Archive for the ‘teaching & learning’ Category

TheAlphabetOfTheTrees9780915924639 The problem most students seem to have is that they see nature as “Other.” Nature is a tourist destination, a place on a map, something saved by buying and selling crunchy candy. They rarely understand that they themselves might actually be part of it.

— Christian McEwen & Mark Statman

The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing
is a collection of twenty-nine essays by nature writers, poets, fiction writers and educators. More than simply a collection of essays about nature, The Alphabet of the Trees is a wonderful collection of ideas for the classroom and the field.

In their respective essays, contributors share their experiences teaching students how to write about nature. Contributors provide clear instruction, examples of student work and plenty of inspiration to last an entire school year.

McEwen & Statman (2000) published this book for teachers because they wanted to change how the subject of nature is approached in the classroom. They explain that they want nature to be more than a collection of facts. Their book has so many wonderful ideas and so many different ideas, it is impossible to summarize them. Instead of attempting a blanket summary, I would like to offer a glimpse into the type of nature writing activities contributors share with teachers. Listed below is the name of each contributor and the lessons and inspiration they invite teachers to bring into their classrooms.

Nature Writing Activities

  • Gary Snyder – The power of language and observation.
  • Matthew Sharpe – Ideas about how to lead a conversation about nature in an urban classroom.
  • Susan Karwoska – Using children’s literature to explore nature in the city.
  • Joseph Bruchac – Teaching the value of listening to connect with, and write about, nature.
  • Sam Swope – How to write about common objects in many different ways.
  • Eleanor J. Bader – How to write an advocacy essay.
  • Kim Stafford – Recording the thoughts and words of children.
  • John Tallmadge – Looking for wildness in the city.
  • Mary Oliver – How to keep a notebook of felt experiences.
  • Barbara Bash – Field sketchbooks in the city.
  • Sarah Juniper Rabkin – Seeing through the eyes of a scientific illustrator.
  • Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth – Nature journaling with school groups.
  • Christian McEwen – Using the five senses to write about nature. Also, how to set up an ode to nature or any topic.
  • Suzanne Rogier Marshall – How to transition from looking to writing.
  • Holly Masturzo – How to encourage observation through discovery.
  • Ann H. Zwinger – How to write a natural history essay.
  • Carolyn Duckworth – Tools for exploring an animal and an issue.
  • Mary Edwards Wertsch – How to write nature poems (specifically question poems).
  • Michael Morse – Writing about nature using the senses and observing transformations in nature.
  • Penny Harter – Lessons that address how to write about animals (grades 4-12).
  • William J. Higginson – How to write haiku and linked poems (includes renku topics and guidelines for teachers)
  • Cynde Gregory – A garden writing exercise that is a good lead-in to a unit about plants.
  • Jordan Clary – Using nature imagery in poetry.
  • Jack Collom – A wonderful collection of writing ideas for poetry.
  • Terry Hermsen – An exercise in creative memory (poems to help humans recall what they have forgotten about Earth, Wind, Air and Fire.
  • Margot Fortunator Galt – Nature as teacher and guide (circle poems, writing about landscapes, seasons).
  • Janine Pommy Vega – How to help students speak for something in nature (persona poems).
  • Barry Gilmore – Exercises in naming things, observing and describing.
  • Carol F. Peck – An idea to incorporate writing with social studies curricula.

Contributors each include a list of resources at the close of their essays. Editors McEwen & Statman reorganize these resources and provide teachers with a rich bibliography of nonfiction books, fiction books, books about poetry and books for children. They also provide a list of resource organizations and a short biography of each contributor.

The ideas in this collection can be used in many ways beyond the traditional classroom. Outdoor educators, naturalists and interpreters will also enjoy this book.

The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing is available at www.christianmcewen.com.


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There is no shortage of drawing, sketching and painting apps for iPads, iPhones and other gadgets. Which apps are the best? Which will help you draw, paint and match colors in a way resembling how you work with pencil, paper and paint?

Today I want to bring attention to a selection of apps created by Adobe and, specifically, to the interesting series of videos published last month about creating botanical illustrations on mobile devices.

Broadcasting from The Creative Cloud Classroom, instructor Mike McHugh demonstrates how to use Adobe’s Creative Cloud products to turn a botanical drawing into a finished painting. The products he demonstrates are Adobe Ideas (sketching), Adobe Kuler (color matching) and Adobe Illustrator CC (painting).

The color-matching app Adobe Kuler is especially interesting. Many of you are familiar with the color chart by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Well, Adobe Kuler essentially functions like the digital version of the RHS color chart. This interesting app enables you to point your iPhone camera or iPad camera at a subject and instantly establish a color palette. It is fascinating to watch it work.

Now, in just these two paragraphs I have laid the foundation for some very lengthy discussion. I know a discussion like this can turn into as heated a debate as those about religion and politics. My objective today is not to stir the pot, but to share thoughts. To facilitate the sharing of opinions, I created a short survey where opinions can be cast as anonymous clicks. If you would like to post more extensive commentary, please feel free to do so in the Comment box below. All I ask is that you keep passionate commentary friendly.

Before you visit the anonymous survey, take a moment to view the wonderful tutorials in Adobe’s Creative Cloud Classroom. Each video runs about 12 minutes. Here are the links:

Here is the survey

You’ll be able to see how your opinions compare with other readers at the end.

Also See

Adobe Touch Apps for iPhone and iPad. Adobe Ideas and Adobe Kuler are FREE.

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DrawingFood9781452111315 Here is a new resource that takes a fun and lighthearted approach to drawing. This resource provides more than prompts to remind you to draw everyday. It is a guided sketchbook complete with drawing techniques, instructions about how to use different media and a guidebook with plenty of room for sketching.

Drawing Food: A Journal by illustrator Claudia Pearson is composed of two key sections. The first section is titled, How to Draw Food, and contains instruction about how to draw fruit and vegetables, how to draw meat and dairy products, how to draw treats from the bakery, and how to draw household kitchen items. In this section, Pearson discusses line drawing, shading, how to work with colored pencils, and how to work with color pastels. Her instructions are clear, simple and doable.

In Part Two of her book, Pearson establishes a two-page spread for each week of the year and provides fun prompts for sketching enthusiasts. She challenges readers with thought-provoking tasks such as drawing what they find at their local farmer’s market, drawing something seasonal that isn’t produce, and challenges them to describe other culinary subjects in a visual way.

If the word “draw” makes you nervous, this book will help you begin to see your world through the eyes of an illustrator. It isn’t focused narrowly on any one culinary topic and provides plenty of room for you to take the journal in any direction you want to take it.

Interested in beginning your own illustrated food journal and discovering how plants intersect with our lives?

Join ArtPlantae next week when it launches the Botany Craft Bar, a creative place to learn about plants, during the Spring Open House at Aurea Vista on Friday,
May 17, 2013 (5-9 PM). In June, the Botany Craft Bar will become a regular feature during Riverside ArtsWalk, a monthly celebration of the arts in downtown Riverside.

If you can’t make it to the open house next week, visit ArtPlantae’s Botany Craft Bar on the first Thursday of the month during ArtsWalk. The Botany Bar will be open from 6:00 – 8:30 PM at Aurea Vista.

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If we all approached drawing as a means of fixing a memory as opposed to creating a work of art, we’d do more of it and see more as a result.

— Nancy Ross Hugo

If you want to spend time getting to know trees, begin your journey with
Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by author and educator, Nancy Ross Hugo, and photographer Robert Llewellyn. Together they lure readers out of their reading chairs and take them outside to look at trees in a new way.

Hugo and Llewellyn accomplish this through their discussion of thirteen viewing strategies and by teaching readers how to look at leaves, flowers, cones, fruit, buds, leaf scars, bark and twigs. Llewellyn’s informative and beautiful photographs support Hugo’s text and helps readers zero in on the details they need to see.

This same attention to detail is applied to the tree profiles featured in the book. You don’t have to get too far with even the first tree profile to realize you’ve looked at trees all wrong and that you’ve taken them for granted.

As you know, we’re focusing on technology this month and how technology can be taken outdoors. Seeing Trees is a great example of how technology can be used to enhance our understanding of plants. Hugo and Llewellyn’s book is more than a print book. It is available in ebook format and as an interactive book. It is the interactive format I will focus on today.

The interactive version of Seeing Trees is available through Inkling, a Web-based service that is transforming how readers interact with books. They have eliminated the “book” part and focus on how users view and consume content on iPads, iPhones, MACs and PCs.

When visiting Inkling’s website, the first thing you’ll notice is that you can buy the individual chapters of a book for as little as $1.99. The second thing you’ll notice is that the books are interactive and much more than simply a print book in a digital format. The types of interactive components vary among books. In the case of Seeing Trees, readers will find images they can enlarge, words they can highlight and define, and will enjoy the ability to conduct an in-depth search around a specific word. In the introduction section of the Inkling version, there is also a video about how the book was made and how Llewellyn’s approach to photographing this book was inspired by the botanical illustrators of long ago.

Other interactive features of Seeing Trees include:

  • A slideshow of Japanese maple leaves (Acer palmatum and A. japonicum)
  • A slideshow of sweetgum leaves (Liquidambar styraciflua)
  • A slideshow of twigs from 14 species of trees.
  • Links to resources about plants and trees
  • A feature enabling readers to watch fruit development in Liquidambar styraciflua.

While the trees in this book are common to the East Coast, this does not take away from its effectiveness as a tool for seeing. The viewing strategies Hugo and Llewellyn recommend can be applied to any tree (and any plant) regardless of one’s geographic location.

The Inkling edition of Seeing Trees is available for $16.99. The chapter price for this title is $4.99 per chapter.

Literature Cited

Hugo, Ross Nancy. 2011. Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees.
Photography by Robert Llewellyn. Portland: Timber Press.

Also See

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From speaking with many of you, I think it is safe to say that many of us find sketches to be more interesting than polished paintings and drawings. We each have our reasons for thinking this, however articulating these reasons and our emotional reactions to sketches isn’t always easy to do.

Words may come easier to you after today though, thanks to Gabriela Goldschmidt and her interesting article, The Backtalk of Self-Generated Sketches.

In her paper, Goldschmidt (2003) discusses how the sketching process generates and strengthens ideas. She provides an example of how this process can occur with a young child and with an adult designer. Goldschmidt (2003) thoughtfully describes the creation of sketches and how a sketcher reads a sketch to develop an idea into something with many layers.

Goldschmidt’s insights are fascinating and includes some history about the origins of sketching. It appears that sketching can be traced back to the late 1400s and is a direct result of the invention of movable type, printing presses and an emerging book printing industry that includes the birth of the paper industry. As paper became more affordable, designers and artists began consuming paper to create study drawings (Goldschmidt, 2003). This was the time of the Renaissance and the thoughts artists placed on paper were called pensieri, the Italian word for thought (Olszweski 1981, as cited in Goldschmidt 2003).

So what is it about sketches that make them so interesting?

It’s simple — they tell better stories.

Goldschmidt (2003) explains how more information can be read from a sketch than a finished drawing. Hard-lined drawings, she explains, are created “according to strict rules” and imply a finished product. Because anyone can create a line drawing, this makes a hard-lined drawing no different than any other type of generic visual information (Goldschmidt, 2003). A hard-lined drawing is no longer telling a story or, as Goldschmidt says, no longer “talks back”. She explains that self-generated sketches reflect a sketcher’s innermost thoughts and ideas and this is what makes them better stories.

Goldschmidt’s 17-page paper is very interesting and I feel you would enjoy it. I have no doubt you will recognize your own process in her discussion.

Goldschidt (2003) can be purchased directly from MIT Press Journals for $12 or obtained at your local college library.

Literature Cited

Goldschmidt, Gabriela. 2003. The backtalk of self-generated sketches. Design Issues. 19(1): 72-88

Olsweski, E.J. 1981. The Draughtsman’s Eye: Late Renaissance Schools and Styles. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art/Indiana University Press.

Also See

Practical Drawing as a Thinking Tool

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According to professors Shaaron Ainsworth, Vaughan Prain and Russell Tytler, this is what makes drawing an effective learning tool.

They offer their thoughts on the subject in Drawing to Learn in Science, a paper in which they make the case that drawing circumvents the passive learning often observed in science classrooms. Their position on this topic can be summed up simply — instead of leaving students to interpret the drawings of others, have them create their own (Ainsworth et al., 2011).

The authors offer five suggestions as to why drawing makes a good learning tool. What follows is a very brief summary of the arguments Ainsworth et al. (2011) make in their paper.

    Drawing Encourages Engagement
    Passive learning can be diverted when drawing is used alongside reading and writing in the classroom. To draw means to explore and to understand.

    Drawing Deepens Understanding

    Drawing also develops visual literacy skills and provides real-time experience documenting observations.

    Drawing Develops Reasoning Skills

    Planning a drawing requires thinking through content and learning to reason in different ways.

    Drawing is a Good Learning Strategy

    Drawing is a good way to work through confusing information and transform student understanding into an observable medium.

    Drawing Makes Knowledge Public

    When knowledge becomes public, it can be shared and discussed with others.

Ainsworth et al. (2011) continue making their case for drawing in the sciences by highlighting programs that are actively researching the effectiveness of drawing in the classroom.

Drawing to Learn in Science can be purchased online for $20 or obtained by visiting your local college library.

Literature Cited

Ainsworth, Shaaron and Vaughan Prain and Russell Tytler. 2011. Drawing to learn in science. Science. 333(6046): 1096-97

Also Hear…

Shaaron Ainsworth’s interview about this paper in a podcast produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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It may be winter, but there is no need to wait for Spring to integrate plants and art in the classroom. All one needs to do is follow the example set by biology teacher Pat Stellflue, art teacher Marie Allen and botany professor D. Timothy Gerber. In their paper Art & Science Grow Together, they explain how they created a project that placed plants and botanical illustration high on the agenda for an entire school year.

In a program they call “Plants, Pots and Paints”, Stellflue et al. (2005) integrated the plant sciences with the arts in their work with fourth and fifth grade students. On the science side, their program addressed plant structure and function, growth stages, survival strategies and reproductive strategies. On the art side, their program focused on different media and art techniques. Key to this program was a pottery project (clay pot construction) and drawing (botanical illustration). The disciplines of botany and art came together in a series of hands-on activities in which growing, drawing, painting and dissecting (Stellflue et al., 2005) were the focus.

Using tulips, crocus, iris and daffodils as their primary study subjects, students learned about growth stages, form, function and drawing while planting and growing spring flowers and illustrating their observations.

After a full year of integrating botany and botanical art, Stellflue et al. (2005) observed that students ended the year with stronger observation skills and an enhanced understanding of plants. This became clear to the authors through the increasingly informative illustrations students created (Stellflue et al., 2005). The authors also observed students taking better care of their plants because they had built the clay pots and drainage trays themselves.

Art & Science Grow Together is available online and can be purchased for 99¢.

Literature Cited

Stellflue, Pat and Marie Allen, D. Timothy Gerber. 2005. Art and science grow together. Science & Children. 43(1): 33-35

Related Information

Resources about bulbs, seeds, plants and schoolyard gardens at ArtPlantae Books

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