- Lessons and Life Lessons in Biology

Back to the Trees

I recently visited the Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro with a group of IB Biology students from the institution where I work.

There are few areas of biology which benefit more from a dose of experiential learning, than taxonomy and particularly the classification of plants.

Those who have read Peter Wolheben´s the Hidden life of Trees may have been inspired to learn more about trees, but most students are still of the opinion that Banana trees are actually trees (spoiler alert – they aren´t).

The opportunity to teach the basic recognition of external features that allows botanists (plant biologists) to classify the world´s plants in broad strokes, in a botanical gardens rather than in a class room, was greatly appreciated by educator and learners alike.

The fact that the memory of learning how to distinguish groups such as conifers (cone-bearing plants like pine trees), and angiosperms (plants which bear flowers), is mixed up with the memory of having a huge traditional Brasilian farm-style lunch with all of your peers, doesn´t hurt either.

There is nothing like seeing the real thing for having an impact on the natural level of intellectual curiosity. I very much doubt that any of my students would be keen to spend a morning googling xerophytic plants (desert living plants such as cacti) . My students lamented afterwards that they would have loved to spend the whole morning in the cactus garden.

As I wrap up the documents on what I believe is my 98th school trip since begining my career in education (I am counting the volunteer trips I ran when I was President of the Duke of Edinburgh´s Award scheme as a freshman in college), it is clear how my journey has evolved from being interested in teaching outdoor skills into a passion for designing impactful experiential learning programmes for young people.

The opportunity to make curricular links and even cover curriculum content or course requirments in the context of a field trip, has many attractions from an administrative and a pedagogical standpoint.

I am looking forward to the next two trips, especially the second one!

I am also looking for opportunities to develop my practice of designing experiential learning in a way that is impactful, thoughtful and of high value to schools.