Awe Inspiring…Inspiring Awe

Awe Inspiring…Inspiring Awe

One of the most useful teaching techniques I have found is using awe to inspire learning. What is awe? This word is both a verb and a noun, according to the Oxford online dictionary:

NOUN
  1. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder:

    “they gazed in awe at the small mountain of diamonds” ·

    [more]

    synonyms: wonder · wonderment · admiration · reverence · respect ·

    [more]
VERB
  1.  inspire with awe:
    “they were both awed by the vastness of the forest”

    synonyms: filled with wonder · wonderstruck · awestruck · amazed ·

    [more]

    It is interesting to note that both of these examples from the dictionary cite our natural world! There is so much from which we can be inspired existing in nature!

I believe my interest, and initially accidental, use of awe in my teaching came from raising monarch butterflies and sharing the miracle of their metamorphosis with first my family and then my garden club students, and other community members.

Once I saw how engaging and motivating awe could be to students’ willingness to learn, I purposely sought topics that contained some element of awe. For example, did you know that the famous carnivorous plant called the Venus Fly Trap is the ONLY species of kind? And the only place it grows indigenously is the sandy, bog-like soils of the Carolina coasts in the United States? You might not realize that because, in this day of global trade, fast shipping, and unfortunate poaching, you can buy a Venus Fly Trap in any number of places…..especially at Wal-Mart in August! Of course the geographic habitat of this plant is not the only thing that is interesting. The Venus Fly Trap has evolved to trap insects to make up for growing in those poor, quickly drained soils! It is amazing!

Another example that always intrigues my students is the fact that we have a cactus that grows outdoors in Wisconsin! It is a variety of the Prickly Pear Cactus. When we talked about cacti and succulents during the garden club unit on this topic, once again, habitat was discussed, as it should be. But, who could guess that after finding out about the environmental needs of cacti, we would find one growing on the prairie or in someone’s yard, here in Wisconsin?! I further inspire awe and imbue excitement in the students by explaining that I have seen this cactus grow in many places during my travels…..Bermuda, California, New York State, and others….few of which possess desert-like conditions. After all, I don’t think you can say the side of the highway between Carlsbad and San Diego, California is a desert!

There are many, many other examples. Others have noticed the effect awe has on a human’s curiosity. You can read more about it in this article by Jake Abrahamson in the Sierra Club Magazine from December 2014, The Science of Awe.

It turns out that not only does awe inspire curiosity, it is also healthy for us to feel it! As a parent, many of us aspire to letting our children know that we are all part of a bigger picture, that the world is not only about us. What better way to convey that than through providing some awe-filled experiences? And the best part is, many of these type of experiences do not cost a thing! They are free!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Gaze at the stars on a summer night – get out of  town and city lights for the best viewing.
  • Watch a monarch caterpillar form its chrysalis.
  • Watch a monarch butterfly emerge from the chrysalis.
  • Find out about rare and endangered species in your area, make an effort to learn about them and see them, if possible.
  • Visit a big city with little kids and look up at the tall buildings! Humans designed and constructed these structures.
  • Watch a baby being born. (Maybe, starting with an animal baby would be best!)
  • Stand on a mountaintop and take in the view.
  • Ride a bike down a volcano (Yes! This is possible! We did this in 2015 on Mt. Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii.
  • Find out how corn kernels are formed – amazing! You’d never guess all that corn silk had a purpose!
  • Grow a flower bulb without dirt!
  • Watch tadpoles turn into frogs.
  • Watch a chick hatch from an egg.
  • Marvel at the colors in a sunrise or sunset.
  • Watch an eclipse (with protective eye-wear, of course).

There are so many things that can inspire awe. What awe filled experiences have you had, personally? Have you ever used awe-inspriation in your teaching? I hope you consider adding some awe to your teaching or parenting style. I have found it not only useful, but extremely satisfying for both me and the children.

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Today’s Garden Club Lesson: Inspiring Youth with Monarch Conservation Activities

Today’s Garden Club Lesson: Inspiring Youth with Monarch Conservation Activities

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School Butterfly Garden, established 2006. Certified as Monarch WayStation by Monarch Watch 2008. We’ve been at this a long time!

Today, my garden club for third,  forth, and fifth graders will meet after school. We have two meetings in the month of May, instead of our usual single monthly meeting. On this first meeting, we typically weed the garden, turn over the soil to aerate it and loosen it up.  If you read my post last week,  you know a pesticide was sprayed (in error) on our twelve-year-old school butterfly habitat that also serves as a Certified Monarch Habitat or WayStation. Since the spraying was so close to our meeting and really, really should not happened in the first place, I decided to let the weeding go and keep the students out of the garden until our planting session at the end of the month. The planting is the culmination of the school year’s work for garden club students.

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Rose Milkweed erupting behind our barn. Seeds were started by Garden Club Students.

Today, we will discuss the monarch life cycle, the importance of milkweed, and where the migration stands with this dwindling population of butterflies.  Each student will plant common milkweed seeds (saved from my own garden beds) that will serve as the host plant for the monarch life cycle, starting with the egg being laid by an adult, female monarch, followed by the caterpillar stage during which milkweed is the only source of feeding, and during which the caterpillar sheds its skin five times. The chrysalis is formed after the skin is shed for the last time, after the caterpillar has attached itself to a branch or stem, house shingle, sunflower, or any number of existing environmental assistives. The chrysalis must hang off the ground for the metamorphosis to take place.  It is an awe-inspiring event to watch, but most often goes unnoticed and camouflaged in nature. After about 10-14 days, a beautiful monarch emerges and the process starts again.

The whole process and life of the monarch is dependant on habitat and the availability of milkweed. This is why the students will take the milkweed seeds they plant today home to start a habitat in their own yards.

Zinna seeds will also be planted for each student to take home. Zinna’s provide many species of butterflies with nectar. They color and hardiness attract the fluttering insects throughout the summer, well into fall. Zinna’s are also easy to grow.

Since learning the garden that we made into a Monarch Habitat so many years ago and well before it was needed and a “popular” thing to do, I decided that I must change course. Today, starts the path down a different road. I will try to instill the awe of a metamorphic and migrational life of a tiny, seemingly fragile creature in the minds of my students. The future is theirs. The future is ours. I will help them plant the seeds of our future in their own lives.

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Milkweed Seeds Planted 2015.