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!

   Welcoming Syrian Refugees

 

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I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.

The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students.  This year has been magic.  One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students.  I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a  fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.

I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause.  My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia.  She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.

I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life.  At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase.  Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees.  Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area.  The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.

“We are story…”

Richard Wagamese calls it. It’s up to us to create “the best story we can create while we are here”. The celebration of relationships with the earth, family, community and spirits as well as the embedding of history and survival techniques in story is what sustained our First Nations people for thousands of years pre- contact. The importance of embedding story in curriculum has been explored extensively by Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University and has become a mainstream truth. What is new, is the rediscovery of the fact that embedding memory and history in story to make it meaningful is part of the legacy handed down to our current society by First People’s cultures. Learning about and acknowledging and integrating these foundational truths from First Peoples cultures is how we can truly reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people that has been seriously compromised in the process of colonization and the subsequent quest for economic advantage.

The First Peoples Principles of Learning were written by fnesc (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and the British Columbia Ministry of Education .  Laura Tait did an amazing talkat The Changing Results for Young Readers Conference in 2013.  It’s well worth listening to her 15 minute presentation, complete with pictures and stories from her family and Tsimshian community to bring life to the words. image

For me, the concept that bounced out was the acknowledgement of more than one way of looking at the world. Imagine the wars based on religious intolerance that could have been averted if we had been able to grasp this concept. I think of all of the time it took me to grasp the concept of “sister- cousin” from my Indo-Canadian students.  And for me it should have been easy.  I grew up with a cousin who was more like a sister and even lived in the same house for a chunk of time.  When I finally “got it”, I had to tell Babita, the student who persevered and patiently explaining the relationship of “sister-cousin”.    She had persisted with the idea despite my insistent references to the definition of the word cousin. Her eyes were filled with the delight, or was it relief, of a teacher when a student finally understands the seemingly easy concept that has eluded them.  It didn’t just take my willingness to try to understand but her patience and perseverance in hanging in there with me on the journey of discovery.  We hold on to these little successes along the way.  To end where we began, with the words of Richard Wagamese:  “We change the world one story at a time.”  Babita changed mine.

Continue reading ““We are story…””

Be Kind Wherever You Go

 As every administrator in every school regularly does, I pulled our students together to talk  about our Code of Conduct.  We decided to divide primary and intermediate students into two smaller groups so I could tailor the conversation about RISE (Respect / Improve / Safe / Encourage  ) to each age group.  The primaries gathered for the discussion about expectations for behaviour. The big culminating question:  So what does RISE look like for a Tecumseh student?  Hands shoot up and I pick one from Cole Johnson’s K/1 class.  The response: “Be kind everywhere you go.”  Done.  The wisdom of the 5 year old rules the day!  The work to practice and reinforce the message continues. 


In Mr. Johnson’s class, that message took on a life of its own.  Mr. Johnson clearly  understood that the words of his student came with a special power to catalize his students. It became the class motto.  When he immortalized the words on a button, they became even more valued.  Then he handed them out to each staff member at the year-end breakfast.  As I stared at the button, the familiarity was there but not the exact context.  Cole Johnson looked at me and said “You remember!”    Cole breathed life into the moment.  He  had accomplished what every great teacher does on a daily basis – tapped the teachable moment.

As a previous Kindergarten teacher, I have a huge appreciation for those who walk that path.  Mr. Johnson’s students will be able to say “All I Really  Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” and perhaps publish their own rendition😃

Robert Fulghum (1988). All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

“Norman, Speak!”

  Caroline Adderson welcomed student representatives from all of the elementary schools in the VSB to a celebration of literacy along with their librarians and principals or vice-principals.  “Norman Speaks” was the book selected by the Vancouver Elementary Principals Vice Principals Association (VEPVPA).   Each year the VEPVPA “Celebrating Literacy Committee ” selects a book.   The Association invites the author to share the story with students and then puts the autographed book into the one hundred VSB elementary school libraries in Vancouver.  “Norman Speak” was selected for the storytelling and the illustrations in the picture book, as well as the story itself.   Caroline Adderson fascinated both groups with the story of the dog who inspired the story, a real dog that really only understood Chinese.  The book explores the assumptions that young and old people make when someone does not speak the language.  Something wise to be talking about in a city like Vancouver, where so many people speak English as a second or third or fourth language.  Caroline was an amazing presenter – a prolific author with teaching experience!  She had us all engaged in grappling with the task of trying to speak another language.  She also shared a video clip with the illustrator, Qin Leng, discussing how she approached doing the illustrations.   The students were amazed to learn that the authors and illustrators don’t usually meet until after the drawings are done, if ever.

Ben reports that the highlight of the event was having books and pieces of paper signed by the author.   More than one students reported that the dog shaped chocolate was the best part.   The was truly a wonderful illustration of how books can help us to adopt another perspective and delight in the experience.


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Fostering Self Regulation and Emotional Control

“Fostering self-regulation and emotional control” have become as much a part of instruction as reading and writing.  Kids that are not able to understand and manage their emotions are not able to learn and frequently make it difficult for others to learn.  Before this book was published, I used the graphic of a stop light to teach kids about how to define and consider their feelings and discuss strategies to keep from getting overwhelmed and making choices that created a whole new layer of problems for the classroom community.  The Zones of Regulation:  A Curriculum Designed To Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control (2011) by Leah M. Kuypers develops a solid approach to exploring these topics in a far more comprehensive way.  Adding a blue zone to talk about when you are sad or sick or tired or bored or moving slowly helps kids to understand their feelings with far more depth.  I was introduced to this book by a behaviour intervention support worker and have it reintroduced by ever other STIBS worker who I have crossed paths with in Vancouver.  It is generally proposed for use with a student struggling to manage their behaviour in the classroom and readily embraced by classroom teachers for use with the whole class.  The support poster is pricey at $12.00 but worth it because you can use dry erase markers and help students create personalized toolkits to manage the emotions listed in the four zones.  The reproducibles included in the book are well thought out and included on a CD.  I have just bought another copy of this book for my current staff because it has been wholeheartedly embraced by two of my teachers.  It isn’t a book to borrow, it’s a book to have on hand for your own reference.