Just about every biologist I know started out as a kid with a disproportionate fondness for messing about outdoors. We dammed streams, climbed trees, studied carcasses of rodents our cats dragged in, and painstakingly collected live sea creatures for private (and usually temporary) aquaria. Formal lectures on freshwater hydrography, forestry, mammalogy, and marine biodiversity did not spark our interest in biology, but rather provided scaffolding on which to rest our previously developed enthusiasm for and sense of ownership of the natural world. Apparently the geologists have a saying that goes, “The best geologists are those who’ve seen the most rocks. “ It seems that we as current or future biology teachers could and should coopt this quote for ourselves. In order to produce really good biologists or even biologically literate humans, we need to show students a whole lot of real live biology.
Students who become scientifically literate are those who can connect to scientific information to their own lives. It is a fact that modern American children are spending less time outdoors than ever before (Louv 2005). There is something very troubling about increasing isolation of young people from the unplugged, unlit, unheated outdoor environment. Forget about the demonstrated health benefits of getting dirty (Yazdanbakhsh et al. 2002), we as biology teachers should be facing the challenge of Nature Deficit Disorder head on. In this time of unprecedented global change, we cannot afford to produce scientifically illiterate students who are disconnected from their environment. So before we rely on lectures to teach about the natural world, let’s go outside and expose students to real patterns in nature. Let’s allow them see for themselves the real pressures threatening our environment, and provide them with a sense of ownership of and responsibility for protecting the future of natural systems.