Jack Hassard, professor of science education in Georgia, has discovered a wonderful new science educator with great ideas for the Atlanta Public Schools, and they don’t cost a dime.

Veteran education guru Ed Johnson has some tips on how to put science at the center of the elementary school curriculum. His plan calls for using nature, exploring, seeing, touching, paying attention, learning the science that is right in front of you.

Hassard quotes Johnson’s advice to the school board:

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen has blogged good news: Let’s Play! Every APS Elementary School Gets a Playground! She recaps that, as a consequence of the school board having decided to provide for schools to be more equitable operationally, nine of ten priority elementary schools now have a playground ready for back-to-school. In addition, she reports that a playground at the tenth priority elementary school, Beecher Hills Elementary, is under construction and that the planning process there includes working with a City of Atlanta arborist. Great!
So, speaking of Beecher Hills Elementary School…

One of several points of entry onto a system of greenway trails is right next to the gated entry to Beecher Hills Elementary. It is at that entry point to the trails that I sometimes start and end a walk-run. Being out there to emerge in the surroundings and to be open to The Universe always proves a way to more fully engage the senses, and to renew. What am I seeing? Hearing? Feeling? Smelling? Tasting? One the most engaging times out on the trails occurred during a torrential downpour, and I got soaking wet. Still, the rain provided a very different learning context and experience I had not before imagined.

The greenway trails effectively extend Beecher Hills Elementary School’s backyard. And because they do, I often think it would be magical to be a kid at Beecher with freedom to play and learn in and from that extended backyard.

The point of entry to the greenway trails at Beecher Hills Elementary lies adjacent to the school’s front driveway. From that entry point the greenway meanders northward and down the westward side of the hill upon which the school sits. Then the greenway curves eastward along a fence behind the school before curving northward and connecting with an east-west trail just beyond having crossed a creek.

Environments outside the classroom for students to explore and learn.

Out Beecher’s back doors and down the hill, the fence encloses an expansive green field just begging to be played on. The field catches my eye, every time. It always invites me to pause and wonder what would kids do if let loose upon it? What sort of games would they innovate and play? What sort of learning would they innovate and personalize and internalize for themselves? What sort of questions would the kids ask prompted by observations they would have made? Would they even ask questions, having been trained to give only answers à la standardized teaching, learning, and testing? Would teachers run themselves ragged trying to control the kids’ play? How would teachers deal with kids’ questions, especially questions lacking answers?

And then I think, hmm, nighttime. Hardly any surrounding light! Look up, “billions and billions!” –thanks, Carol Sagan! And, of course, thanks, too, to that astrophysicist guy Neil Degree Tyson who claims “All I did was drive the getaway car” when Pluto got knocked off. So, yep, a telescope, right in the center of the field out back Beecher Hills Elementary School. Can’t you just imagine?!

Now there is a radical and innovative idea: Let the children play! Let them learn the lessons right in front of them! Let them understand that science is part of life and they are living in its midst.