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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
February 10, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. — With the first whiff of spring in the air, especially coming on the heels of a brutally frigid January, the cure for cabin fever has become quickly apparent.
Teachers in elementary and secondary classrooms shouldn’t forget that their young pupils benefit just as much from trips outside, not only emotionally but academically.
That’s the message from two Northern Illinois University professors who are bringing the concept of “No Child Left Inside” to Illinois teachers.
Sabiha Daudi, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, and Murali Krishnamurthi, director of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, led two highly successful workshops on snowy Saturdays in January.
“We’re focusing on how to train teachers and educators, such as those who work in nature centers, zoos and parks, on how they can bring environmental education into their classrooms and teaching situations,” Daudi said.
“Every educator at this point is struggling with ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Teachers dealing with NCLB refrain from other activities. They only teach to the test because there is not time for anything else,” she added. “Our goal is to work within the system. Teachers really can’t do much about NCLB. It is a hard fact that exists.”
Meanwhile, she said, students present myriad other challenges that include attention deficit disorder, depression and obesity.
Assistance waits outdoors, starting with the change of scenery and the breath of fresh air and continuing with the exercise benefits of nature hikes.
“Get the students away from the screen. Take them outside. Show them there is life beyond video games. Let them interact with the natural environment,” Daudi said. “For younger students, one idea is to take them on a nature walk. This need not be in a nature center. It could be the stream that flows behind the school. Check out what’s happening in nature out there.”
Science lessons are obvious in earth’s classroom – teens at Dundee-Crown High School are identifying and cataloging plants and animals found on their campus, for example – but opportunities also exist in language arts, math and social studies.
Children can write essays and poems about what they see. They can measure distances and calculate dimensions. They can work in teams, learning not only to collaborate but how they can learn from each other.
Subtle messages also come from trips outside, Daudi said. When students monitor their environment, and are taught not to disturb nature, they receive early instruction in reduce, reuse and recycle.
“School teachers want some simple activities to show kids what exactly they can do at home, around their yards, around their schools,” Krishnamurthi said. “It’s our responsibility to protect the environment. It’s about managing – using recycling resources effectively, managing natural resources, reducing the use of toxic materials. I know it’s impossible to eliminate it completely, so I’m pleased to show people how we can manage things better.”
“When children grow and go into their professions, they will have internalized information about caring for our planet,” Daudi added. “We kind of underestimate our children as learners. Children are inquisitive by nature, and they like the hands-on nature of environmental education. We as educators – as adults – can move them in the right direction.”
The NCLI movement began in 2005 with the publication of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” a book by Richard Louv.
NIU’s project is sponsored by an environmental education grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. An EPA representative will attend an April event where participants in last month’s workshops, some of whom came from as far away as Carbondale, are expected to present their NCLI-inspired projects and the results.
“It really sparked the teachers’ interest,” Krishnamurthi said.
“A lot of them feel the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act has stifled their creativity and enthusiasm for integrating environmental issues because they have this task of meeting the standards,” he said. “Now we’re showing them you can still take children outside to nature reserves or to backyards and somehow integrate those into your courses.”
Staff from Congressman Bill Foster’s office also have expressed excitement and interest in NIU’s project, Krishnamurthi said. Members of the U.S. Senate currently are considering the NCLI Act, a bill already approved by the House of Representatives, that would make federal funding available to NCLI projects.
Daudi, a former science teacher who came to NIU in 2005, is not surprised by the excitement.
“My passion and my focus is environmental education. I see the importance. I see the need. I see the connection to everything we do in this world, be it economical, political, social or cultural,” she said. “A lot of people think environmental education is science. It’s so much more than that. It’s about human impact. The environment has always been here and will be here when human race leaves. To sustain all life on earth, it is our responsibility to take good care of natural resources and the environment.”
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