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Future educators learn to create an environment for learning by learning about the environment.


s any classroom teacher knows, theirs is a challenging profession. One does not simply walk into a classroom one day and mold young minds. Thorough knowledge of the subject matter and understanding of the ways students learn are key and CHC education majors now have a new way of gaining such skills through a partnership with the Morris Arboretum. Last June, Debra Chiaradonna, Ph.D., assistant professor of education and chair of the division of teacher education and leadership, was approached by a representative of the arboretum to find out if she was interested in participating in an outreach program for education majors. Liza Hawley, assistant director of visitor education and youth programs at the arboretum, and former educator and arboretum volunteer, Bette Perlman, hoped to expose pre-service teachers to the benefits of field trips as a way of incorporating botanical and environmental information to these teachers who will someday share this knowledge with students in their own classrooms. “For me, it is about the importance of the environment and the principles of how children learn from it,” says Chiaradonna. “The classroom is an environmental relationship that teachers are responsible for developing with their students. This collaboration felt like a perfect fit.” Throughout the course, the CHC students — pre-K and middle school teachers — learn important information about ecology, the environment and botany and best teaching practices. They conduct hands-on, child-centered activities and learn the theories of learning and teaching framed around the environment. “Being outside helped me see first-hand connections between teaching and nature and between children and nature … and how outside methods of teaching can help different children learn and grow,” says Julia Katherine Galantich ’18.


CHC students learn skills to create a nurturing classroom environment within the natural environment of the Morris Arboretum.

“I plan to incorporate many different mediums and methods for learning to reach and accommodate all students,” adds Galantich, whose dream is to teach in an inclusive classroom. “I will be able to use several of the things I learned in this class in my future classroom.” The final class project required students to create a book for a particular age group using content from the arboretum and incorporating principles of learning, such as student motivation and knowledge of students and creativity, to demonstrate best practices in teaching. This spring, two classes have worked with the Morris Arboretum, and Hawley hopes to continue the program in the future. “We love when teachers bring groups here,” she says. “It’s important to get outdoors and understand the value of plants, because we can’t live without them. Knowing what is outside fosters observation skills and a nurturing attitude, all of which make for a more thoughtful, caring and observant child who will carry those qualities over into adulthood.” “In the beginning, some of the students didn’t understand the point of using the environment to inform teaching methods,” says Chiaradonna. “But they came to agree that learning about the environment and being in it helps them create an environment for learning. “The results surpassed all my expectations.” The Morris Arboretum is situated on 92 acres adjacent to CHC’s campus.

Chestnut Hill Magazine, Spring 2016  
Chestnut Hill Magazine, Spring 2016