Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.
I met Hartley Banack’s Faculty of Education (EDCP323) class outside the Botanical Gardens at UBC. The class is a diversified group with some students completing Bachelor of Education requirements and some practicing educators working towards a diploma in Outdoor Education. Several Vancouver schools are actively engaged in working with teachers and their Community Schools Teams to provide outdoor learning opportunities for their students so I was thrilled to be a part of this class. We chatted about outdoor learning opportunities, challenges and goals at my school under the pagoda. We continued the discussion of possibilities and considerations en route to the amphitheater. Student presentations and discussion of articles focusing on experiential learning continued in a shaded area of the amphitheater. Discussing outdoor learning WHILE we were outdoors was a perfect.
It was inspiring to be part of this class because it provides a model for outdoor learning that is currently being explored in many schools with a clear understanding of the merits of outdoor learning. In some cases, outdoor opportunities to learn are specifically focused on the sphere of P.E. When I first started teaching in the Abbotsford school district, there was a P.E. specialist in every school. The calibre of the instruction was high and I learned a lot from teachers with extensive background knowledge. In my current context, I am still learning a lot from teachers with well developed background knowledge in Physical Education who are classroom teachers. Mr. Wan has a passion for physical education and organizes equipment for classroom experiences, extra-curricular sports and outdoor opportunities at lunch. His class each year is trained to set up badminton nets, the ping pong table and equipment for outdoor play at lunch time. Ms. Harris has worked with Action Schools to train student leaders to facilitate games for the younger children and provide classroom equipment for outdoor play. Teachers have participated in professional development and arranged for special outdoor events such as The Terry Fox Run, Sports Day, Jones Park play, Grade 6 Camp, kayaking in Deep Cove, Beach Day, and Queens Park day, . Parents actively fundraised for four years and worked with volunteers from the Knight and King Edward PriceSmart Foods to ensure out students had a playground for free play.
Ms. Collins, PAC and our ever supportive husbands worked with us to secure the Small neighbourhood grant and build four garden beds on the school grounds. Several of our teachers have worked with their classes in the garden and been involved in programs such as Growing Chefs to teach students about science and food sources. For many years Ms. Evans has worked with student leaders to facilitate participation in the Fruit and Veggie Program and the Dairy Foundation Program for early primary. And yes, she even arranged for the cows to come to Tecumseh! A sight to behold, kids sitting down on the cement fully engaged in just watching the cows. School wide sorting of waste into composting, recycling and landfill garbage has also helped to extend learning about our environment and ecosystems.
Integrating outdoor learning beyond physical education and science is the next challenge. Ms. Collins and Mr. Larson are actively involved in teaching students about human rights. Their annual participation in Walk For Water is a great example of how the outdoor experience is integral to the learning. Our playground includes picnic tables down by the swings. This lends itself to allowing students to working outdoors. One year my Grade 4 students looked up in the sky to see eagles attacking a crow. It made for some great poetry! The accessibility of iPads has allowed students to easily take their own photos to inspire or support their written work on Apps such as BookCreator or ExplainEverything.
Vancouver Schools are fortunate to have a well developed Community School Teams. The secondary school and the elementary schools that feed into them form a hub. Administrators meet regularly as a group and with the CST staff to provide opportunities and after school programs facilitated by student leaders from the secondary school and paid programmers. In our school, the variety or field options and the garden allows for varied outdoor experiences.
It is exciting for the discussion of outdoor learning opportunities in schools to be happening at the university and in schools with a mind to share ideas. Hart Banack has assigned his students to form working groups to investigate the possibilities for outdoor learning in the school grounds and in the communities of several school sites in Vancouver. The bank of ideas with details such as related costs and curriculum connections will be invaluable as the new year begins and yearly planning unfolds. I can’t wait to hear their findings and ideas for sharing information with teachers. Special thanks to Hart Banack, UBC and EDCP323 students for welcoming me into your class and supporting our work in schools.