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July 31st – World Ranger Day

photo from internationalrangers.org

photo from internationalrangers.org

Today it so happens, is World Ranger Day. A day to celebrate and recognize all the folk who go above and beyond in the line of duty for the sake of our environment, our parks, our wildlife and our citizens. It is a dangerous, sometimes fatal duty but also a calling for so many who believe in the protection and promotion of our wild spaces.

Growing up, my father was a typewriter technician who realized that typewriters were quickly disappearing. He went back to school as an older than average student (OTAS) and after earning a degree in Biology. Upon graduating he took a job out west with Alberta Parks moving the entire family across the country (sans myself as the oldest child and starting post secondary school – yes – I turned 18 and my family moved away from home).

Rob Ridley (Sr)

Rob Ridley (Sr)

For more than ten years he was a Park Ranger, first in the Brooks area and later the majority of those years in Kananaskis Country. I enjoyed visiting and hiking through the mountains, and seeing sites and vistas others would pay good money to see while he earned a paycheque to not only see it – but to be a steward of it.

He cleared trail, he enforced laws, he laughed with visitors, he always had an ear for anyone who wanted to know something about where they were and, when needed he was there for a rescue or a helping hand to man or beast.

I recall one time while visiting he and I took a few days to climb up Mount Bogart. First hiking up the Ribbon Creek and then after a hard day of climbing coming back to the cabin right about twilight and finding a church camp group in distress. One of their youngsters had twisted his ankle severely and needed help climbing down from the neighboring pass.

I witnessed my father jump to the call that day.

Be it a Ranger protecting endangered species in Africa from poachers, protecting pristine waterways or forests from careless individuals or a Ranger who takes her time to sit with kids car camping in her park to tell them a goofy story of the shenanigans of the resident chipmunk – they are all dedicated to their jobs as steward of the land or water.

So on this day I challenge everyone to think what it would take to “bring out the Ranger” in your environmental education practices.

Thank a Ranger next time you go camping or visit a park for making that place so special.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 66 – A “Parsley Placer” Picnic

teddy-picnic

We all know the “big people” at the school are the students. They are the ones that the teachers, the TA’s and everyone else in the classroom work for each and every day. In the days of old, pupils would bring an apple for the Schoolmistress. Parents more recently would say thank you to their kids teachers with a gift card or World Best Teachers Mug.

worlds best teacher mug

And while we could all use another World Best Teachers Mug, (and I do mean that with sincerity) I think with the school year ending in June it would be a marvelous time to thank all those “little people” behind the scenes. The ones the kids pass in the hall each day but may not have constant contact with.

Awhile back, in my own Board’s 184 Blog I wrote a blog post on parsley. Parsley it turns out is a vital part of the plating process in the professional kitchen but we may not pay attention to it at all. The post focused on recognizing the “Parsley Placers” in our lives. Those people who do essential things for us that we tend to take for granted.

We just finished a wonderful week of #KindergartenBioBlitz which is storified here. And while enjoying tweets from classes on this BYOD Backyard Safari I noticed Calgary’s Heather Mackay’s class tweet out a photo of their Principal Ian Fero joining them on their hunt. I also know other Principals such as Mississauga’s Rob DiProspero have joined the classes of Laurel Fynes or Deb Croft.

This got me to thinking about all that our administration and others do for us all school year-long – Principals, Vice Principals, secretaries, custodians and of course Superintendents and Trustees. We shouldn’t forget those lunch time supervisors, parent councils or Big Brother and Sister Mentors either.

We really should be encouraging these vital links to our daily learning to join us outdoors. It shows students that it is valuable to others and at the same time shows those other adults the value of why we are so impassioned by learning outdoors.

With the school year ending, it seems like a perfect time to give some thanks by inviting them out to join your class to enjoy the great outdoors. I suggest taking some time this month to invite your favorite behind the scenes folks for a picnic. Allow those most Valuable Players to play outdoors with you and enjoy a little fresh air and snacks under your favorite tree or in your outdoor teaching space.

So this week’s challenge is to show some nutritious, delicious recognition for all those people at the school behind the scenes that make your classroom such a sunny place to learn and grow.

As always, would love for to share how it goes!

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 65 KindergartenBioBlitz – A BYOD Safari

millipede

Readers know that I believe that while what I do at our Outdoor Education Centres is an essential service to create those epiphany moments it is only with the help of classroom teachers that a true understanding or even empathetic view of the world around us is created.

I see this blog as a way of encouraging, and aiding those educators, be they in formal education, Montessori, day care, Scouting, Guiding, 4H or the most valuable of teachers – parents.

One of the first, and still most successful ways I attempted to encourage youth to explore and question what’s in their own backyard is via #KindergartenBioBlitz. Although a long hashtag, it has also been a long inquiry based process for many a classroom since introduced two years ago.

The social media based inquiry encourages students to explore their school yards and local community green spaces for invertebrates and other living things around them. A BYOD Safari of sorts, students are encouraged to capture photos, formulate questions and share them with others partaking in the week-long project. Students can even use other apps such as Vine to ask their questions such as this one on Ants.

Maligned critters such as spiders or worms have gained the respect of students (and yes, educators too).

Some of our best images over the years can be found on the KindergartenBioBlitz Pinterest Page and we’re certainly looking to add more.

For those that have not participated yet but are considering it the role of us as educators in this is to fuel the curiosity and as such, an answer to one question is carefully constructed to lead to further queries. I often say, “I’m RangerRidley, NOT RangerWikipedia”.

What makes #KindergartenBioBlitz successful though is collaboration and inquiry and as such I’d like to add a personal challenge to those who have participated in the past versions …

Challenge colleagues at work and members of your PLN from around the globe to participate. 

So consider this a challenge. Participate, share, explore and tell the story of #KindergartenBioBlitz from June 1-5th this year.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 64: “Soil” Need Not Be a Dirty Word

mud

Step outside after a good spring rain and inhale deeply. Smell the soil? That scent even has a name – petrichor.

I have spent the last couple of months at local schools discussing the fact that 2015 is the International Year of Soils. At the moment I mention this though – the group has almost always become silent.

I mean – even the Crickets stop chirping.

Soil, is often referred to as dirt however I tend to argue that I see dirt as man-made. When one gets “dirty” they tend to get into trouble. Dirt, is a dirty word.

Soil on the other hand is extremely clean. There are more harmful and plentiful germ issues on the bathroom door at the mall then in your gardens.

90% of our food comes from the soil – or eats things that come from the soil. The clothes we wear, the school bricks that keep us from the elements and more.

However, most folks are not aware of the fact that while soil may be fairly deep in some areas, it is typically the top 5-10 cm that is topsoil – carrying enough in the way of nutrients to sustain life. The sub soils beneath, while helping to keep deep-rooted plants like trees standing offer much less in sustenance.

Remember playing in puddles as a kid? Making mud pies? It’s such a shame that as we get older we lose this connection to our soil.

We as educators (and parents) need to stop scaring our kids away from the soil that feeds, clothes and shelters us. So this week’s challenge is what I hope will be the first of many steps in a soil inquiry project. It is to encourage our students to experience soil first hand.

The next two or three Challenges for #EnviroEd will be a continuation of this week but this being the first is about one small step for your class and one giant step into Soil Inquiry.

While I hope everyone allows their students the opportunity to play in the soil, setting the “ground” rules for learning of the ground is equally important – unless you are not the one doing or speaking to the one doing all the laundry that is.

How will you engage your students in soil inquiry and what expectations will you and the class lay down to keep both your parents at home and the custodian at school happy? Share your ideas, methods and your trial and errors.

As always, looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 63: #KindergartenBioBlitz Season’s Changing Edition

boy-magnifying-glass-lg

The internet may be down in your school, the devices may need updating, heck the chalk in the classroom may have disappeared even but the one thing any classroom teacher can count on is the weather.

Some days it may mean indoor recess, or days perhaps play such as “tarmac only” restrictions  but every single day there is a 100% chance of weather and for teachers looking to build upon literacy or numeracy there is no better tool available every single day.

Weather, especially at this time of year can be a perfect tool for inquiry as well. With the harsh winter in North America still firmly upon us, there are just the hints of spring’s approach. The Sugar Bush season has started, the days are getting longer, the morning sun basks the bricks on the east side of the school whereas the afternoon sun does the same on the west side.

Students (and teachers!) are itching to get outside after one of the coldest Februarys in recent history. Where I live, this was the first February since the 1970’s where not a single day saw the temperature rise above 0 degrees Celsius. So what better time than now to bring back our #KindergartenBioBlitz Season’s Changing Edition.

For an example of how a classroom teacher has made use of this I’d recommend reading  Elissa Iagallo ‘s Blog post on it last year.

So, for the next week Kindergarten classes are encouraged to send their discoveries and inquiries via Twitter using the hashtag #KindergartenBioBlitz. As always, this is not just a conversation between me and your class – but for classes to compare and discuss findings with each other. How does spring’s arrival look in Calgary compared to Toronto compared to New York, or San Diego? Share how you are using the weather for math, language or in other ways with colleagues and bounce ideas off each other this week using the hashtag for a week long discussion.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 62: Sugar Bush Field Trip Inquiry

britannia shack

As someone who facilitates field trips to the forest, the pond and beyond I used to start the lesson each day by asking the students, “Do you know why you are here today?” … Depending on the age of the students and the diligence of the classroom teacher students sometimes knew the program topic or perhaps just that they were about to explore nature in some way however this was not always the case.

Recently though I’ve approached it much differently. I have been telling the students what we are about to do in vaguer terms, (ie we will be exploring life in the pond) and then ask them – directly, “What would you like to know about life in the pond?”.

A field trip should not be a walking lecture, although too often this is what it becomes. No student, nor teacher will gain as much understanding or wisdom from a 3 dimensional PowerPoint as they walk through a factory or a zoo, with each stop predetermined.  Students will tune out without the chance to explore their own curiosity.

Locally, we are setting up for the Britannia Farm Sugar Bush and for over a year now have tried to make this half day field trip a season long inquiry into the arrival of spring.

We’ve created Symbaloo pages to allow students to explore the bush via math, language and even recipes and music before and after their visit. Via the hashtag #BritanniaFarm students can ask field centre instructors questions about the process and how to prepare for the trip. Staff is available for Skyping before or after visits to carry on the inquiry as well.

Parents can watch the Youtube video of the program to get an inkling of what to expect (and perhaps help in dressing their kids for the day as well!)

This has worked in many ways. Students come knowing our field centre staff already and are excited to meet us in person. They often come with their own powerful questions as well. I recall last year a 5-year-old asking me why it takes longer to make syrup in a pioneer cauldron over a modern evaporator if the fire was the same size. She had been thinking about this for some time leading up to the program day.

tripod

sappy doo

Field trips have unbelievable potential for learning and we as educators have an equally unbelievable opportunity to allow students to explore their own curiosity by asking them before they even step on that school bus for the trip;

“What are you hoping to learn?”

… and for those field trip providers … another challenge of sorts … how can you promote and encourage this inquiry?

Love to hear your thoughts.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 61: Snow as a Teaching Tool

Ranger Rob 2

Last week, as is the norm, groundhogs across North America could not agree on whether spring was coming early or whether it was not due for another six weeks.

Many folk were perhaps eager to get the rodent prophet’s forecast because a huge portion of the continent is under snow this week.

But I do feel that snow is one of a classroom teacher’s most underutilized tools for learning.

For numeracy it can be a wonderfully experiential tool for measurement, temperature, wind speeds, geometry and more. For language it can be the perfect atmosphere for stories such as Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee or perhaps The Hockey Sweater  by Roch Carrier. Snow can be a tool to teach visual arts, physical education and so, so much more.

So this week’s challenge, while simple is time sensitive. I encourage you to work with your students to create an engaging and practical lesson utilizing the snow outside your school to teach or to enhance those topics you are already teaching in the classroom. Share your success via this blog or online using the hashtag #EnviroEd. If looking for ideas on how to use snow with your current math lessons or elsewhere – by all means send me a message as well.

Outdoor and environmental education are not add ons – instead, like technology or other teaching manipulatives – they are critical tools for helping learners better understand concepts.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 60 World Wetland Day – Feb 2

IMG_1354

This February 2nd, many in North America will be paying attention to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania or Wiarton, Ontario to see what certain Woodchucks might say about how much longer we will have snow upon the ground. Groundhogs Day is a day that while we all show a slight interest in on the television before we head off to work for the day – we rarely give another thought to the rest of the day.

Well February 2nd is also another important day – It is World Wetlands Day. Even myself, as an outdoor educator used to pay little attention to wetlands in the middle of winter. I do recognize of course that as World Wetland Day that means that half the swamps, marshes, fens and bogs around the world are not frozen right now.

Whether the waters are frozen or not, they wetland is still filtering water with cattails and bulrushes soaking up chemicals. When the snow melts the wetlands will act like sponges and soak up huge amounts of run off that would otherwise be the cause of flooding.

And wetlands, even those that are winter wonderlands right now are always teaming with diversity.

This past weekend I purposely popped my head out of the ground and started to explore winter wetland activity. I went out and explored my own local wetlands and found that while I could not see the waters beneath the ice the I had no doubt that the benthic invertebrates were active.

Above the surface though there were tracks, birds, and all sorts of activity. This Red Squirrel chattered away at me in the local bog(the same bog as the photo at the top of this post is at).

IMG_1358

There was a magical feel almost to all the wetlands I visited. The snow upon the cattail or the tamarack with the absence of their needles stood resolute. Fox, hare, crow, rabbit and deer tracks were everywhere telling me that indeed the wetland was visited on a regular basis and I found myself reflecting if their tracks would seem an intricate connect the dots from high above.

IMG_1353

Have you visited the wetlands near your school this winter? While perhaps wise to stay well away from any water, frozen or otherwise – I’d love to hear about your class’s visit to neighbourhood wetland this winter for a little exploration and understanding of their value. Send some photos to showcase your finds using the hashtags #EnviroEd and #WorldWetlandDay.

 

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 59: Trees, The Guardians of the Schoolyard

ice storm damage

Many of us are lucky enough to be in schools with trees in the playground. Each ring within the trunk could speak to hundreds of recesses and discussions.

Many students may not think much about the trees within their schoolyard on a regular basis unless they are doing a tree inquiry project or have “adopted a tree” as a class. They have provided shade for students reading comic books, novels, Kindles and more. They have been “home free zones”, fortresses and when the teachers on duty are looking the other way – even jungle gyms likely.

Now, imagine they could share those stories. If those trees could speak to discussions on the playground over generations. Wouldn’t it be great to hear the stories they could tell? What lessons could we learn from those trees? In 2014 the movie Guardians of the Galaxy came out and one of the main characters, Groot, was a tree-like hero.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-film

Your schoolyard trees, with the right imagination, are the Guardians of the Schoolyard. They are always on duty and could share some true school ground climate related morals. This week’s challenge is to write those stories. Have your students create short stories or poems that can teach a valuable schoolyard lesson for students through the “eyes” of the trees.

Now, if we pay a wee bit more attention to those trees, could they also tell us when they are stressed? When they are under the weather? If a tree is changing its foliage well before the time of the other trees it could mean that they tree is ill or stressed. Perhaps the trees roots and the soil around them are being compacted by recess after recess of pounding feet making it hard for the roots to soak up water. Perhaps the tree was planted in an area where run off from the pavement allows salt or other issues to run off into its water table. Is the tree a shade intolerant tree species such as birch or poplars that is constantly in the shade because of where it was planted? How are they affected by winter weather such as ice storms or winds?

The-Lorax-AI

Much as our good friend the Lorax, could you students speak for the trees in a creative story as well?

With spring a couple of months away – write the stories now and let the discussion lead to spring time action plans for the schoolyard  trees, who are always on recess duty.

Let me know how it goes!

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 58: Urban Wildlife Adaptations to Winter

image

I spent yesterday downtown Toronto. It was a cold and blustery day as the mercury, (or more honestly my smartphone weather app) told me it was -22 degrees Celsius. With the winds being channeled through those downtown streets as well the wind chill made it feel significantly colder still.

However, between appointments, I had the chance to step outdoors and noticed urban wildlife all around me. Songbirds from finches to sparrows seemed to huddle on the south facing windowsills of the tall buildings and I had to admit, even I enjoyed the feeling of the extra warmth on my face when I could find a beam of sunlight at street level. I had no doubt that those birds would move from window to window as the sun moved across the sky.

As I walked down Queen Street, I noticed that all the squirrel dreys or nests also seemed to be on the north side of the street and never where there was a tall building keeping that tree in the shade much of the day. The squirrels as well seemed to be taking advantage of the limited sunlight available to them.

Even the Rock Doves or Pigeons had found these warm air vents coming from subway ducts or from other unknown but obviously warmed realms and would not budge. They were reminding me of Marilyn Monroe’s famous scene from the movie The Seven Year Itch as I watched their feathers being blown by the warm subterranean air. Wildlife has a wonderful way of adapting to urban life and even in the depths of winter we can find wonderful examples of how animals survive and thrive in such conditions.

So, I created a short Tellagami Challenge for some of our more urban classes. By starting an inquiry into winter wildlife behaviours in an urban setting I wonder what students will discover, predict and marvel at?

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