As a part of my 2015 sabbatical project I developed a new course, Learning in Nearby Nature. I’ll be teaching the class later this month and I look forward to exploring nearby nature sites with Puget Sound students. Here is the description of the course and a brief preview of the sites we will visit.
Learning in Nearby Nature Course Description
Most of human learning occurs across the life span and takes place outside of school settings. Schools are but one part of a large educational infrastructure that includes informal learning environments such as families and friends, libraries, museums, the outdoors, workplaces, community-based organizations, the media, and the Internet. Informal learning environments are powerful sites for learning because they support rich social interactions and allow people to engage their own learning goals and generate their own highly personalized understandings.
Nearby nature sites like parks, green spaces and gardens can support exploration, restoration, and civic action. Students in this course will examine learning and teaching in informal learning environments, in particular in nearby nature settings. Students will critically examine how their own experiences and beliefs impact their engagement in nearby nature settings and how they view and define “nature.” Questions that we will be explored in this course include:
• How does the nearby nature setting promote exploration and understanding, a sense of restoration, and/or meaningful action?
• How do I make connections to my life experiences as I engage in a nearby nature setting?
• What is the match or mismatch between a site’s educational and architectural design intentions and visitor perceptions and experiences?
Preview of Learning in Nearby Nature Sites
I’ll teach the Learning in Nearby Nature course over one weekend in February; we’ll spend two days exploring local sites and two evenings discussing readings and debriefing our experiences.
We’ll spend the first day exploring two local earthworks, Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks and Johnson Pit #30. These earthwork sites are important examples of how land art can create awareness about human land use.
Herbert Bayer designed Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks. Bayer unified place, art, and technology in his design of a storm water runoff control system in a park in Kent, Washington. His use of shapes such as concentric circles and cones invites visitors to explore the site and to consider landscapes as built environments and how runoff levels rise and fall during and after rainstorms.
Robert Morris designed Johnson Pit #30. This work was created as a part of an effort to engage artists in reclaiming land that had been impacted by human use. Morris created a terraced sloping design, within an existing sand and gravel pit, that invites visitors to consider human impact on the surface of the earth.
We’ll spend the second day exploring three nearby nature sites in Tacoma, Washington: Thea’s Park, Dickman Mill Park, and the Waterwalk at Point Ruston. These three sites demonstrate a range of responses to rehabilitating land and waterways impacted by human use and development. In 1983 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated 12 square miles of Tacoma water, shoreline and land as the Commencement Bay/Nearshore Tideflats Superfund Site. The Superfund site includes multiple environmentally degraded sites, including the former Asarco smelter site (Ruston, WA) and the Thea Foss Waterway (Tacoma, WA).
Thea’s Park is located at the entrance to the Foss Waterway. It provides views of boats traversing to and from the Port of Tacoma along the Foss waterway and view of industrial businesses on the Tacoma tide flats. Here visitors can reflect on how humans have used waterways to transport goods, plants, and people and how ports impact the landscape.
Dickman Mill Park on the Ruston Way waterfront is designed to make visible the remains of Dickman Lumber Mill. Visitors can consider previous human uses of the land and the role of the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest.
The Waterwalk at Point Ruston is located on the former site of the Asarco smelter in Ruston, Washington. The walkway features a new residential and commercial development and a public pathway along Commencement Bay. The industrial history of the site is not visible on the Waterwalk. However, there are ceramic tiles built into the paved walkway that feature images of sea life and provide a reminder of the many inhabitants within the Puget Sound.
Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S., & Ryan, R. L. (1998). With people in mind: Design and management of everyday nature. Washington, D. C.: Island Press.