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
- 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.
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
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.
John 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 Mountain 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!