Over Half Way

#EDUC454E100 – Week 7 – June 21, 2018

I cannot believe that we are over half way. We have completed 7 weeks of 13 and established the momentum of the course. We have arrived. The course is at a point where students are leading, personalizing their learning, and becoming more resourceful and imaginative of what possible with respect to teaching and learning in the context of Quantitative Approaches to Environmental Education. I am pleased. It’s not about me downloading information from what I believe is true. I do that with my readings and course syllabus. The details and relevance come from the students. I collaborate from behind the scenes. I provide formative feedback. I am the “guide on the side.” Now that the class has seen and experienced a few exemplars from others in the class, students are finding their stride in this course. I am really enjoying their teaching and learning. Students should be active learners and co-constructors of knowledge. Sitting down and listening to me for 3.5 hours and preparing for an exam does not seem reasonable for this group of pre-service teachers. I love connecting what they are learning to their future practice. Learning by doing. It is challenging though to delve into deeper learning with diversity. That said, each group or individual as they prepare to present are delving in.

Our Group Facilitation by Kelly, Kehli, Amrit, and Jessica was complex and interesting. You can really see how they had tried to incorporate many ideas into their learning activity. First, I love that we are back outside and the weather is playing along with us very nicely. I love how we gather in a circle and throwing our stuff in the middle. They passed around maps, questions, and mini flags. We talked about “true north” and our challenge was to ESTIMATE where we live (with respect to time) and where we were born (with respect to distance). Ratios and rates were used to help us measure our approximate distance from SFU Surrey (Big Flag, see picture above). We took large steps for each interval of time for our commute to SFU Surrey and took a tiny step for every 10km from where we were born. As you can see, we come from many different directions.

While placing and locating our flags, were were asked a few reflective questions about place. They asked us what we noticed en route of our commute and discuss these observations with our group. We were also asked about our hometown and how it was the same or different from where we live now. For me, I realized that I live in similar communities from where I was born and where I live. I was born and raised in Prince Rupert, BC… the northwest coast. It’s a small coastal community. Now, I live on the Sunshine Coast in Sechelt, BC… another small coastal community. I like to live near the ocean. I like the small town and the quietness. I like to raise my daughter in a small town where everyone knows everyone within one to two degrees of separation.

I cannot believe how there are some of us commuting from Chilliwack. Based on our estimations, we are comparably close in commute. The only difference is, they are in a car all of the way and I take my car, ferry, bus, and SkyTrain. A slight difference. I was also amazed how some of us live close to SFU Surrey but were also born very close to this location as well. My biggest aha is, we are coming from all different directions and making the effort to arrive in one place to teach and learn together. It broke some of my assumptions where I just believed were were all from SFU Surrey. I know… sounds ridiculous. Obviously we come from different places… and we do. Our final destination in this activity is to stand where we would like to live in the future. I did not stray too far away… but I liked how I was close to those who wanted to live on Vancouver Island.

Personally, I cannot stop thinking about this activity. It has many connections and opportunities for those who are learning Math 8 and 9 or Workplace Math 10. Distance, referents, ratios, rates, frequency, and direction… and making a personal connection to place and land. This is a very nice activity for those engaging in BC’s New Curriculum. I think about comparing and contrasting distance, students talking about where they are from, and assess whether flag were situated in a reasonable place. From a social studies perspective, you can look at population density, Indigenous lands, locations of where people live and why, transportation, and the carbon footprint. There are many possibilities and extensions that can be taken with this learning activity, but time is limited.

Back inside… We head into our warm up activity. Love this. The Gorsharen and Balroop took samples of leaves from their backyards and asked us to take an imprint of them. I loved Balroop’s story of taking an interest in the plants around her home and how her grandpa got super excited. I love that connection between family and place. It was a beautiful narrative that played as an awesome hook to the activity. It was clear to me that content knowledge would have been nice. Life sciences was not my strength, thus identifying these leaves was challenging, but I appreciated how diverse the leaves were and intrigued by the patterns of the veins. From this curiosity, it could easily spring board into ideas of photosynthesis, osmosis, water absorption, surface area, and cell biology. I also wonder about Fibonacci Sequences in nature and Fractals as another application of math. I enjoyed this warm-up activity and how it could be brought back into high school mathematics and science. To go further, how does this connect to Gillian Judson’s walking curriculum and familiarizing students with place, science, and local plants.

We head into our weekly reading summary oral presentations. What fascinated me about this presentation is, Kim and Gorsharen collaborated their presentations. They were tasked with summarizing the second half of Gillian Judson’s book, A Walking Curriculum, but most of the content were sample walks. Some of these walks focussed on secondary students. Most of my class is composed of secondary pre-service teachers. I can see some of there skepticism because we continue with the same question over and over again… how do we get outside? Which is followed up with, how can we manage behaviour and stay on task when we are outside? These are two very good questions that they have faced as pre-service teachers and will face as teachers. Much depends on the school district, their policies, and strategic plan. On the Sunshine Coast, one of our goals in the strategic plan is ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION and we have a K-7 Nature School. We encourage our educators and students to get outside, so it would be reasonable that our policies and regulations follow suit. And, we hope students are getting outside.

Students made the best of this weekly reading summary by sharing a story… a narrative… with respect to Gillian Judson’s book. Kim started the presentation talking about the limitations of the book and complimented the reading with a book called, “Why Indigenous Literatures Matter.” She read a passage from the book talking about the importance of place. She then went on describing her experience with the book and selected one of the walks (something about aliens) that caught her curiosity and engaged in the walk as learner. She shared her experience with the class with what she experienced and how she documented her learning. I was so enamoured by her willingness and creativity to make the book meaningful and connected to her learning.

Gorsharen followed Kim with her story… it was a reflective story about her experience on practicum. It was one about a student who needed to go for a walk as a time out… or as the slide suggests from Gillian Judson’s book, A Mental Health Walk. It was a nice reflection about how this student struggled in school and how the walk helped the student to gather their thoughts and come back to class in a productive way. One thing I know for sure is, we just don’t know people’s stories. A plan was made for this student to self-regulate their behaviour as the year progressed. It seemed to be working until this student was identified as a hall wander. She was no longer allowed to leave class. This put a strain on the student teacher and school advisor. The mental health walked worked for this student but now a school wide rule inhibited this strategy. You can see that this would lend itself to a lengthy conversation on “what’s the right thing to do?” Challenging for a new teacher, but it’s about finding a way to rationalize what works for one student may not for others. Thank you Kim and Gorsharen for sharing your stories with us.

Finally… the closing activity… with THE CLOSER (and opener) Kelly. She got us to all fill out a YES/NO survey questionnaire about environmental education where quantitative approaches were embedded in the question like economics. We all answered the questions and threw our responses on the floor. It kind of felt good… throwing “garbage” on the floor. All submissions were anonymous. When we were done, we each picked up a ball from the floor and stood in front of the room in a circle. For each question, we were to put up our hands if our paper said YES. These were really great questions because they were so controversial. For each question, Kelly took a tally of YESs. From this data collection, she would pick out one or two questions that were about 50/50 and start a discussion from that. We talked about if bees were extinct, would we still be able to grow food. The other topic we discussed was the elimination of petroleum products.

This conversation led to another great conversation of how this activity could be used in the classroom. It keeps anonymity. I LOVE THAT. You get students contributing their opinions. It could be used as a formative assessment tool to see where students are. It could also be used as a summative assessment tool to put information learning into action with a debate or evidenced based discussion. I love that we can take these activities that we are sharing with each other and be able to see the possibilities in them and how it could be used in the classroom. I will definitely use this activity in a future class to create a discussion. Low risk. Thought provoking. Dialogical. Formative. All good things.

Weekly Journal Questions

What tools will you use to create an imaginative context for your students’ learning in and outdoors?

I think we are doing it. A tough question as a question to answer as a journal or discussion question, but as we are proceeding in this course, student are TINKERING with possible tools and participating in learning activities that can provoke the imagination and be outside. I do like that we a learners and teachers have the opportunity to play and learn. This is definitely a personalized task. I love what I am witnessing from my students and I encourage them to push the boundaries to see what’s possible. We are playing.

How will you engage imagination in the assessment/evaluation of students’ outdoor learning?

Another great question from Gillian Judson. Again, we are figuring that out. We can get caught up in our traditions of assessment and evaluation. Just this week, a couple of students asked for feedback on their grade. I said that they are getting an “A” and the activities we are engaged are subjected to real-time, ongoing formative assessment. No learning activities would end unless it met my expectations (i.e. single point rubric). There are 3 summative assessments were traditional “grading” shall we say will be implemented at the END of the learning process. This class is not about accruing points or marks en route to the end of the course. The summative assessment, or evaluation of the student’s understanding and learning within the course is saved until the end of the course. This needed to be reiterated to the class via email, which is OK. Assessment and evaluation are habituated into our teaching and learning. I am trying to adhere to this concept of formative and summative. Students are learning too. This will take time to develop.

What are you learning about student led learning?

What I am learning is, IT’S AMAZING!!! This is what personalized learning should look like. Do what’s important to the student to learn and my role is to be the guide on the side. This makes sense to me. The diversity and creativity that is coming from my students are AMAZING and I truly believe that if we were driven my incremental marking, the quality of work would not be as good. Thank you to all of my students for taking the risk to try something new, collaborate with others, and define what Quantitative Approaches to Environmental Education means to you. I really appreciate it.

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