The Methodology Of Mother Nature

Humans can learn.  Prior to formal education, learning was dependent on natural processes occurring within the human organism in reaction to an ever-changing environment.

Therefore, the human brain has not evolved to learn in the standardized, sterile classroom we see in our schools but rather with Mother Nature as its teacher.

This article is about how, if we consider Mother Nature the ultimate educator, we can use her methods to improve our instruction.

Let's deconstruct the pedagogy of Mother Nature.

The key to understanding her powerful methodology is understanding how she presents material to us.  

For our discussion, we are going to consider events and stimuli in our environment as Mother Nature's content.  What we experience are lesson components.

Mother Nature’s methodology is emotional

An important learning adaptation involves emotion.  Humans remember life content more vividly when emotion is involved. 

Emotion is an important cognitive mechanism that guides innate behavior concerning life supporting situations.  In other words, we get happy, sad, angry etc. over things like food, safety, and relationships. 

Through an evolutionary scope, it is important to remember (read learn) from events in our life that involve food, relationships, and safety because our survival is dependent on them. 

High-jacking the emotion-learning link causes our students to retain content.  Using emotion in your lesson tricks a brain into thinking the content is important.

 Mother nature spaces her content

Prior to formal learning, Mother Nature did not teach content in blocks of time.

Content was introduced as the components of our environment dictated. 

For example, in teaching the properties of the poison ivy leaf:

In one isolated instance, Mother Nature did not show you the appearance of the leaf, describe is physical characteristics to you, demonstrate its irritable properties, and subsequently quiz you on it.

What she did do was much less organized.  First, someone older than you pointed it out on a walk through the woods.  Several days later, an acquaintance had a painful, itchy rash and described how it was acquired.  Several weeks later you lost your footing and stumbled into a patch of the three leafed nemesis and subsequently developed red oozy bumps.

Your exposure to the poison ivy leaf was spaced and as a result, you learned the properties of the poison ivy leaf.

The first scenario is called massed practice.  Massed practice is term used to describe learning the same material in designated blocks of time in a repetitive manner.  It is analogous to cramming.

Massed practice gives the illusion of learning and the information is quickly lost.

If we space our content, we expose our learner to the same ideas but we also force them to recall previously learned information from long-term memory.  As they recall content, they strengthen the neural pathways causing deeper content retention.

Mother Nature’s content is interleaved

Interleaved content is metaphorically similar to braided rope.  Different, independent threads are wound together to make a rope that has a greater structural integrity than the individual lengths by themselves.

As you run the rope through your hand, different parts of the individual pieces are exposed and featured while other parts of the same ropes are buried and hidden.  A pattern emerges and each individual rope surfaces at intervals.

Interleaving content occurs when the instructor weaves different strands of content together.  Idea A is featured but soon passes and is followed by idea B.  Subsequently, idea B passes followed by idea C.  Just as quickly as idea C appeared, it fades and gives way to idea A again.

Interleaving content allows the learner to have dissimilar ideas in working memory.  This encourages  connections to be made and the learner develops relationships between different concepts. 

Abandoning current classroom procedures is a silly notion.  However, reflecting on Mother Nature as an educator, it is worth our time to consider the implications of emotion, spaced content, and interleaved content.

How else do you see Mother Nature as a teacher?  Connect with the Pragmatic TV Teacher and share your ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Photo credit: Ed Gregory from Stokpik and Rope

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