Curriculum Learning at Gr.6 Camp

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Last week was the annual Grade 6 Camp Elphinstone experience.  For students on the South Slope of Vancouver, it is a game changer.  Most of the children come to camp and experience a plethora of “Firsts”.  This year some of those “firsts” included:

  • taking a ferry
  • staying in a cabin with friends
  • sighting a baby bear
  • watching a river otter poop
  • canoeing
  • kayaking
  • archery
  • catching a fish
  • swimming in the ocean
  • attempting to hit the bell at the top of the climbing wall
  • Meal time and Campfire ritual of songs and chants and debates
  • counting the seconds between the forked lightning and thunder
  • eating Mexican sushi (actually scrambled egg breakfast wraps)
  • setting the table, serving food, and cleaning up

The team building opportunity presented by the camp experience creates a  perfect opportunity to develop the essentials of social and emotional learning.  This results in a sense of belonging and a wonderful tone going into their final Grade 7 year of elementary school for Tecumseh students.  The YMCA has years of providing high quality programming for young people and has all of the elements of the camp experience down to perfection.  The camp rituals of family style food service and traditional campfire songs and activities challenge students to take risks, engage in experiential learning and explore their identity.  The young counsellors from Canada, New Zealand and Australia are able to keep up with the pace of energetic Grade 6 students and facilitate safe and memorable learning experiences.  Our Junior counsellors from David Thompson Secondary and sponsor teachers came together to ensure the best experience possible for our campers.

If you talk to our students, they will tell you they are on a holiday from school.  In actual fact, they have simply entered the outdoor classroom to engage in experiential learning masked as fun.  The learning is not in just one experience but many experiences in nature and with peers over time.  If you have the time and inclination, you may want to open up the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia-Grade 6.  The three-day camp experience touched on many big ideas, all of the core competencies and a meaty chunk of curriculum.  The social emotional learning is pervasive throughout all of the activities and experiences and indigenous ways of knowing are infused throughout the experience.

Meal time and camp fire included  action songs, chants, listening games and debates for students to hone their powers of persuasion.  Shelter building required teamwork to come up with a plan to build a shelter from materials on the forest floor that could withstand both the earthquake and water test.  Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, the climbing wall and archery challenged students to take risks, learn a new skill and took the development of flexibility, strength and endurance to new levels.  The range of games such Running Pictionary, Capture the Flag, Camouflage tag and Wink, Wink, Murder necessitate safety rules, game rules, social interaction, spatial awareness and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Upon reflection, the camp experience opens a myriad of possibilities for more intentional curriculum learning.  I am not proposing duo-tangs filled with photocopied worksheets.  I am proposing that we consider the aspects of curriculum that can be incorporated into the camp experience.  Place based Aboriginal perspectives and ways of knowing as outlined in the First People’s Principles of Learning could be clearly articulated.  The opportunity to directly teach social emotional skills to allow students to develop coping skills for dealing with stress and for dealing with conflict effectively are present throughout the daily schedule.  The consideration of opportunities for direct instruction in mindfulness by tapping into nature and social interaction are plentiful.  It means people with background knowledge about the solar system, constellations, local flora, fauna and primary resources become invaluable.  Materials such as compasses, Write in the Rain notebooks and field handbooks may need to be purchased. The camp experience may be re-imagined, not as an “extra” but as a vital pathway to develop and incorporate big ideas, core competencies and curriculum knowledge for our students in a meaningful way.

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Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine

imageInvestigating Our Practice Conference in the Faculty of Education on Saturday, May 14th.  The day was filled with poster presentations, talks and interactive experiences by undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni.  It was particularly exciting to see the level of engagement of the student giving up their very sunny Vancouver Saturday to consider a range of ideas and questions.  For those of you who are not Vancouverites, when the sun comes out in full glory, we go outside – never quite certain how long it will be around.

I had the pleasure of presenting The Outdoor Classroom:  Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine with Claire Rushton, Alli Tufaro and Ali Nasato.        We were pulled together by a common interest in the opportunity provided by outdoor learning.  This one interest was able to pull together so many elements that have been embraced as key ideas in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia, such as:

  • The social emotional benefits of engaging with nature
  • The natural way in which we can engage students in practicing and understanding the First Nations Principles of Learning, including:
    • experiential learning
    • patience and time required for learning
    • exploring one’s identity
    • everyone and everything has a story
    • history matters
    • there are consequences to our actions
  • Ways to engage students in cross curricular learning opportunities
  • Connecting classroom lessons to the larger world
  • Using resources in the classroom to answer our questions about observations made outdoors
  • Reporting back about the things we care about to authentic audiences

Of course, the list goes on.  Another interesting aspect of our collaborative group was the power of inquiry in developing our professional practice as educators throughout different stages of our careers.  Both student teachers have found a way to focus their  professional learning throughout the practicum experience.  Claire Rushton, as the coordinator of the Social Emotional Learning cohort has used the outdoors to bring  Richard Louv’s work to life and introduce the power of “nature … as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life..” by integrating the experiences in nature to frame discussions of social – emotional learning. I have engaged in a personal inquiry of how to use iPad APPS  (photos, Drawing Pad, Book Creator, Twitter) as a way to access information, document and share outdoor learning.  I’ve also been able to support the staff I interact with on a regular basis in their own inquiries.  Inquiry, as framed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in Spirals of Inquiry, has provided a framework for beginning teachers as well as a school administrator and university instructor.  The learning has fuelled more questions and future inquiries.

 

I very much hope our collaboration continues…perhaps after the frenetic pace of the end of practicum, final observations and reports and end of year demands and celebrations!

Moving Beyond Earth Day

 


Earth Day has become an established part of the school calendar.  Every school district and most schools  focuses on taking care of the environment in one capacity or another. In some cases, the focus remains on garbage pickup and recycling.  In some cases,  it extends to gardening efforts, going outside for Physical Education and composting.   I believe that our real task as educators is to nurture an appreciation of the outdoors to prevent the disconnect with nature that many of our students are experiencing, particularly in urban contexts.

Most children naturally experience the physical benefit from outdoor activity.  Some children readily participate in community building experiences with peers.  All children benefit from scaffolded experiences to develop their curiosity, creativity, problem solving and mindfulness during outdoor learning experiences.  For educators with diverse background experiences outdoors, teachable moments and connections to curriculum unfold seamlessly.  At our school, the Grade 6 YMCA Camp Elphinstone experience, has been an important way of broadening student perspective of outdoor learning opportunities available to them.  The expansion of recycling and organics in all VSB schools, the BC Fresh Fruit and Veggies program, the B.C. Milk Program for K-Gr2 students, bringing the cows to the school and exploration of food sources have all helped students to make connections between nature and their lives.

  One challenges is that educators in urban contexts do not always have the background experiences to use the outdoor classroom as a basis for developing cross curricular competencies on a daily basis.  As school communities, we need to tease out the resources that are readily available to us.   Dr. Hartley Banack ,of Wild About Vancouver, has been instrumental in helping us to engage our students in meaningful learning experiences.  Spearheading the Wild About Vancouver Festival has been a labour of love to broaden the accessibility of outdoor learning possibilities to urban dwellers in Vancouver.  With the stellar effort of his team, Wild About Vancouver was able to coordinate 65 events, hosted by 48 organizations.  Students at Tecumseh Main and Tecumseh Annex experienced nature through games, shelter building and developing their observation skills during the festival.  Hopefully this is an event that only continues to grow and increase our personal health, community building, mindfulness and experiential learning throughout the year.

Dr. Banack is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at UBC.  He works tirelessly with students at U.B.C. to develop the skill set to engage students in experiential learning outdoors.  Alison Nasato and Alli Tufaro are two students in the Social and Emotional Learning cohort at UBC with Professor Claire Rushton.  Their coursework with Dr. Banack and Claire Rushton has been inspirational.  They have been engaged in inquiry projects exploring curricular integrations of outdoor learning within a SEL framework during their practicum experiences in Surrey, B.C.   This type of learning has the potential to impact how we engage students as the redesigned curriculum unfolds in British Columbia.



The Outdoor Einsteins has been an offering at Tecumseh Elementary for all three of terms of after school programming by the David Thompson Community School Team. CST School coordinator, Tara Perkins, has worked hard with student program facilitators from David Thompson Secondary School and volunteers to implement the program.  A grant from ReadingBC (BC Council of International Literacy Association) allowed her to develop the literacy aspects of the program. A eureka moment for many of our students and parents has been that you can even have fun outside, even when it’s raining.  Appropriate clothing, hot chocolate, student made shelters, giant umbrellas, Write in the Rain books and inspired activities have kept kids excited about participating and lining up to register each term.

Another source of inspiration I recently happened upon on Twitter in the 30X30 challenge sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation.  The goal is 30 minutes outside for 30 days in May.  What a fun way to engage our school communities!  Follow us @Tecumseh39 to see what we’re up to in our school community.  Let us know if you have other ideas on ways to learn in the outdoor classroom.

What Are You Curious About?

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This is the question posed by Dean Shareski for the Ignite Your Passion for Discovery Vancouver 2016 event.  I’m looking forward to hearing the 5 minute / twenty slide presentations and checking out the venue, Relish The Pub.  Yet the best thing about this event is that it invites you to tap into your own curiosity and ask your own questions.  It also provides a room full of the kind of people who want to have those kinds of conversations and to build their network of like-minded people.

I am curious about the outdoor play / technology use balance.  I grew up in Vancouver with a plethora of outdoor activities and in an age where a key around my neck was status and the parental mantra was “Be home before it’s dark”.  I spent a lot of time engaged in outdoor play as did all the kids in the neighbourhood.  Cherry blossom showers.  Trampolines. Puddles.  Trees.  Scrub.  Kick the Can. Fishing. Bikes. The list of things that drew us outdoors was endless, as was the learning once we were there.  It also cultivated an interest in engaging new challenges like biking to the top of Queen Elizabeth Park, getting back home along the shore at the beach before the tide came in, and later learning how to ski and paddle canoes, swim across big stretches and hike up mountains.

We are in different times where media stories of crime and danger surround parents and intensify the concerns over safety of the children in our care.  Now, there is also a pressure to schedule children every advantage perceived to be needed for future success. In some cases, parents did not grow up in the culture of outdoor play and do not understand the merits.  There is also the addictive edge of technology that can easily suck up hours.  I find myself lost in a myriad of tasks on my iPad and iPhone and computer and deviations from the required tasks that consumes hours if I don’t make a concerted effort to look away from the screen.

I love the possibilities that technology holds for our children.  Third graders can use kid friendly search engines like KidRex, take notes on Drawing Pad, generate original text illuminated with sound clips and pictures on BookCreator.  The learning is profound, as is the product that they can proudly teach real audiences about their topic.   I believe that using technology as a tool in education has exciting possibilities for implementing the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia and engaging kids in their learning.

I’m curious about how we help our students navigate the path towards the balance of what seem like competing priorities. The balance between screen time and outdoor play is one aspect, but it also goes beyond that.  It is the balance between participating in active sports outside and taking the time to observe and reflect on nature and what is happening around us when we’re outdoors. It is engaging in playing handheld or other games for enjoyment and using technology as a tool to access new learning or convey new learning.  It may be using technology outdoors to spotlight outdoor learning or make a powerful statement through nature.  Technology and outdoor activity offer possibilities for learning and distraction and socialization that are important and engaging.  How do we help adults and kids to realize that outdoor learning / play and technology learning / play both have a role in the healthy development and in preparing our children to live healthy, happy and productive lives?

I can’t wait to discuss it at the Ignite Night tonight.  Perhaps, I’ll see you there.

Wild About Vancouver

HumpDayHighlight:  This featured blog post is intended to explore classroom practices and possibilities, including books and units of study.

Hump Day Highlight #3:  Wild About Vancouver

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As I reported in an earlier blog post on Outdoor Learning (Dec. 2015), Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up  Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in the outdoor classroom.  UBC students prepared a document for our school detailing green spaces in the community and several possible outdoor learning activities and connections with the redesigned curriculum.

Our Tecumseh team  is growing in numbers and enthusiasm.   To date it includes John Mullan, David Thompson- Community (CST) team coordinator, Tara Perkins -CST Programmer, Aman Akilari – UBC volunteer, CST volunteers from David Thompson, Division 11 students, Division 1 students, Mrs. Jang- Grade 3 teacher, Ms. Pearce – Grade 7 teacher and myself.  Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities around Earth Day 2016.  Our team is working together to provide two, or possibly three events during Earth Week.  The idea is to share our learning with others.  Hopefully this will result in the recipients creating their own idea to share with others within their school community and perhaps even during Wild About Vancouver 2017.  The diffusion model works best when learners are engaged in their learning so we are working hard to create learning activities that will be fun as well as educational.

imageJohn Mullan has a well developed collection of outdoor learning books.  Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Cornell has been particularly helpful in designing activities using the flow learning sequence: Stage 1 – Awaken enthusiasm; Stage 2 – Focus Attention;  Offer Direct Experience;  Stage 4 – Share inspiration.  The Vancouver Kidsbooks team also have a plethora of good books that can be purchased. International Literacy Association Members on staff also secured a grant to integrate literacy activities in the outdoor classroom through ReadingBC (BC chapter of the International Literacy Association).  This money allowed us to purchase some resources, compasses, tarps, buggy cords, rope and waterproof notebooks from Mountainimage Equipment Coop.  Great things to do Outside 365 Awesome Outdoor Activities has lots of ideas to pursue in the classroom, during after school programs and during home time.  Ideas are percolating and we are excited about the possibilities for our Wild About Vancouver sessions.  Students and adults are busy brainstorming.

If you are interested in the outdoor classroom, check out the link to Wild About Vancouver and design your own activity to share or attend.  We live in Vancouver – filled with sand, sea, mountains, lakes and plenty of liquid sunshine to guarantee green spaces!  It’s guaranteed to be wild!