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.

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UBC Students Support Outdoor Learning in Schools

imageI 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.

imageIt 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.image

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.