inside –> out

“There are trees in our hearts.”
Nalini Nadkarni

On Facebook yesterday, my friend, Betty Schlueter, (who is an amazing photographer), posted a link to the TED video of Nalini Nadkarni, an ecologist who looks at tree canopies, interdisciplinary studies, and urging people of different backgrounds to unite for a common cause.

The first time I watched, I was attracted to the emotional appeal. I’m a tree-hugger. I love trees. I love to touch them, smell them, and talk to them. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I was interested in the idea of creating bonds between people who don’t have that connection to nature to nature itself. But I was also amused by her humor and the way she connected that humor to a very serious issue.

My second time through the video, I began to see the similarities in the way we approach our particular fields of inquiry. She invites artists into the forests to interpret them in a way that connects two seemingly different areas of interest: the sciences and arts. And this is how I approach my studies and teaching practices.

Yes, I’m a writing instructor. But I started off in geology. I like looking down, thinking about how everything is constructed from a foundational support, how it is built, layer upon layer, until it becomes something stronger and more stable.

When I’m in a writing class, I think of writing in different terms. I don’t think about how I interpret it. I’m much more interested in how the students in the class interpret it and how they can find it useful.

We’re working on the final projects of the semester. My classroom is entirely collaborative and students are working as a part of a team to put together the projects. I asked them, “what matters to you?” “What are your interests?” The class isn’t about me. I already know how to do this stuff.

So I ask them to be creative. Not because I expect them to be artists. I don’t. Many of them are pre-professional (med, vet, dentist, etc.), and others are business or agricultural students. While some of them may consider themselves artistic, what I really want to encourage them to do is to look outside of the box to think about what will suit their project the best. Sometimes that’s a wiki, sometimes a webpage, sometimes a video, and sometimes a message in a bottle (yes, I’ve received projects in all of these forms).

It’s about taking what is inside and bringing it out. It’s about going into the forest, looking up, and seeing the possibilities. It’s about looking into their hearts, and seeing the roots that grow there, waiting to connect to something bigger.

It’s about communicating with one another, sharing the excitement, and watching a project come to fruition.

I haven’t been disappointed yet. Each of them is amazing and contributes in ways that I could have never imagined.

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