Geeta Dawar takes her seventh grade science students outside their Madison school to examine cracks in the sidewalk.
David Spitzer gets his Madison elementary students to notice flocks of migrating geese overhead as the kids walk to school.
And David Ropa has his seventh graders, even on an arctic morning, use their bare hands to dip testing vials into Lake Mendota.
Nature is on the rise in many schools across Wisconsin, as educators strive to reverse a major societal shift toward technology and indoor activities.
Today's students are the first generation in human history raised without a strong relationship with the natural world, said Jeremy Solin, who heads a state forest education program at UW-Stevens Point for students in kindergarten through high school.
The phenomenon of "nature deficit disorder" — a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods" — is contributing to childhood obesity, learning disabilities, and developmental delays, experts say.
Solin cited research showing that on average, American children spend more than 30 hours per week connected to electronic devices, but less than an hour a month in nature. The disparity is rooted, in part, in parents' increased reluctance to allow their children to freely roam outdoors, for fear of strangers, traffic, mosquitoes and other hazards.
Solin said he's been amazed, through discussions with more than 1,000 people at school districts, to find the same pattern in Wisconsin's rural and urban areas.
"Kids are able…