This unit aims to familiarize middle school students growing up in an urban setting with the nature that surrounds them. Though spending time in nature may be unfamiliar to students, surviving in nature is a high-interest topic. The topic of survival in nature will be connected to the idea that for humans to thrive as individuals and as a species we need to have environmental knowledge and experiences, thus developing a relationship with our natural surroundings. This is done in the context of English Language Arts class, so it naturally includes the exploration of nature in literature of both poetry and prose, as well as nonfiction texts. In addition, ample time will be devoted to writing. This can begin with students writing and drawing observations in nature journals, and progress to poetry writing, expository writing, book responses to nature themed books, and flash fiction with an emphasis on natural settings. We know that writing is an important mechanism for enhancing observational skills, which is a key component of any study of the natural world. Students will have an opportunity to reflect on their feelings throughout the unit in a learning log format which will enhance student engagement and further the goal of students developing a relationship with nature.
A unique feature of this unit will be that it is not taught in a traditional four to six consecutive week period. The objective is rather to integrate it throughout the school year, thus allowing students to observe, experience and discuss the natural world during all the seasons of the year. As the class observes the natural environment of our school grounds and neighborhood, one mini theme will be the study of local trees as they are prolific and easy to identify. Regarding literature, an additional unifying theme will be survival stories, as they are so engaging for young people, including reluctant readers, while at the same time allowing them to safely explore drastically different natural surroundings. In addition to unifying themes of local trees and survival, attempts are made to incorporate indigenous legends and attitudes toward nature, with the goal of children emulating the Native American interdependence with nature, including a mutually beneficial relationship and respectful attitude toward nature. At the end of the year, students will have a portfolio of their work which will include a final reflection and culminating project. Specific ideas for culminating projects are included below.