What follows is a lesson plan assignment I completed as part of the Journey of the Universe Specialization I studied on Coursera and that resides within the Environmental Sustainability concentration of my MTA Portfolio.
This assignment is one of a number based around the concept of revamping the national education system to make it more beneficial for people and planet alike.
Aside from being a subject close to my heart, the practice of formulating a plan for revamping the education system was integral for defining my education philosophy, as it now exists within my Education Innovation final project.
Journey of the Universe was a sequence of courses focused on teaching how all of nature is interconnected and how we form parts of living cosmology.
The brief for this assignment was as follows…
Drawing on the Journey of the Universe materials develop an educational project that brings students into a sense of their identity with specific dimensions of our unfolding universe. This lesson plan or class curriculum could help learners participate in the universe story in ways that deepen their critical thinking skills, learn to understand and relate discoveries across the sciences and humanities, and practice communicating knowledge to their peers.
For my education project, I decided to create a lesson plan that could be implemented in one of the classes of my Green Education Model.
The Man Who Became a Tree was a short story by a British writer and philosopher called Olaf Stapledon which I had read not long before embarking on this assignment and it completely blew my mind!
Therefore, I decided to use the short story as the basis on which to build a lesson plan focused on greening the student’s mind.
Green Education Model Lesson Plan
For my Living Cosmology project, I am focusing on the Education Concentration and I have designed a lesson plan for first year high school students to take place within a Global Citizenship class.
A global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices. The global citizenship discipline develops the perpective of a shared globalised world in which the individual has ethical, social, political, economic and environmental responsibilities to holistically uphold and positively benefit the earth community.
Please note, while this lesson plan draws from the guidance of the Journey of the Universe course, book and film, its primary contact with Thomas Berry is via his book, The Great Work, which itself was one of the key influences of the Journey of the Universe project.
Specifically, my lesson plan is targeted at fullfilling the encouraged points of:
- Experience a sense of belonging and orienting within the evolutionary universe. Students should feel, as the film suggests, that “We belong here. We have always belonged here.”
- Integrate the ideas found in the film, book, and Conversations with other areas of knowledge and your own life experiences.
- Develop in the final section of your curriculum a sense of how you feel part of the epic of evolution, how this story empowers your creativity. Your lesson plan might explore how students can equip themselves to participate in this immense journey in a way that is mutually enhancing for both humans and the Earth.
- Utilize critical thinking skills and synthesize information from more than one discipline (e.g. social studies and geology, or world literature and astronomy).
- Present their findings to their peers.
Discipline: Global Citizenship
Lesson Focus: Living Cosmology and Green Awakenings
To enable the students to critically and creativily establish the concept and meaning of ‘living cosmology’ as a narrative expression of the natural universe around them and the green awakenings, a.k.a. sustainable awareness, within them.
With the contextual assistance of two short set-texts, The Man Who Became a Tree by Olaf Stapledon and The Meadow Across the Creek by Thomas Berry, the students will be set the task of identify ‘living cosmology’ in their own lives by defining their own ‘green awakenings’ and creatively expressing how they, as global citizens, are themselves expressions of the shared universe story.
Begin the class by establishing that the students will be learning about ‘living cosmology’. However, do not elaborate on this or explain what is living cosmology. Merely write it on the whiteboard and move onto the first set-text class reading.
The Man Who Became a Tree is a short story by the British philosopher and science fiction writer Olaf Staple. The story is of a man who sits against a tree to eat his lunch, falls into a deep sleep and then discovers that his consciousness has passed into the tree. Stapledon presents a tree’s point-of-view as the protagonist explores the tree’s various sensations and states of being throughout all the seasons and all the years in which he increasingly finds himself at peace as the tree. The story ends with the tree being chopped down and the man’s consciousness with it.
“Strangely, he felt no regret at losing forever his footing in humanity. That fretful mode of existence had always irked him. Throughout his human years he had always held himself aloof from his fellow men. He had always been by disposition a solitary. He had carefully avoided forming any lasting ties with man or woman. He was an inveterate escapist. Now at last he had escaped forever.” – Stapledon, The Man Who Became A Tree
Start a class discussion by asking the students:
- How does The Man Who Became a Tree make you feel about the natural environment and humanity’s relation to it?
- How does it make you feel about your place in the universe?
“He took long to grasp the significance of it, but in the end participation in the tree’s past enabled him to recognize that this individual beech tree was psychologically rooted in the life of the whole neighboring woodland and even the far-distant forests. His human consciousness was with difficulty reaching out to that vast region. But this was not all. It became clear to him that, besides the experience of tree-life in springtime, an equally vast experience of autumnal trees was being laid before him. A tropical and a subarctic experience was also going on. In fact he was vaguely participating in the common awareness of all trees, nay, all terrestrial vegetation.” – Stapledon, The Man Who Became a Tree.
Depending on the overall class size, this discussion can be done either with the class overall or in smaller groups, which then bring their discussions together into an overall class discussion.
The point of starting the lesson with The Man Who Became A Tree is to get the students thinking outside of the box and shift the persepective of the class from a human focused point-of-view to tree/nature focused point-of-view.
“Torrential rain battered on his leaves. With a great effort he attended to his prone human body at the tree’s foot, and noted that his clothes were drenched, and water was trickling over his chest and belly. Yet this seemed to him a matter of no moment. It was far more important for him to explore his new life as a tree. Anyhow, he could not do anything about his poor old human body, since he had forgotten how to move its limbs.” – Stapledon, The Man Who Became a Tree
While there are many pertinent and critical points to be generated from the class discussion, the key one for the purporse of this lesson is for the students to articulate that they, and all humanity, are a part of nature. Like the tree, the protagonist is just one part of a bigger natural system.
After an appropriate amount of time has been devoted to this initial discussion, and once the key point has been established, move the discussion on by asking the students:
- How is The Man Who Became a Tree an expression of living cosmology?
- And what is living cosmology?
Depending on how informative and imaginative the responses of the students are, incorporate whatever the students have said to strengthen your explanation of living cosmology.
Explanation of living cosmology:
In science, cosmology describes the origin and development of the universe. Essentially, cosmology is a story, it is the story of everything, it is the story of our universe… and how we fit into this universe. For instance, the big bang happened, then stars formed, planets formed, life evolved on the Earth and here we are… that’s the scientific story, the scientific cosmology.
However, the scientific cosmology is not the only cosmology we have, we also have many, many, many religious cosmologies and each of those cosmologies tell their own stories of the universe and our place it in. For instance, the Book of Genesis, God created the heavens and the Earth, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and human history developed from there.
Living Cosmology takes both the scientific cosmology and the religious cosmologies and combines them together.
Regardless of what you believe to be true – whether you believe the scientific story of the universe, or a religious story, or a combination – the point of living cosmology is to make us think about our place in the universe, or, as The Man Who Became a Tree illustrates, our place as the universe… because we are not separate from it, we are a part of it, we breath its air and we cut down its trees… we are just one living part of a bigger natural cosmology.
Therefore, as global citizens, living cosmology is how we express and make meaning of our existence as the universe.
At this point introduce the second set-text class reading, The Meadow Across the Creek and establish that it is written by Thomas Berry, who saw the propagation and wide-spread understanding of the concept of living cosmology as being the great work of our times.
The Meadow Across the Creek is the second chapter from The Great Work by Thomas Berry. In the book Berry advocates for a wide-ranging green awakening in all areas of human endeavour to ensure that humanity protects the planet from unsustainable ecological damage. In the second chapter, Berry recounts the moment he expereinced his very own green awakening – the moment he realised the natural world was vitally integral and absolutely needed to be maintained – by recounting a tale from his youth when he and his family moved to a rural area of the country.
“Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in late May when I first wandered down the incline, crossed the creek, and looked out over the scene. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave my life something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember. It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands In the distance and the clouds in the sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then… This early experience, it seems, has become normative for me throughout the entire range of my thinnking. Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; whatever opposes this meadow or nrgates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple.” – Berry, The Great Work: The Meadow Across the Creek, page 12-13
Upon finishing The Meadow Across the Creek, start a new class discussion by asking the students:
- What do you make of Berry’s green awakening?
- How does it make you feel?
- What is a green awakening?
“So completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being that we have become strange beings indeed. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research in developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources from whence we came and upon which we depend every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural world. This occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insentive toward he natural world and do not realize just what we are doing.” – page15-16
Building on the shift of perspective that was brought about with The Man Who Became A Tree, the point of including The Meadow Across the Creek is to get the students more directly and personally thinking about their own relationship and history with the natural environment around them.
Again, many pertinent points should be generated from this discussion, but the key point should run along the lines of… just like the portagonist in The Man Who Became A Tree, a green awakening is the moment you realise you are a part of a bigger natural system and living cosmology.
And if the class discussion is struggling to reach the final essential conclusion, ask the following question:
- As global citizens, who realise that we are all a part of the same living cosmlogy, why is a green awakening important for our shared existence?
The key response required is something along the lines of…. As Berry says in The Meadow Across the Creek, we must maintain the natural environment that in turn maintains us because we are all a part of the same natural system and cannot exist in an unsustainable one.
“While the damage that has been done is immediately the work of humans, the healing cannot be the work simply of humans any more than the illnes of one organ of the body can be healed through the efforts of that one organ. Every member of the body must bring about the healing. So now the entire universe is involved in the healing of the damaged Earth in the light and warmth of the sun.” – Berry, The Great Work: The Meadow Across the Creek, page 20
The final part of the lesson will be devoted to directing the students to identifying their own green awakenings. This can be done in a class discussion, smaller group discussions, individually, or a combination. The point is to encourage the student to use the examples of The Man Who Became a Tree and The Meadow Across the Creek, to think about their own individual relationships with the environment and how, as global citizens, they can use their individual green awakenings to benefit the world.
However, the key is to get the students brainstorming some ideas, not to draw any definite conclusions, because that is the homework assignment for this lesson. The students need to go away and generate an artifact that represents their individual green awakenings (this artefact will form the first part of a Personal Journal of Living Cosmology that each student will generate throughout the course of the academic year). The artefact could be a written personal account like that of Berry’s, or it could be a fictional representation such as The Man Who Became a Tree, or it could be a sentimental object, a presentation… it can be anything that requires the students to creatively explore and represent their individual green awakenings and connection with the natural world.
A final note on helping the students to identify their individual green awakenings, unlike Berry’s personal account, the artefact does not have to be something they have experienced in their pasts. It could be something they are planning on experiencing in the future, such as a planned journey, or their green awakening could even be the Living Cosmology and Green Awakenings lesson itself. The students’ green awakenings can be whatever they want them to be, the essential point is just to get them reflecting on their individual relationships with the natural environmental and how they themselves and their green awakenings are essential and meaningful parts of our shared living cosmology.
“We might think of a viable future for the planet less as the result of some scientific insight or as dependent on some socioeconomic arrangement than as participation in a symphony or as renewed presence to some numinous presence manifested in the wonderworld about us. This was perhaps something I vaguely experienced in that first view of the lilies blooming in the meadow across the creek.” – Berry, The Great Work: The Meadow Across the Creek, page 20
Set the homework task and dismiss the class.
Please note that this Global Citizenship subject area forms a part of a proposed reformed educational curriculum that possesses a core foundational focus on environmental sustainability. Additionally, what was traditionally the separate subject of Religious Studies is now incorporated into the social, cultural and ethical focuses of the curriculum’s reconfigured Global Citizenship subject area.
“While the universe celebrates itself in every mode of being, the human might be identified as that being in whom the universe celebrates itself and its numinou origins in a special mode of conscious self-awareness.
“We no longer read the book of the universe. We have extensive contact with the natural world through photographs and television presentations. But as Saint Augustine remarked long ago, a picture of food does not nourish us.” – Berry, The Meadow Across the Creek, page 15