Connecting students with nature: A guest lecture by Dr. Christopher Buddle and Chris Cloutier


by Ying-Syuan (Elaine) Huang, Dept. of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE), and Morganne Blais-McPherson, Neuroscience

On March 17th, McGill’s Sustainability Project, Teachers Training for Sustainability (SPF0144), hosted its first Professional Development (PD) workshop on the topic of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Guest speakers Dr. Christopher Buddle, Associate Professor of the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill, and his graduate student Chris Cloutier, were invited to share their experience of teaching outdoor activities and engaging students through nature explorations. About a hundred Education students in the Course of EDEE 275 –instructed by Dr. Dawn Wiseman, Faculty Lecturer– attended this guest lecture held in the Trottier Engineering building at McGill.

Dr. Buddle invited our Education students to think about how teachers and educators could communicate complex scientific knowledge to students of all age groups. Dr. Buddle also shared his Arthropod Ecology blog to highlight the importance of bringing scientific research into classroom/outdoor science teaching. Through social media, such as Twitter and blogs, educators could effectively engage young students in learning a wide range of interesting scientific topics. For instance, Dr. Buddle showed pictures of jumping spiders mimicking ants and invited students to think about why learning insects’ behaviours is important for young children. During the lecture, Dr. Buddle also shared his outreach teaching experience in which he engaged elementary students in learning about complex concepts such as biodiversity through observing nature.

Dr. Buddle’s Master’s student, Chris Cloutier, also spoke about his extensive experience as an interpretive guide at the Morgan Arboretum, a forested reserve on McGill’s Macdonald Campus. Through activities such as night owl walks, spider walks, monarch butterfly tagging, and discussing the uses of R2-D2-sounding bobolinks, students are able to learn the concept of biodiversity by connecting with nature. Like Dr. Buddle, Chris also believes that outdoor activities would help students learn about ecology in a more immediate and long-lasting way. “Most people”, as Chris said, “connect with nature much easier if they’re in it”.

Students’ feedback:

Ways to teach about nature to students in ways that are engaging and fun is very useful.

Very interesting, engaging, funny and informative! Loved it!

I was intrigued to know more about biodiversity as soon as you started the presentation.

I thought it was interesting and educational. We could use some of this in our future classroom.

The guest speakers were engaging, prepared, and humorous. The info was great for future teachers (and anyone actually!)

Currently, our sustainability project team is preparing for a series of PD workshops on the topic of teaching sustainability through connecting with nature. The next workshop will be held on March 31st during the EGSS conference. We invite all Education students to join us to discuss ideas and activities related to sustainability education. The 3rd PD workshop will be held on April 15th. Our guest speaker, Jacqueline Farrell from the Redpath Museum, will share various interactive, hands-on activities that incorporate important sustainability issues into your classroom practices.

These PD workshops are open to all students and all are very welcome to join! For more information, please visit our SusEd@McGill blog.