use different media and a guidebook with plenty of room for sketching.

Drawing Food: A Journal by illustrator Claudia Pearson is composed of two key sections. The first section is titled, How to Draw Food, and contains instruction about how to draw fruit and vegetables, how to draw meat and dairy products, how to draw treats from the bakery, and how to draw household kitchen items. In this section, Pearson discusses line drawing, shading, how to work with colored pencils, and how to work with color pastels. Her instructions are clear, simple and doable.

In Part Two of her book, Pearson establishes a two-page spread for each week of the year and provides fun prompts for sketching enthusiasts. She challenges readers with thought-provoking tasks such as drawing what they find at their local farmer’s market, drawing something seasonal that isn’t produce, and challenges them to describe other culinary subjects in a visual way.

If the word “draw” makes you nervous, this book will help you begin to see your world through the eyes of an illustrator. It isn’t focused narrowly on any one culinary topic and provides plenty of room for you to take the journal in any direction you want to take it.

Interested in beginning your own illustrated food journal and discovering how plants intersect with our lives?

Join ArtPlantae next week when it launches the Botany Craft Bar, a creative place to learn about plants, during the Spring Open House at Aurea Vista on Friday,
May 17, 2013 (5-9 PM). In June, the Botany Craft Bar will become a regular feature during Riverside ArtsWalk, a monthly celebration of the arts in downtown Riverside.

If you can’t make it to the open house next week, visit ArtPlantae’s Botany Craft Bar on the first Thursday of the month during ArtsWalk. The Botany Bar will be open from 6:00 – 8:30 PM at Aurea Vista.

ArtPlantae is an affiliate of IndieBound

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If we all approached drawing as a means of fixing a memory as opposed to creating a work of art, we’d do more of it and see more as a result.

– Nancy Ross Hugo

If you want to spend time getting to know trees, begin your journey with
Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by author and educator, Nancy Ross Hugo, and photographer Robert Llewellyn. Together they lure readers out of their reading chairs and take them outside to look at trees in a new way.

Hugo and Llewellyn accomplish this through their discussion of thirteen viewing strategies and by teaching readers how to look at leaves, flowers, cones, fruit, buds, leaf scars, bark and twigs. Llewellyn’s informative and beautiful photographs support Hugo’s text and helps readers zero in on the details they need to see.

This same attention to detail is applied to the tree profiles featured in the book. You don’t have to get too far with even the first tree profile to realize you’ve looked at trees all wrong and that you’ve taken them for granted.

As you know, we’re focusing on technology this month and how technology can be taken outdoors. Seeing Trees is a great example of how technology can be used to enhance our understanding of plants. Hugo and Llewellyn’s book is more than a print book. It is available in ebook format and as an interactive book. It is the interactive format I will focus on today.

The interactive version of Seeing Trees is available through Inkling, a Web-based service that is transforming how readers interact with books. They have eliminated the “book” part and focus on how users view and consume content on iPads, iPhones, MACs and PCs.

When visiting Inkling’s website, the first thing you’ll notice is that you can buy the individual chapters of a book for as little as $1.99. The second thing you’ll notice is that the books are interactive and much more than simply a print book in a digital format. The types of interactive components vary among books. In the case of Seeing Trees, readers will find images they can enlarge, words they can highlight and define, and will enjoy the ability to conduct an in-depth search around a specific word. In the introduction section of the Inkling version, there is also a video about how the book was made and how Llewellyn’s approach to photographing this book was inspired by the botanical illustrators of long ago.

Other interactive features of Seeing Trees include:

  • A slideshow of Japanese maple leaves (Acer palmatum and A. japonicum)
  • A slideshow of sweetgum leaves (Liquidambar styraciflua)
  • A slideshow of twigs from 14 species of trees.
  • Links to resources about plants and trees
  • A feature enabling readers to watch fruit development in Liquidambar styraciflua.

While the trees in this book are common to the East Coast, this does not take away from its effectiveness as a tool for seeing. The viewing strategies Hugo and Llewellyn recommend can be applied to any tree (and any plant) regardless of one’s geographic location.

The Inkling edition of Seeing Trees is available for $16.99. The chapter price for this title is $4.99 per chapter.

Literature Cited

Hugo, Ross Nancy. 2011. Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees.
Photography by Robert Llewellyn. Portland: Timber Press.

Also See

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Two weeks ago we considered how we can help children experience plants differently. This topic sparked a conversation about teaching ideas that ranged from how to see leaves differently to how to help kids relate to invisible processes.

Today let’s revisit this topic and consider adult learners and learning that occurs outside of a traditional classroom setting.

Informal learning is learning that occurs outside of traditional formal learning environments, such as a classroom or a lab. Examples of informal learning environments include nature centers, visitor’s centers, botanical gardens and museums. In these places of learning, scientific information is presented to the public in meaningful and easy-to-digest ways.

Building a bridge between experts and non-experts can be a perilous activity and can come with criticisms about dumbing down content (Davis et al., 2013).

Do informal science educators water down information too much when presenting it to the public? Do they encourage misconceptions or enable the formation of new misconceptions?

Pryce R. Davis, Michael S. Horn and Bruce L. Sherin address this issue in
The Right Kind of Wrong: A “Knowledge in Pieces” Approach to Science Learning in Museums.

Every single one of us is a teacher. It doesn’t matter that we do not have a physical classroom to call our own. Through our interest in plants, nature and the wonderful world of natural science illustration, we teach and communicate information about plants and nature in many ways.

When you are teaching, do you ever worry about being wrong? About making the wrong impression, about using the wrong analogy or about stretching the truth a bit too much just to make a point?

The article by Davis and his colleagues might put your mind at ease. In their article, Davis et al. (2013) argue that simplifying content does not necessarily lead to problems and they present an approach that can lead general audiences to meaningful understanding of content.

Expertise in a subject is great, but it can also be a problem because it can get in the way of teaching. Experts in their field have mastered the technical jargon of their discipline, are quick to point out the mistakes of non-experts, want to replace wrong knowledge with correct knowledge, and have forgotten what it was like to be a learner in their field (Davis et al., 2013).

To make the gap between experts and non-experts smaller, Davis et al. (2013) recommend that museum educators take non-experts on a gentle and winding path to expert knowledge by putting the misconceptions they bring with them to good use and by using the assorted bits of prior knowledge they each possess. The approach they encourage is called the “Knowledge in Pieces” approach.

Davis and his colleagues explain that the “Knowledge in Pieces” approach to science communication in informal learning environments isn’t about making grand leaps of understanding within the small space of a museum exhibit. Instead, it is about making small learning gains that engage learners by allowing them to relate the new knowledge to what they already know and how they have come to know it in their daily lives. By doing this, the learner remains comfortable and confident along the path to “expert” knowledge. To do otherwise (i.e., to replace what a learner thinks they know with a fresh batch of expert knowledge in one swift movement), would be to create a situation that leaves a learner bewildered and unsure of what they know because their new “expert” knowledge isn’t based on prior personal experiences.

Communicating science has never been easy. Davis et al. (2013) provide an interesting look at the history of science communication and how it has changed in the 21st century. Did you know there was once a belief that respected scientists did not “go public” with their research (Goodfield, 1981 as cited in Davis et al., 2013)?

Learn more about the “Knowledge in Pieces” approach. The article by
Davis et al. (2013) is available online for free. Click on the link below.

Literature Cited

    Davis, Pryce R. and Michael S Horn, Bruce L. Sherin. 2013. The right kind of wrong: A “Knowledge in Pieces” approach to science learning in museums. Curator: The Museum Journal. 56(1): 31-46. Web. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cura.12005/full>
    [accessed 22 March 2013]

    Goodfield, J. 1981. Reflections on Science and the Media. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Also See

Science Communication Through Art

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Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, the event for which February is probably best known. Today I propose that there is a bigger and better event in February. This event is Digital Learning Day. A new national movement, the second annual Digital Learning Day was celebrated just last week. This national campaign celebrates “education champions who seek to engage students, celebrate and empower teachers, and create a healthy learning environment, personalized for every child.”

Allow me to stray just a bit from the usual drawing-specific topics covered in this column. I am not straying too far, really, as today’s featured activity can be implemented as a clever way of encouraging the collection of quality reference photographs — resources valued highly by all botanical artists and natural science illustrators.

Meet Wendy Walker-Livingston. Drawing upon her fond memories of scavenger hunts at summer camp, science teacher Wendy Walker-Livingston created a scavenger hunt about plants in which learning is reinforced through field work and technology. She describes her 21st-century scavenger hunt in the article, Botanical Scavenger Hunt.

Walker-Livingston’s field adventure is exactly what you’d expect a scavenger hunt to be — a mad dash with list in-hand and a sprint to the finish line.

What is different about Walker-Livingston’s scavenger hunt is that participants are not collecting objects. Instead, what they are collecting are images. In this case, images of 16 key plant characteristics used in plant identification (Walker-Livingston, 2009) that were collected using digital cameras and cell phones. Today, of course, you can add iPods and tablets to this list of image-capturing devices.

When conducting this activity, Walker-Livingston (2009) prepares students for their scavenger hunt by first introducing them to botanical terminology, plant morphology, plant classification and dichotomous keys. When distributing the list for the scavenger hunt, she tells students they have 50 minutes to collect photographs of the characteristics on their list and 10 minutes to download their images.

The day (or two) after the scavenger hunt, each student team is given 60 minutes to create a 3-minute multimedia presentation that includes a narrated description of the images they collected.

Walker-Livingston (2009) says her activity has been successful on many levels. Students love the activity, the multimedia project helps students verbalize their new knowledge and the project successfully addresses the various ways learners interact with the world, ways Howard Gardner describes in his theory of multiple intelligences.

Walker-Livingston’s Botanical Scavenger Hunt is easy to add to your teaching toolbox. This article can be purchased online for 99¢ from the NSTA store.

Literature Cited

Walker-Livingston, Wendy. 2009. Botanical scavenger hunt. Science Scope. 32(6): 31-34.


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