Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Ultimate Teaching Tool

For the last two weeks, I conducted two sets of two day teacher immersion workshops at Morristown National Historic Park (MNHP) and the Jacobus Vanderveer House (JVH). My biggest take-away so far from these sessions with teachers is that there is no limit to the use of our national parks and historic locations for our schools and students. The teachers on these workshops developed lesson summaries on topics as diverse as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work at MNHP during the Great Depression, the nutritional and herbal uses of the colonial era garden to enhance food and life and lesson ideas probing the perspectives of Loyalists, Patriots, children, slaves, Native Americans and women during the Revolutionary War time period.  Other teachers used the historic, cultural and recreational resources at MNHP and the JVH to create lessons on invasive plant species, tree canopy coverage and kindergarten level lessons on place over time and wants and needs as they related to the children of the Vanderveer and Ford families.   My personal favorite part of these workshops was leading teachers on the process of “sit-spotting” in nature. This practice was done by Native American groups as a form of meditation and nature observation. We connected sit-spotting to everything our ancestors and elders learned about their world. For example, at MNHP and the JVH, nature awareness and observation utilized by inhabitants of these areas at different times led to very simple yet powerful outcomes. Their survival depended upon being nature-aware. Observation gave our ancestors the knowledge of the best direction to build the front of one’s home (south facing to gain the most Sun), the simple concept of selecting the best geographic areas for winter encampments, what herbs to use for medicinal purposes, the usage of plants to make linens, the best woods to use to make fires, build cabins and craft boats and so much more. More importantly, sit-spotting allows teachers and students the time and space to imagine what it was like to be that historic figure on that property during a specific moment in time.   For me, that simple concept of experiential, nature and place-based education is probably the most powerful teaching tool we as educators still have in our bag of  tools.

--Chris Bickel

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