by Elizabeth O. Crawford, Ph.D.
“Do you think our garden will help bees pollinate fruits and vegetables?” a second grader from Northwoods Elementary (Jacksonville, NC) asked excitedly. On Friday, May 15, Northwoods broke ground on its first pollinator garden, the culminating event of a semester-long humane education project with the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s (UNCW) Watson College of Education and the Institute for Humane Education.
The overarching goal of this partnership was to strengthen pre-service teachers’ abilities to design rigorous, meaningful, and solution-focused learning experiences for elementary students that are aligned with Common Core State Standards and North Carolina Essential Standards. To meet the “new vision of teaching” addressed in the North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards, my UNCW elementary education graduate students designed integrated units of study addressing one or more global issues about which children could take meaningful action — one of which was the global declining bee population.
During the spring semester, second grade students were immersed in the study of honeybees, learning the life cycle, habits, and importance of bees to our environment and food supply. They have learned how pollination impacts approximately one-third of all the fruits and vegetables people consume.
As a collective solution second grade teachers, students, and administrators established a pollinator garden to promote pollination by bees and other pollinating insect species.
A beautiful garden plaque commemorating the occasion is an ever-lasting reminder of the second grade class’s efforts to improve their school environment, and ultimately, contribute to a more sustainable, healthy, and humane world.
As our North Carolina teaching standards emphasize, “teachers can no longer cover material; they, along with their students, uncover solutions.” My UNCW graduate students’ original “solutionary” units were structured to help elementary students to “uncover” individual and collective opportunities for action to benefit people, animals, and the environment.
With support and feedback from the Institute for Humane Education Solutionary School Curriculum Development Team, my students learned what global issues are developmentally appropriate for children to study and how teachers can design interdisciplinary units that address academic standards while fostering children’s critical and creative thinking skills.
Undoubtedly, this work impacted positively the children and teachers at Northwoods Elementary School. As second grade teacher Stephanie Dean shared, [this work] “takes it to a whole other level of learning and it makes it real for them. It is important for students to experience learning outside the classroom.”
Our project also changed the way my pre-service teachers approach curriculum design. For example, Megan Foster, a first-year graduate student, shared:
“I have always considered myself a life-long learner and felt that education can solve a multitude of problems; therefore, learning about solutionary education was very enlightening. Helping to develop lesson plans for these units has positively impacted how I will teach in the future because it has provided me with valuable resources and experiences so that I instill empathy, encourage creativity, and facilitate critical thinking for my students.”
Another graduate student, Rachel Crawley, explained:
“I wasn’t even aware of solutionary education until I started this course. I felt good teaching my own children to recycle, conserve water, and the importance of buying local foods, goods, etc. It was a TEDx talk by Zoe Weil that opened my thought process of how I, as a mother and future teacher, can impact my children and students by introducing simple ideas they can use to become change agents or solutionaries. Allowing my future students to understand change starts with them and they can make a difference is one of the most powerful messages I feel I can show my future students.”
This pilot project resulted in a publication in a SS text as well: Crawford, E. O., Crawley, R., Dean, S., Pope, M., Ray, A. (2020). What individual and collective actions are most effective to protect bees and other pollinators? In B. Maguth and G. Wu (Eds.), Inquiry-Based Global Learning in the K-12 Social Studies Classroom. New York: Routledge.
We hope this initiative is just the beginning of a long-term partnership between Northwoods Elementary (and other area schools), UNCW, and the Institute for Humane Education to nurture children who are engaged changemakers and solutionaries for a better world!
I invite other teacher educators to infuse the principles of humane education in their courses and to open their students’ eyes to the many possibilities for teachers and students to explore, side-by-side, issues affecting our world and how they can make a difference.