Monday, July 30, 2007

Teaching Nature-Study

Extracts from "The Handbook of Nature Study" by Anna Botsforc Comstock. Written in 1911, the principles she lays out remain fresh and relevant nearly 100 years later!

What Nature-Study Is
Nature-Study is a study of nature; it consists of simple, truthful observations that may, like beads on a string, finally be threaded upon the understanding and thus held together as a logical and harmonious whole. The object of Nature-Study should be to cultivate in children the powers of accurate observation and to build up within them understanding.

What Nature-Study Should Do for the Child
Nature-Study cultivates the child's imagination, since there are so many wonderful and true stories that he might read with his own eyes. At the same time, Nature-Study cultivates in him a perception and a regard for what is true, and the power to express it.

Perhaps half the falsehood in the world is due to lack of power to detect the truth and to express it.

Nature-Study cultivates in the child the love of the beautiful; it brings to him early a perception of colour, form and music.

But, more than all, Nature-Study gives the child a sense of companionship with life out-of-doors and an abiding love of nature.

Let this latter be the teacher's criterion for judging his or her work. If Nature-Study as taught does not make the child love nature and the out-of-doors, then it should cease. However, if the love of nature is in the teacher's heart, there is no danger.

When and Why the Teacher Should Say "I Do Not Know"
No science professor in any university, if he be a man of high attainment, will hesitate to say "I do not know" if they ask for information beyond his knowledge. The greater his scientific reputation and erudition, the more readily, simply, and without apology, he says this.

It is only the teacher in the elementary schools who has never received enough scientific training to reveal to her how little she does know, who feels that she must appear to know everything or her pupils will lose confidence in her.

In Nature-Study, any teacher can with honour say, "I do not know".

But she should not let lack of knowledge be a wet blanket thrown over her pupil's interest. She should say frankly: "I do not know; let us see if we cannot together find out this mysterious thing. Maybe no one knows it as yet, and I wonder if YOU will discover it before I do".

The Use of Scientific Names
This matter is of little importance if the teacher bears in mind that the purpose of Nature-Study is to know the subject under observation and to learn the name incidentally.

If the teacher says, "I have a pink hepatica. Can anyone find me a blue one?" the children, who naturally like grown-up words, will soon be calling these flowers hepatica.

But if the teacher says, "These flowers are called hepaticas. Now please everyone remember the name. Write it in your books as I write it on the blackboard, and in half an hour I shall ask you again what it is," the pupils naturally look upon the exercise as a word lesson and its real significance is lost.

How To Use the Book
Make the lesson an investigation and make the pupils feel that they are investigators. To tell the story to begin with spoils this attitude and quenches interest.

And lots more in the book including
What Nature-Study Should Do for the Teacher
Nature-Study as a Help to Health
Nature-Study as a Help in School Discipline
The Relation of Nature-Study to Science
The Child Not Interested in Nature-Study
The Correlation of Nature-Study with Language Work
The Correlation of Nature-Study and Drawing
The Correlation of Nature-Study with Geography
The Correlation of Nature-Study with History
The Correlation of Nature-Study with Arithmetic

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