NOW and Always the Environment

Teacher Development Grant

 2022-2023 Project Summary

Shel Hyatt

Norwalk Ontario Wilton Elementary School • Ontario, WI

NOW and Always the Environment: Engaging in Interdisciplinary Applications of Nature Based Studies in the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District is a three year pilot program integrating nature studies (NS) into traditional second grade curriculum. Environmental education will be explored as a strategy for positive impacts, from improving academic performance, to enhancing critical thinking skills, to developing personal growth and life-building skills including confidence, autonomy, and leadership. Because teachers often lack the preparation time, class time, and resources to use NS, this project will address these challenges by integrating NS into traditional curriculum while retaining the integrity of this area of study.

Programming over three years will include curriculum development, enhancement of learning facilities, peer collaboration across grade levels and curriculum areas, and creation of learning resources that can be shared regionally and nationally. The NS curriculum will mesh together with the curriculum currently being used and would be based on using the science of phenology, which studies natural events in an effort to understand the natural cycles of our native ecosystems. The concept of phenology will provide opportunities to teach science, technology, and math standards such as inquiry, observation, creating relevant questions, making predictions, graphing and analyzing information, problem solving, conducting basic research, and communication of results.

Project leaders plan to build on the Next Generation Science Standards recommendation to place science instruction at the forefront of lessons, instead of as an occasional “enrichment activity” to impact language and reading skills as a way of improving learning for all students, especially English language learners.
The teachers will develop curriculum for NS education spaces at the school site. For example, middle school technical education classes will create bird feeders and other similar materials that can be placed outside the classroom windows and make the learning space a nature studies laboratory. Now and Always the Environment will explore, apply, and assess the use of NS. This approach will imbed learning by inquiry which will be applicable to all disciplines with the aim of preparing students for STEM classes in their future studies.

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