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When you think about the type of curriculum included in classical education, a focus on liberal arts and character education may come to mind. What many people may not realize is that the study of nature is vital to instill knowledge and values that will serve both the student and our society for years to come.

ResponsiveEd teachers practice a student activity during Professional Development.

Classical Academy Academic directors at ResponsiveEdⓇ rely heavily on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy that all children are born persons with minds that deserve a rich and generous curriculum. One aspect of Mason’s teaching is the importance she put on observing the world around you. Mason is quoted as saying, “We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”

ResponsiveEd Director of Science Melissa Dubke explains that this quote became the basis of the Nature Study initiative.

In keeping with the philosophy and values of Mason, the 5E Science Model, and the Texas Essential Knowledge Skills (TEKS), this curriculum is heavily influenced by the nature study program developed by Charlotte Mason, the Environment as an Integrated Context (EIC) for learning model as well as the John Muir Laws Curricula. Additionally, the activities will be aligned for each grade with the TEKS under the direction of Responsive Ed’s K-12 Science Director Melissa Dubke to ensure the lessons will correspond with the 5E model, existing Knowledge Units, and STEMscopes for science instruction.

The goal of this project is to provide ResponsiveEd classical campuses with a thorough and comprehensive nature study curriculum for K-5 students that can be used by any of the ResponsiveEd models. The idea is to develop a program to help ‘educators purposefully engage learners with direct experiences to develop the skills of observation and expression, cultivate character, and foster a love for exploration and discovery, which creates in them a sense of stewardship to the world around them.’

Research has proven that nature studies can strengthen a young brain’s development in a myriad of important ways. It is a goal of this program to incorporate EIC-based curriculum, a method backed by numerous scholarly articles and research and whereby students are committed to investigating the environmental surroundings and challenges within their unique community.

In keeping with ResponsiveEd’s mission statement, this curriculum seeks to create well-rounded, civilly-minded, lifelong learners, regardless of socioeconomic status. With this in mind, the curriculum will highlight flexibility to allow teachers to expand and condense as would best fit their specific school. This will ensure that campuses with varying levels of funding and limitations to property and tracts of land will still be given ample access to a rich nature study curriculum.

During the 2018-2019 school year, the Nature Study pilot program was implemented on seven campuses including:

“Students will have the opportunity to observe, record, research, and present with the idea that they can plan and improve stewardship of the world around them,” says  Dubke. “Providing students with opportunities to connect to nature and their local community will fulfill the existing goals of ResponsiveEd to build lifelong learners and virtuous citizens.”

Dubke explains that the campuses incorporated the Nature Study in K-5 sciences as well as other subjects like art and literature to tie their nature observations into TEK-aligned curriculum. During the pilot program, teachers were encouraged to take students outside and “really focus on what they notice; what they wonder; and what it reminds them of,” says Dubke. “Connecting their observation skills to personal experiences to create a cross-curricular learning opportunity.”

To watch an example of what this class time looks like, you can watch a recorded lesson here.

The Academics team is looking forward to launching the Nature Study across all classical campuses in the 2019-2020 school year.

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