Nature Biology's Wild and Ultimate Classroom: Lessons from the Field
Wednesday, 01 February 2017
By Dr Beverly Goh from Natural Sciences and Science Education Academic Group
"There was a flipped classroom component in the trip, where we got to see the ecosystems before actually learning about them. I could implement this flipped classroom strategy, by letting my students experience first hand, before teaching them in classrooms." - Student Teacher, 2015
Nature or "the wild” lends itself as the best classroom for the study of Biology. While topics like diversity and ecology may be more traditionally taught in a field setting, biochemistry, physiology, and even molecular evolution may also draw inspiration in a field classroom. A teacher who utilises field trips as part of learning Biology may elicit a wide array of learning outcomes, from a superficial level appreciation, discovery and knowledge acquisition, to higher-order inquiry through observation, analysis, understanding and inspiration.
In NIE, field trips are used in the teaching of Biology. We have practitioners who are comfortable teaching out in the field and who hone their craft through constant observation, silent contemplation and patiently waiting on Nature. Their solid understanding of the field environment helps them deliver inspiring lessons to student teachers.
"Seeing the habitats in real life made the topic of species adaptation more understandable. I felt that there wasn't exactly a need to memorise anymore, because they started being more logical" - Student Teacher, 2016
Being well prepared is one of the main reasons for a successful field trip. At NIE, site recces are conducted with a proper risk assessment management plan with alternatives in case of inclement weather, followed by safety briefings. This bolsters confidence in dealing with emergencies. Confidence in the field is something that most student teachers are not trained in, and hence, like the teaching practicum, exposure and practice are essential in building confidence in conducting field studies. This also means not shying away from moderate to higher risk activities, but rather reducing the risk by preparing a logical and feasible management plan.
Our student teachers are often reminded to keep an open mind to always expect that nature will do its own thing and not conform to expectations. This attitude teaches them to respect nature. It also teaches them to be alert towards the many other surprises in store if they went without an expectation.
The hushed amazement of student teachers seeing a living coral reef directly underneath them while safely floating on the sea surface, their delighted squeals upon spotting a camouflaged octopus hunting prey on the exposed intertidal shore at night for the first time reinforces the tutors' belief that harnessing the natural wonder of the field environment helps deliver more than 80% of a lesson.