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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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.