Wild About Vancouver and More…

I am on the Steering Committee of a group called Wild About Vancouver, brainchild of our fearless leader, Dr. Hart Banack, UBC.  This is a particularly good opportunity because I get together with people who experience the concept of #GetOutdoors on so many different levels.  Our conversation started with a goal of organizing an outdoor festival to get people of all ages out as participants and stewards of our amazing city, Vancouver, British Columbia.  Yes, Canada for those of you familiar with another Vancouver, south of our border.   Vancouver in itself provides many opportunities for outdoor activity and is widely known for the active lifestyle of it’s residents.  The outdoors provides many possibilities to enhance mental health, physical well-being, environment awareness and action, as well as curricular instruction.

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I am writing this blog on the deck of my father’s cabin in the Eastern Sierras at the doorstep of Yosemite.  Just like my first visit at 9 years old and ever after, I am awake before anyone else.  This was one of my favorite places to be when I was a little girl on visits with my older sister down south to see my father, step-mother, and later younger siblings.  I could get up and out.  No burglar alarm to be dis-armed.  There were discoveries to be made and other early risers in the world.  And I had energy to expend.  Lots and lots of energy.  Cabin life allowed for that to be a natural part of life.  We hiked beyond the waterfall.  Rowed.  Played “Kick the Can” endlessly with the other cabin kids.  Tried to steer the motor boat clear of the dangers of pipes hidden in reeds, sand bars and trees in the lake and on the “jungle cruise” aka stream.  Fishing was a challenge for me unless we were casting and then reeling those rainbow trout in.  I was a high activity kid.  As an educator and a Mom, I had a personally tested strategy of using the outdoors as a way to increase focus in the classroom and to get kids to sleep at night.

I carried the habit of running, biking, hiking, and physically challenging myself into adulthood.  I learned as an adult that no one actually cared how you did at something.  Sometimes just trying was a victory.  I did my first Terry Fox 10 km Run for Cancer Research at the urging of my husband.  I believed passionately in the cause.  I watched Terry run on the nightly news and my Mom had already suffered her first bout of breast cancer.  I hit the 9 km mark and thought I was going to have to stop when a volunteer on the sideline yelled “good form”.  That carried me to the finish line with renewed energy, through many Sun Runs, My First and only Triathlon at Cultus Lake, and getting back to running after pregnancies and injuries.  Experiences skiing during my high school years, made learning to snowboard achievable.  Familiarity on my bike made the bike trip through the Prince Edward Island a glorious adventure.   A willingness to try some new physical challenge frequently ended with an increased sense of pride.  When that didn’t happen, it resulted in a good story, frequently filled with laughter.

When I graduated from the University of British Columbia, it was the 80’s and very difficult to get a teaching job in Vancouver.  I did another year at UBC to get a diploma in English Education while continuing to worked in a daycare / out of school care centre.  My quest “to teach” was infused with my supervision responsibilities.  I got my Class 4 driver’s license and we took those pre-schoolers all over the lower mainland of Vancouver to explore.  School aged kids were welcomed to Sparetime Fun Centre after school and organized into clubs.  We went outside to collect materials for arts and crafts.  We ran. We danced.  We played.  We learned.  By the time I got a full-time job at 22, learning through play indoors and outdoors was a well-established part of my understanding of how you establish rapport and create bridges between experience and curriculum.

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I did my mandatory “out of town” practicum in Abbotsford, British Columbia, because I could stay for free with my paternal grand-parents.  When I had my son, I wanted to be closer to home  and started working in Coquitlam, where we had purchased our first home.  When our youngest daughter went off to Queen’s University, my husband and I promptly moved back to Vancouver where I grew up and both of us lived, prior to kids.   The place I was teaching, determined how I went about teaching the curriculum.  In Abbotsford, background experience of students included experiences with gardens, cows, berry picking, farms and the ever-present smell of manure from spring to fall.  In Coquitlam, salmon spawning in streams, raccoons in garbage, bear awareness when hiking or running in the park, and deer wandering on roads was common place.  In Vancouver, walking and biking as a preferred mode of transportation, many local mountains for skiing and snowboarding, beaches, seagulls, crows and ethnic cuisine permeates life.  This awareness of place has increasingly become part of education as we have reflected on how we incorporate understandings that are implicit in the Indigenous cultures that were present long before Canada emerged as a country.

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The location of the school in British Columbia impacts how many Indigenous students attend.  This sometimes provides a block for staffs trying to authentically incorporate Indigenous teachings into the curriculum.  However, the sense of place provides an entry point for all students to gain insight into Indigenous ways of knowing.  Examining how the place we live impacts our experiences, lends itself to going outdoors and considering our present and historical context.  Many things in life cannot be anticipated or guaranteed with confidence.  If you live in Vancouver, I can guarantee that it will rain and I can even tell you what that smells like.  As a 6-year-old in Venice, my daughter looked up at me and smiled and said “It smells like home, Mummy”, when it started to rain.  These understandings over time are the things we can learn from the stories from our local Indigenous people. Medicine Wheel teachings that have been incorporated into many Indigenous cultures have much to teach about how we make decisions, resolve conflict and achieve mental health.

My mother was in the hospital awaiting a procedure when I was called into the room to calm her down.

My response, “Breathe, Mum…No.  Not like that.  Into your abdomen…  You know…Yoga, breathing.  No.  Not like that.”

My mother’s exasperated response:  “You mean I’ve been breathing wrong my whole life?”

The poor nurses came running when we both burst out in uncontrollable laughter with tears running down our faces.  They thought they had lost us both.  However, there is a reason that the Japanese have taken the world by storm with “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” since the 1980’s, yoga practices have become common place for people of all religions, and Indigenous teachings to improve physical and mental health are being considered.  They teach contemplative practices and breathing that is very much centred on experience in nature.  As a special education teacher and school principal, much of my work has been teaching students how to self-calm BEFORE problem solving.  The first step is always to slow down breathing and learn what strategies work for you.  My first go to strategy is physical activity but all of my students can tell you that a pot of Earl Grey tea works wonders for me.  The trick is to have more than one strategy that works for you.

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We have many amazing educators on the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee.  Although I have many years of experience in education from kindergarten to the university level, as a classroom teacher, administrator and university instructor, I am constantly learning from our committee members who come with varied experiences and approaches to how they get children to pay attention to the nature around them.  Although I can’t prioritize what is most important about experiences outdoors, I strongly believe it is our success in getting children to pay attention that has the most significant impact on teaching curriculum.  When we closely consider something, we come up with the best questions.  The best questions result in the deepest learning and meaningful discovery.  Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.

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Wild About Vancouver Committee members have all come together because we love Vancouver and want to fully engage people of all ages outdoors in all our city that has so much to offer.  What we believe is most important varies with who you are talking to on the Steering Committee or what participant.  Our ideas and suggestions are very contextual in that we are sharing what we know as Vancouverites.  We have a one week long Wild About Vancouver Festival every year with a grand WAV event in the city.  However, the learning and the application of this learning is relevant in any context.  I have learned so much from participating in twitter chats and blogs originating in England and Germany.  I have also taken from Reggio Emilia early education teachings with roots in Italy by doing lots of reading and visiting the Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  And I’m pondering Wild About Vancouver at my Silver Lake playground in the East Sierras on the California – Nevada border.  This model of celebration of outdoor activity takes place in many cities.  The Wild About Vancouver model takes it one step further by incorporating a celebration of the outdoors with a striving to deepen the learning we take from nature in all aspects of our lives.

Please include us in your you tweets about Outdoor learning @WildAboutVan and tag us with #getoutdoors and #outdoorlearning in all social media posts.  For you Vancouverites, we are always looking for participants and Steering Committee members if you are so inclined.  Check us out at https://www.wildaboutvancouver.com/

Enjoy the day and #getoutdoors

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Who are “Breakaway Learners”?

Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.

Subject line in my overly full email inbox reads:  A seemingly out of the blue email from a children’ book author based in US and living at UBC
The text:   Long story short, I am a visiting scholar at UBC through March 5th and passed your school many times.  I write children’s books — which I have read to thousands of children of all ages and stages (ideal range is 2nd — 5th grades)… Seeing and being in schools and working with children of all ages and stages is what I do — and having been a university president and senior advisor to the US Department of Education, I am ever of the view that the most important education is that which occurs early…  And, for the record, I attach a photo of myself and a short bio so you can see I am legit.  

My Response:   Is there a cost attached to this great offer?

The beginning of another beautiful relationship that started online!  Karen Gross did come to University Hill Elementary School to share her stories with our students.  She captivated both teachers and students alike.  She was aware of our outdoor school and environmental focus and arrived with her newest children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, a story about droughts and saving land and crops with a strong female protagonist with a collaborative approach to problem solving.  Our Korean students were thrilled that Korean students were the illustrators, who are now in college and who continue to illustrate.
2.  plasticity references the permanent change that occurs in the institution itself in response to required changes
3.  pivoting right references supporting students in their ability to make short and long term decisions that will bring abut the most favourable outcome
4.  reciprocity  that extends beyond student willingness to share ideas and commit to agreements with staff listening and responding, to institutions being responsive to the ideas and needs of their changing populations
5.  belief in self by teachers and institutions stepping away from a deficit model of education to one that builds on strengths

Circle of Courage Reframed

Artwork by The Douglas Fir Pod (Learning Community)

Norma Rose Point School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 School that opened 3 years ago on the original site of University Hill Secondary on the University Endowment Lands of the University of British Columbia.  The School in located on Musqueam ancestral lands and named after reknowned Musqueam Elder and educational leader, Norma “Rose” Point.  Students are organized into nine learning communities of two to five classes of students.  Students and staff are encouraged to ask questions, work collaboratively and share their learning with peers.

The articulation of the First People’s Principles by FNESC, the surrounding land, the significance of the signing of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement with the Vancouver School Board and the new curriculum in B.C. has opened our minds to learning about and embracing Indigenous ways of knowing.  Indigenous cultures demonstrated one of the earliest expressions of democratic structures of governance by problem solving and making decisions in circles that gave equal voice and power to all people in the group.  That is what we strive to do at Rose Point School.

Martin Brokenleg has been inspirational in Indigenous, as well as educational spheres.   His Circle of Courage  was initially framed as a model of positive youth development in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern.

As explained in the link, “The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research. Brokenleg et al. identify belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity as basic growth needs of all children to thrive.” (Brokenleg et al.)  It has served as the basis for framing the Code of Conduct at Norma Rose Point Elementary School.   

Students are challenged to think of their unique qualities and “voice” they bring to the group, as well as their responsibility to maintain the safety and nurturing aspect of the community.  Indigenous symbols that are meaningful in Coast Salish Culture are used to represent the big ideas presented in the Norma Rose Point (aka NRP) Circle of Courage.  Belonging is central to the definition of Community and symbolized by bear.  Kindness is used to put the focus on generousness of giving of self rather than goods and is symbolized by the whale.  Independence is symbolized by the dragonfly and represents our ability to take responsibility for our learning and actions.  The beaver represents taking responsibility for attaining goals to maintain health, curiosity and lifelong learning.

I came to Norma Rose Point as Vice Principal in January.  Of course this role includes many discussions about the whole gamut of choices made by students.  The beauty of the NRP Circle of Courage is it changes the conversation.  Students are able to reflect on who they are and the choices they are making and their commitment to the community. Discussion of restorative justice frames the process.  The goal is to help students apply the Circle of Courage to their lives in and out of school throughout their lives.

ADDENDUM NOTE:  For a powerful description of the First People’s Principles of Learning, check out Laura Tait.  Her explanantion with pictures and stories of her family is inspirational.

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!

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.