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    There are many educational practices using the natural environment as subject matter.  As with environmental education, ESD has made use of nearby nature to foster students’ learning from a variety of perspectives.  Omose Elementary School receives cooperation from outside experts and parents and guardians to implement a cohesive six-year programme for the students involving the natural environment near the school.  This case study demonstrates the possibility of cultivating an attitude towards the natural environment and one’s life that is supported by excitement and experiences.

The Nearby Natural Environment is Educational Material
    Kesennuma City* is located in the northeastern part of Miyagi Prefecture facing the Pacific Ocean.  Its deeply indented coastline has excellent natural harbours, making it the leading base for Japan’s fishing industry and long-range fishing boats.  About half of the population of 60,000 is engaged in the fishing industry and because the natural environment is so intimately connected with their own economic and social life, environmental consciousness is very high.  For example, this was the area where an environmental conservation movement with the slogan “The woods are the boyfriend  of the sea” was started by an oyster farming company, and it was also the first place in the country where people made a “Slow Food Declaration” (“Locally produced, locally consumed”—meaning consuming the products from the nearby farms and sea within the area).
    At Omose Elementary School, Kesennuma City, students from the first through sixth grades are engaged in a continuous programme of study using the wonderful natural environment of the surrounding woods, rivers and sea, centring on the Omose River, which runs through the school district.  First and second-graders were involved under the theme “Cultivating Plants and People’s Lives” during their “life skills” time, and third-graders and above under the theme “Waterside Environment and People’s Lives” during the integrated studies time—each with connections to other subject areas.  The following chart shows the outline of the efforts in each grade.

*Kesennuma City is part of the activity area for the ESD Regional Centres of Expertise established in the Sendai region in 2005.

Omose Elementary School Six-Year ESD Activities
 1st Grade  
Nature and Festival Project “Let’s Experience Nature and Festivals!”
Students will play and experience a festival involving nature, and realise how culture and traditions are connected to the natural environment.  Students will raise the flowering plants and vegetables that will be used in the festival and will develop feelings of heart-felt thanks for being able to live a life close to nature and its blessings.

2nd Grade  
Vegetable Growing Project “Let’s Grow Vegetables and Eat Them!”
Through cultivating vegetables, students will experience the wonder of plant growth and feel thankful for the bounty of nature.  Additionally, students will receive the cooperation of a soil expert, and by preparing the soil through the use of earthworms, students will have interests in and concerns about the cycles in the world of nature.

3rd Grade  
BUGS Project “Let’s Go!--Omose Bugs Explorers
Students will investigate the bugs that live along the water, including their diversity and seasonal changes.  Taking the case of dragonflies as an example, students will have the help of a bug expert to conduct a survey and observations in order to explore a good living environment for bugs.

4th Grade
 Omose Sanctuary Project “The Omose River That Nurtures Lives”
Through surveying and collecting fish from the Omose River and raising them in a “mini aquarium” in school, students will explore the conditions that fish need to live and develop an important perspective on the need to preserve an abundant water environment.  While comparing these ideal conditions to those of the Omose River, students will explore experientially and with an eye towards solving problems.

5th Grade  
Maritime Museum Project “A Wealth of Ocean—Seaside Environment and People’s Lives”
Through a survey of living things around the mouth of the Omose River and tree-planting in the mountains, students will explore the connections among the living things in the river, oceans, the woods, and the sea. Additionally, by receiving cooperation from local people involved in the fishing industry, students will explore the relationship between the environment of the sea and human lives.

6th Grade

Environmental Future City Project “Waterfront Future City Omose”
Combining what students have learned in the first through fifth grades, students will deepen their thinking about how to live in harmony with the natural environment.  Students will engage in a cooking exercise in an “Omose Restaurant” in which they must consider water, energy, food and garbage from an environmental perspective, and think about what they can do to help the environment and how they can continue their efforts into the future.

The Omose River That Nurtures Lives
    Fourth-graders are involved in a year-long project called “The Omose River That Nurtures Lives.”  Students gather fish living in the Omose River, raise them, and think about the relationship between the river environment and their daily lives and what would be good for them to do for the river for the future.
    The Omose River is a small river with many good spots for observation.  Students go out to conduct field surveys several times each year.  The first activities are aimed at gaining students’ interest, and students actually catch fish in order to determine what kinds of fish are there.  The area has a type of goby called “rockfish”, amur goby, and other types of fish.  The fish that are caught are placed in fish tanks in the hallway called “Omose miniature aquariums,” and groups of students raise the fish.  As they raise the fish, students investigate the quality of water, water temperature, habitat, amount of oxygen, and food that would constitute an easy environment for the fish to live in and thus help the fish to live longer.
    In the field surveys that follow, children learn experientially through activities studying the types of aquatic creatures and the conditions of the water.  In addition, while observing the changes in the seasons, they learn about the aquatic bugs that serve as food for the fish and the miniature world of aquatic micro-organisms.

 Omose “Miniature Aquarium

I Don’t Really Like Fish or Rivers (a child’s comment before learning in the field)
    In the case of learning involving field work, an important point is how much one grabs children’s interest and concern.  Even if you do not pay attention to children who already have interest, they will take the initiative to act on their own.  Thus, teachers use worksheets to gauge children’s level of interest, are conscious of the children with less interest, talk to them, and make effort to take good care of them.
    In fact, at the first stage, there was a child who felt that it was disgusting to go into the river.  Her hands were taken by friends, and she fearfully entered the river and tried looking for fish.  Hidden behind a piece of seaweed in the direction of her net, a big fish suddenly appeared and flew into her net.  It was of a size that surprised both the homeroom teacher and the other children.  With that one fish, the child became a captive of the project and was completely absorbed in observing every day in front of the fish tank.
    In fact, for the homeroom teacher, too, this was a first experience at going into a river and turning over rocks.  “Wow, is that really true?  That’s great.”  “What on earth is that?”  “Hey, let’s investigate!”  In this way, the teacher got excited with the children and was participating in the activities together.  Of course, there is a wide range in children’s level of interests.  The children with interest were looking at the fish tank every day and conversing with the fish.  On the other hand, there were children who made great efforts to catch fish but after that made no efforts to raise the fish.  What interested the children also varied.  There were children who put all their efforts into differentiating the different types of fish, children who thought about making the fish tank an easy place for the fish to live, children who got upset by fighting between fish, and children who observed carefully and were able to make life-like models of the fish.  The teacher approached the project with the attitude that it would be good if the children could gain a little more interest as a result of the teacher talking to them and stimulus from all the other children.

Reassuring Support
    In this year-long project, Sendai Science Museum and Miyagi University of Education experts cooperated and participated in activities with the children, helped children differentiate among the different species of fish, and talked to the children about food for the fish.  There are plankton that have the characteristics of plants and plankton that have the characteristics of animals, and from the talk that fish eat them, children recognised the connections among living things.
    Because the expert teachers prepared one fishing net for each child, the children were able to have the experience of catching as many fish as they wanted.  Using a digital microscope that made use of information technology and a cyber encyclopedia, children were able to see the microscopic world.  After all, there are things that cannot be done in the school that are made possible through collaboration with specialised institutions.  Together with the enthusiastic support the experts provided to the children, the cooperation of parents was a great reassurance.  During field work, the homeroom teacher’s eyes would not be sufficient to watch all of the children, and when a request was made at Omose Elementary School, parents responded quickly with the needed number of volunteers.
    In the latter half of the project, students listened to a story about the Omose River in the distant past with the cooperation of the Omose River Humane Society.  This helps to develop children’s feelings to take care of the Omose River, which has an abundant environment now, so that it can continue on into the future.

Listening to a talk from an expert teacher

Gathering fish with an expert teacher

A Structure to Support Teachers
    Omose Elementary School has 16 classes and 23 teachers.  In the teachers’ lounge, information exchange among the teachers concerning children and lessons takes place frequently.  Particularly for teachers newly appointed to the school, this is a place where they can obtain various types of information, have the efforts thus far at Omose Elementary School passed on to them as a tradition, and have the opportunity to create a vision incorporating a new point of view.
    In addition, Kesennuma City has an “Educational Researcher” system, under which approximately 10 elementary and junior high school teachers are gathering to create a common ESD curriculum for the first through ninth grades.  The group overcomes the walls dividing school years and elementary and junior high schools to hold a common understanding of ESD.
    It is difficult to coordinate among the outside experts and teachers, to continue the collaboration, and to learn by experiencing things together with the children.  However, the principal thinks: “Isn’t it good that it’s difficult?”  Not only the children, but also the teachers continue to learn, and it is an opportunity to continue developing even if they feel the difficulty.  It seems that Kesennuma City has the kind of structure and system in which teachers neither become disconnected from the flow of learning nor merely pulled along with it.

Earthworms for composting also change generations
as they continue creating soil for the second-graders

From Knowledge to Action
    These efforts at Omose Elementary School have helped to develop positive feelings towards the environment.  However, in ESD, the way of thinking has moved a step beyond environmental education in which “It is okay if elementary school students understand the environment at a sensory level.”  In ESD, one would say: “What will you do from now?”--expressing that it is important to move towards action.  This way of thinking is becoming established at Omose Elementary School.  “Not only sixth- graders, but at the end of a first-grade project, first-graders should, at their own level, and third-graders should at their level, each individually thinks and wants to take action of which they are capable in their community.  Also, children should not be guided in just one direction.  If there are 30 children, there should be no problem in having 30 different paths,” says the principal.  It is not simply a matter of activating children’s consciousness; ESD means that even elementary school students take action that they are capable of taking.  Their continuing to take action will result in their taking care of the environment in which they live.  And like a river flowing, it will likely continue.

What kind of action will arise?

Unit name: “The Omose River That Nurtures Lives” (April-February, 105 hours)

Overall Objectives:
○Through experiential activities gathering and raising living things found along the waterside of their hometown river, the Omose River, to enable students to recognise the connections among living things and the deep connection between their lives and the environment
○To deepen students’ understanding of the environment through presentations of learning results and comparison of the Omose River and other waterside environments of other regions

Omose Sanctuary Project Annual Chart PDF