Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lessons in nature boost classroom engagement afterward, researchers report

Third-graders who spend a class session in a natural outdoor setting are more engaged and less distracted in their regular classroom afterward than when they remain indoors, scientists found in a new study.

    This effect, reported in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, was large and occurred week after week, regardless of teacher expectations.

    The study carefully matched lessons presented indoors and outdoors and controlled for teacher expectations, teaching style, time of day, week of semester and other factors that might have contributed to the differences observed.

    “Teachers hoping to offer lessons in nature may hesitate for fear that the experience will leave kids bouncing off the walls and unable to concentrate afterward,” said University of Illinois natural resources and environmental sciences professor Ming Kuo, who conducted the study with Matt Browning, a U. of I. professor of recreation, sport and tourism; and Milbert Penner, of the Cold Spring Environmental Studies Magnet School in Indianapolis, where the study was conducted. “We found just the opposite, however: Classroom engagement was significantly better for students after lessons in nature than after lessons in the classroom.”

     The study relied on teacher ratings and outside observer reports of student attention in the classroom. Independent observers tallied the number of times a teacher had to interrupt a lesson to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand. Other observers who did not know whether students had been indoors or outdoors in a previous class evaluated student engagement based on photos taken in the classroom during classes. Students’ own reports were not useful because the students ranked their own classroom engagement as high, regardless of the condition.

    Previous studies have shown that students in a variety of contexts benefit from exposure to green space. For example, a study conducted in Massachusetts public schools found that standardized test scores were higher among students in classrooms in areas with more vegetation nearby. The correlations held when controlling for income and other factors that might influence test scores. Kuo collaborated on a study led by U. of I. crop sciences professor Andrea Faber Taylor that found that children with ADHD perform substantially better on neurocognitive tests of attention after taking a walk in a natural area than after walking in an outdoor setting with few natural features.

    One theory proposes that experiencing nature induces “a state of ‘soft fascination’ that allows the mental muscle underlying our ability to deliberately direct attention to rest,” the researchers wrote. This may enhance a person’s ability to focus again later.

    Being in nature or viewing it from a window also is associated with lower heart rates and stress hormones in children and adults, other studies have found. Since stress can interfere with learning, factors that reduce stress likely also enhance the educational experience, Kuo said.

    “We found the teachers in our study were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long after the outdoor lesson than after an indoor lesson,” Kuo said. “The students simply paid better attention after being in the outdoor class.”

    Kuo said she hopes the new findings will encourage teachers to experiment with outdoor lessons.

    “They should try it a few times to get the hang of it and see what they notice. If it works like it did in our study, the benefits will be pretty obvious,” she said. “If it still doesn’t work after you’ve tried it a few times, I’d give up; teachers can tell what’s not working for them.”


Be like Michael Jordan? Not at Air Force Academy

Back in the 1990s, it seemed that almost everyone wanted to be like Michael Jordan. But apparently those days are over.

This week the U.S. Air Force Academy issued an apology after a commandant cited the former pro basketball star as an exemplar of good grooming and professional appearance.

“He was never seen with a gaudy chain around his neck, his pants below his waistline, or with a backwards baseball hat on during public appearances,” Master Sgt. Zachary Parish wrote in an email to cadets, according to the Gazette in Colorado Springs.

Parish is the top enlisted airman assigned to the student body, called the cadet wing. Across the military, top enlisted personnel enforce haircut regulations for lower-ranking personnel.

But some recipients of Parish’s email took offense, interpreting his message not as well-intentioned advice, but as a slight against African-Americans, the newspaper reported.

An academy colonel quickly attempted corrective action. “Let me apologize for the email sent earlier today by our first sergeant,” Col. Julian Stevens wrote, according to the newspaper. "The comments were very disrespectful, derogatory and in no way reflective of (cadet wing) permanent party views.

“Microagressions such as these are often blindspots/unintentional biases that are not often recognized, and if they are recognized they are not always addressed,” Stevens added.

But even the colonel’s message drew criticism, as some Air Force sergeants writing on Facebook accused the officer of being overly sensitive. “This is a perfect example of why we're going to lose a war with Russia/China,” one commenter wrote, according to the Gazette.


Ready for More Good News?

We wrote on Tuesday about the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) efforts to ban prayer from a local high school in Beloit, Ohio, and how the good people there are not backing down, aided by our good friends at First Liberty Institute. On Wednesday, I interviewed Brooke Pidgeon, a parent from the school district, and he shared what he and fellow community members are doing to fight back. Now we’re hearing word that the resistance is spreading.

Our own Pastor Tim Throckmorton, Midwest Field Representative in Church Ministries, reached out to Pastor John Ryser of the Damascus Friends Church, who’s been leading the “controversial” pregame prayers for the last 12 years (a practice that goes back four decades). Pastor Ryser expressed how tremendously grateful he was for the support of FRC and the good work we’re doing for the nation. He went on to share that his church had been praying for God to open doors in the community for them to share the Gospel but had no idea God would work so strongly in this fashion.

Rather than being discouraged by the FFRF’s efforts to censor prayer, Pastor Ryser enthusiastically declared: “The opportunities to talk about prayer and the Gospel are tremendous everywhere right now … all because of ‘No Prayer at Basketball Games!’” He’s had a number of powerful conversations with members of the community through the distribution of now over 5,000 “Prayer Matters” T-Shirts. He also related how three members of his church youth group and who play on the basketball team have led three of their teammates to faith in Christ as a result! As if that weren’t enough, half of the attendees at last week’s basketball game were sporting “Prayer Matters” shirts — and last night, when the team played on the road, the home team they visited made and wore their own “Prayer Matter” tees in a sign of solidarity!

So God has taken the devices of the enemy and turned them into an opportunity to spread the Good News and bring more people to Him. Pastor Ryser quoted 1 Corinthians 16:9: “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Let’s pray that God will continue to use what was intended for evil and turn it around for good, not only for the good folk in northeastern Ohio but also for every community across America where faith is under fire!


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