How to Ask the Six Right Big Picture Questions about Nature to Make the “Invisible Visible?
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Albert Einstein
This will be one of the most important conversations I can have especially because I am a both a teacher and a student of the natural world.
My job is to help grow concepts as fundamental building blocks of thoughts, beliefs, abstract ideas or general notions that create our thinking model. My challenge is how to make sure that mature concepts include the Big Picture overview, investigate the roots or origins, avoid patchwork thinking and stay adaptive to changes.
On one hand, talking about the principles of teaching to facilitate the process of learning comes easily: lesson plans, learning objectives, content analysis, comprehension questions, deductive answers that open up both critical and creative thinking.
My teaching career has been based on the 4 general principles of learning
- Concrete experience … sensory perceptions of differences or similarities with objects and their actions
- Reflective observation … use words or images to describe experiences
- Abstract conceptualization … emotional feedback … critical and creative thinking (decision making)
- Active engagement … content exercises to reinforce personal understanding and memory
On the other hand, there are so many realities, especially in nature, that cannot be seen by the human eye. We can look at a tree with shining leaves dancing in the sun, but do you visualize the layers of growth inside the trunk or see the network of roots? Can you honestly give credence to the amazing composite Big Picture without some curiosity how the smallest details play such important integrative roles?
Some of the most amazing things I have learned about Nature are not visible to the naked eye, but nevertheless are main components in their natural functions and organization. Some agents are uni-cellular or microscopic without which the first steps in a long process can’t begin. Some energy flows are vital and all- encompassing affecting cells to organs to bodies to ecosystems. How do you pay homage to systems with no critical parts missing?
Here are some excellent questions to ask to best understand the composite whole:
- Why is good dirt so valuable? Look inside the decomposition value of fertile topsoil with humus is started with microorganisms, bacterial and fungi. Without humus, plants wouldn’t grow as well affecting animal consumers, including humans.
2. How does a leave breathe or make food? Look inside the cellular structure of a leave to see different layers of cells and holes for breathing. Some cells contain chloroplasts filled with envelopes of green chlorophyll that react with sunlight to make a simple sugar compound.
3. How does a flower make a fruit or vegetable? Look inside the flower petals ready to attract pollinators to shake the pollen from the anthers to the receiving ovary which will develop into a mature fruit with its own seeds for dissemination.
4. How do pesticides affect the food web for everyone? Look at a synthetic Organochlorine molecule made up of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine which build toxic concentrations and magnify food-webs from microorganisms, to frogs, to birds, to fish that humans eat.
5. How do you protect the precious fresh-water cycle? Look at the passage of a water droplet through many stages in his water cycle beginning and ending with the ocean, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, run-off, percolation, pollution, assimilation into nutrient cycles, and human digestion.
6. How do you protect the Ecosystem? Draw a map that connects all levels from non-living factors (air, water) to primary food producers (plants) to secondary food producers (animals) to decomposers (recycle waste into nutrients). Add factors of climate change and human interactions.
One of the most amazing miracles of nature has to be the process of photosynthesis … we can’t physically see it happening, but without it, life would not be possible on earth, so it’s best to understand the basics.
- It begins with the specialized structure of green plants that have cells called chloroplasts that contain the green chemical, chlorophyll.
- The sun’s light energy activates it, and together with carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) a carbohydrate molecule (C6 H12 O6) as a simple sugar, glucose or fructose, is formed.
- These simple sugar molecules bind with glucose to form the disaccharide sucrose (C12 H22 O11) which is absorbed directly into blood during digestion.
- Note that oxygen is released as a byproduct which supplies the oxygen content for the Earth’s atmosphere.
I have never looked at a leave the same way again! My responsibility for and admiration of Nature have never been stronger than when holding a leaf in my hand in communion with its molecular structures and functions that can making food for everyone from air and water. The question is how I can share this communion with others, especially young people?
In my opinion, there is nothing more antithetical to the learning process than to be a narrow-minded, opinionated, fuzzy thinker with incomplete facts and lack of connections. Importantly, knowledge cannot be limited to what is obvious, but must go beyond the visible to the microscopic life forms that begin the energy cycles that intertwine Nature’s bio-systems together.
So, here was my teacher’s challenge. How do you take Nature’s complex functional interdependence and present the cases for self-organization, mutual reciprocity, and respect equality for every creature? You write a story with living characters so they can become heroes and friends. You don’t bully a good friend, right?
So, I wrote two eco-fiction e-books for all ages where nature’s major characters were personified as talking, interactive, feeling organisms with many chapters about probable experiences. If they can inspire a few more minutes to look at a leave or a bumblebee, then my educational mission is accomplished.
- This water sprite with roots had to commute between the animal and plant world on his mission to discover Cyclical Truths.
- This birch tree is inhabited by a tree dryad who as the age-old essence of knowledge having traveled with people before, shares his experiences, community and realities of succession.
Both stories have numerous pictures and diagrams to best offer a Big Picture overview with connections.
Along with this personal narration, the hope is that each reader will find identity and purpose in life through connections to their community, to nature’s bio-systems and to compassion and peaceful co-existence.
Questions and comments are always appreciated and welcome. What is an unique experience with the natural world that takes your breath away?
Excerpt: And then the shattering of that glass bottle; for what purpose, he wondered. Why do people do that without reason except for a momentary fling, some entertainment? What was their reason to leave their own personal mark for the sake of many futures to come? Why couldn’t they see that they could pass on the legacy of a tree as nature intended to their offspring to admire and respect? Their lifespans were so much shorter than most trees so why would they endanger their existence for a few symbols? Words didn’t exist in nature, other than when people called them “things,” possibly to suit their limited visions rather than embrace the abundance of nature itself without words. Did people have words to celebrate the connections in harmony with nature that only an invisible spirit could invoke?