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Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 77 Connect with Nature for #MentalHealth

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Monday, October 10th was World Mental Health Day. More and more mental health is becoming less stigmatized. I think my own school board has done a tremendous job in recognizing this through continuous campaigns such as Stand Up.

This year’s theme is Connect with Nature for good mental health and well-being. People are being encouraged to explore and find a connection to the outdoors that they have either not found enough time for, have forgotten or perhaps never considered int he first place. Folks are sharing – and the potential for inspiration is real.

The outdoors and nature have always been super for relieving stress and anxiety. Everyone has (or should have!) their favourite spot that they wish they were at when things get though. Perhaps it is the deck, a cottage, a favourite campsite or a boardwalk.

Perhaps you look forward to a walk on your favourite municipal trail at the end of a day after supper or just can’t wait to see the lights of the city from the balcony after twilight over the lake. It’s a shame, but in some cases with busy schedules, family dynamics, etc the only way kids may find their own stress relieving sense of place is when out on a walk in your community with your class.

Explore those local green spaces – bring your students out and witness the metamorphosis  in some.

For a long time our field centres staff have been requested to work with classes for team building initiatives. We have our Bag of Tricks program and low ropes initiatives that focus on team work, fair play, planning for success and time management.

Our high ropes course focusses on self actualization, in other words what you as an individual can achieve more than the rest of the team.

A number of schools in the last few years have been requesting our staff to come into the schools through our community based environmental education or even focus our field trip opportunities on mental health strategies as well. Restorative justice can be easier when staring into the flames of a campfire to debrief. Along the same lines powerful conversations can happen when fishing with students or walking side by side down a path with them.

Imagine if we had the ability or time to take students we would usually send to the “Responsibility Room” for a short walk down to the retention pond or around the block for  a discussion?

So this week, and of course beyond, I challenge everyone to consider their own mental health and that of their charges when we step outside … Share what you can and I’d love your thoughts on this.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 76 #ClassTrekking

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In Ontario where I live the first week of October each year is Ontario Hiking Week. This year that will be celebrated from October 1 to October 7th.

It’s a wonderful time of year to explore our region. While in the southern part of the province perhaps the most stunning colours have not yet come to their peak – they shall later this month. Trees along roadsides, at the edge of the forests or perhaps trees under a wee bit of stress are likely already changing no matter where your school or community exists if in Canada or the northern US.

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It’s also a great time of year to get out and explore as hiking is one of the easier things to do with a class in both an urban or rural setting. It’s a super way to get to know your class (or faculty I say to the administrations out there!)

Bring a book, a snack, a camera for photos to continue the discussion back in the school.

So this week I challenge classes of all ages to get out and do some trekking, share and encourage others to do so as well by sharing on social media using the hashtag #classtrekking.

 

 

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 75 #KindergartenBioBlitz Starting the Year with Outdoor Inquiry Sept 12-16

 

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For 4 years now we’ve hosted #KindergartenBioBlitz which has become a global collaboration that engages young learners to explore their own school yards for nature.

This directed, yet not directed inquiry allows students to explore, wonder, wander and share their discoveries with not only naturalists like myself and others but also with other classes around the world.

A year or so ago we created a Steller story which is a wonderful tool to help a teacher interested in joining in for the first time.

Without a doubt the highlight for myself is when classes begin asking or answering each other and not waiting for the naturalists (trust me – we’ve just as eager – but often out in the field when the tweet is sent!)

It’s a great way to start the school year – to engage outdoor learning, with other like-minded teachers from around the world.

Hope you join in next week and share with others!

The Art of Being Bored

 

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I have six kids and this as you can imagine – means I never have time to be bored. Having said that it also means I am constantly hearing the phrase, “I’m bored” from a generation that I’m sad to say has not truly experienced boredom.

Yes. I’m sad to say that my children have not truly experienced boredom and that is in great part the fault of my own generation.

I remember taking road trips across Canada in a station wagon or van. I was the oldest of seven and we usually had one or two Golden Retrievers with us as well. This was in the days before iPods, tablets, portable dvd players or even GameBoys. We had the car radio, perhaps a single Sony Walkman with two or three cassettes and four days of 16 hour drives crossing the continent.

We kept busy by playing magnetic board games like chess or backgammon or by staring out the window searching for out of province licence plates or “punch buggies”.

Now on a recent trip to a Specialist about 40 km from our house I was explaining this to one of my daughters who was complaining of nothing to do on the half hour drive. She was stunned and could not believe we survived that as kids. As I regaled her I was wondering privately how my parents survived it.

I’ve heard tell that the first time the English word Boredom was used was in the Charles Dickens novel “Bleak House” from 1852. Before that the closest word that would be associated with the concept was the French word ennui.

Now looking back with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and advances in medicine perhaps for the first time in existence humans were introduced to the concept of “spare time”.

Looking at the next 12 or so decades from that point it could be argued we have “advanced” more than at almost any other time. Being bored has more than once led to amazing discoveries and even epiphanies. Our lives are certainly better in many ways thanks to people being bored and trying to find something to passionately occupy themselves.

When I was born the world was still changing fast. I recall watching Saturday morning cartoons on a coloured television screen but also knew many were still watching black and white screens. I recall our first Texas Instruments computer and being amazed as my father typed in the BASIC language to have the screen change colours and have the computer robotically say, “OKAY YOU LAZY KIDS GET TO WORK!” over and over.

My phone was attached to a wall and my high school crushes received postmarked letters from me not texts, snap chats or tweets. When bored – I responded not always in the right way but almost always with some consideration.

Boredom is often an asset to individuals – it is a trigger of sorts telling us that there is something we wish to change. It allows us to explore things that make us happy. However, at some point I feel we made a sad turn – Boredom is now something to avoid and by encouraging this we’ve devolved boredom into lethargy.

I am seeing a new generation that has YouTube, 24 hour cartoon networks, and screens on the go. Instead of being creative when bored we reach for the nearest device for instant gratification. Apps and garbage television have become the microwavable meals to feed boredom and I’m not sure it’s nourishment enough. 

We cannot blame it all on technology either. We strive so hard to ensure our children never have to be bored. Dance, sports, tutoring, music, playdates and electronic devices drone by their curious eyes like a circular assembly line  with no end.

It’s not just parents – it’s schools as well. The very word school comes from the Greek word schole  meaning “leisure”. Socrates would speak to his students under fig trees out in the sun and the lessons were much less regimented than those we seem to thrust upon them today.

It’s part of the reason why Maker Spaces and Genius Hour have such a following in school systems now. Students can excel when given their own time to explore, investigate and yes, be bored. Like technology, like the outdoors I am starting to see boredom as the right tool with the right student at the right time.

Along the same lines, for many years in outdoor and environmental education we have promoted the concept of reflective spaces. Students sit in a solitary fashion somewhere by themselves often with just a journal or even nothing at all. When leading such an event, I have in the past been known to put a hold on it once I see students fidgeting or starting to say “I’m bored”

But now I’m wondering if that is always the right path to take … perhaps just perhaps when they are becoming bored we should not always end it because that’s when great things could really be beginning.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 74 #KindergartenBioBlitz June Edition

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Three years ago this week we dived into the concept of trying to extend the experience in outdoor education. Always one who believes that a one day field trip is powerful – we’ve been building relationships with classes before and after those lessons as well in an attempt to help build upon natural inquiry. With little preparation and just a general idea we opened up invitations within our own Board of Education for what we termed the #KindergartenBioBlitz.

It was a huge success and quickly grew outside our own Board into others as well. We now host it three times a year. One in September, one in February and this one the first full week of June each year. There are numerous posts on this blog about the value, the inspiration and the steps to take if interested in participating.

Each day from Monday, June 6 to Friday, June 10th classes participating are encouraged to explore, investigate, question and share with our outdoor and environmental education staff and each other the world around them.

In recent years, this initiative has truly gone global with schools in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, Italy and others participating as well as Canada and the United States.

Here is a super Steller story on How to Participate in #KindergartenBioBlitz and this week we hope to revive our Pinterest Page on the event as well.

One of the things that makes #KindergartenBioBlitz inspirational in my mind is when the conversations and investigations are not only between classes and outdoor educators but between classes from different regions or even countries as well.

Pass the word, explore the world, give it a whirl …

 

 

#EnviroEd Chat Continues To Evolve

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For those unaware there is a strong Personal Learning Network available to those interested in environmental and outdoor education. We’ve been working on this PLN for 3 years now offering a weekly twitter chat using the hashtag #EnviroEd every Wednesday night at 9 pm (New York/Toronto time).

During that time we’ve Storifed each and every chat and the topics while varied are always engaging and hopefully – timely.

Typically the chats have been organized each week by myself and co-moderator Paul Kelba of the Calgary Board of Education. Paul has been a truly inspiring part of my professional career path since we came across each other on Twitter about 4 years ago. I have only been lucky enough to meet the man once in person (it seems every time one of us is in the other’s neighbourhood the other is missing in action) but we collaborate  and learn from each other on an on going basis.

While Paul and I tend to moderate there are without a doubt other key members of this PLN many with almost perfect “attendance” in the weekly chats as well. Over the last few years we’ve had dedicated folk from Brazil, Cambodia, Japan, England, Australia, Scotland, the States, Canada and even from outdoor educators on the high seas (when in a wifi friendly port!). Of course, for many of these people, the set time of a weekly chat can be problematic as we attempt to connect from different timezones.

In the last number of months I’ve come to count Steve Body and Chris Vella of Australia as “natural resources” for the #EnviroEd crew as well. These two gentlemen have a passion for environmental education and adapting it to today’s learners’ needs that is enviable. These two fine gentlemen are definitely worth a follow.

They also have two other qualities worth mentioning … the desire for teamwork and the desire to grow and share in their own learning.

So, this past week, the two of them hosted the inaugural Aussie #EnviroEd chat. In one week they increased our PLN substantially and it was such a success that they plan on continuing the chat using the #EnviroEd hashtag every second week.

So – moving forward, #EnviroEd chat is truly becoming more global. Starting in May the chat will be hosted by our Australian cohorts on Wednesday nights at 8 pm (Sydney time) with Paul and I hosting the following week at 9 pm (Toronto time) . We will continue to alternate each week.

We’re always looking for new ideas, new recruits and new connections so please feel free to join us!

Weekly (or Monthly?) Challenge for #EnviroEd # 73 April, A Celebration of Environmental Impact

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April is a special month … in Canada we celebrate National Wildlife Week from April 10-16. April 22 is Earth Day. Arbour Day is April 29th. And of course many of us are preparing our teaching gardens and outdoor classrooms this month. It’s a month to celebrate the Earth and therefore a month to promote environmental education as well.

I’ve often told classes that the most important thing one can do for the environment is to learn more about it. And – the best way to learn about it is to immerse yourself in it frequently … as such I was thinking of putting out a challenge for the entire month!

These are for the most part quite simple challenges – I purposely didn’t set them up for specific days for while one day may seem perfect for one class to do item 1 – another class may decide to do another task because of the weather or even let’s say the “indoor climate” that day.

As such, this month I would like to challenge the #EnviroEd PLN to tackle as many of the following as possible this month:

  1. With support of school administration, clean up the school yard
  2. Learn about a local endangered species & share with others
  3. Promote outdoor play ideas for other classes
  4. Discuss ways to save water at home
  5. Begin to grow native plants in the classroom
  6. Don’t turn on the classroom lights all day (saving energy)
  7. Do an outdoor math lesson (& share it with others online!)
  8. Plant a tree
  9. Challenge another class to see who can reduce more waste in the classroom
  10. Help the students plan & then have them lead staff on a short interpretive hike
  11. Discuss the concept of “Noise” & “Light Pollution” and their effects on wildlife
  12. “Flip” an environmental education lesson – send outdoor play home as homework
  13. Take time for a Visual Arts lesson outdoors
  14. Take time to speak to an “expert” – a Naturalist – on Nature Inquiry (ie Skype, Twitter, in person)
  15. Working with your Librarian create a “Fave Earth-Friendly Books List”
  16. Have a “Picnic Lunch” or “Outdoor Nutrition Break”
  17. Create constellations in the classroom (ie Tin Can Constellations“)
  18. Interview an Insect
  19. Have your students/school create a challenge for other schools utilizing social media
  20. Document, Storify, Tweet, Blog or share all your learning and exploration this month with the #EnviroEd PLN!

That’s 20 challenges for your class – perhaps even one a day in the month of April. How many are you up for?

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 72 #KindergartenBioBlitz Seasons Changing Edition

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Get ready to explore to share and to question … February 22-26th is our next #KindergartenBioblitz!

I have spent a number of days in the last month working with Kindergarten students both at their school and at our own outdoor education facilities. We’ve gathered, we’ve explored, we shared, we played and most important of all we’ve walked away with more questions than we came with.

I’ve come to recognize that the most vital thing one can bring back from any hike or outdoor experience with your students is questions. Questions for the students to explore in the library, online, with each other or other classes or even at home with their loved ones after school.

And, I think that’s where #KindergartenBioBlitz brings outdoor natural inquiry.

This week long inquiry of school grounds and explorations for your early years classes grants permissions and focus each day over the week to see the world around you. The classes that get the most out of it though are not just those who share images and questions on their own discoveries but instead the real magic occurs when classes begin collaborating with each other.

We invite your class to participate, to explore and share their findings each day using the ever so long but ever so influential hashtag. For those that have not participated before, #KindergartenBioBlitz has been running for four years now (three times each year) and has grown well beyond my own school board and over the last year especially has gone global.

Other outdoor education facilities have stepped up to promote it to their local classes and be “experts” in their own right. Although without a doubt the best experts are the students in other classes that respond to the discoveries of others.

For more information on the “Season’s Changing Edition” of #KindergartenBioBlitz or to see how we connect it to a month long inquiry of the great Canadian tradition of the Sugar Bush you can look here.

For the Steller Story on how to participate in the initiative you can click here.

 

Day 83 – Rob Ridley, Coordinator (Field Centres)

A post for our Board’s 188 Project on using the outdoors to spark creativity and collaboration with colleagues.

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I had a teaching colleague come up to me this week and say, “it must be nice to work outdoors – the solitude would be welcomed”. The funny thing is the more time you spend outdoors teaching the more you see that solitude perhaps is not the right word.

Frustrated? Step outside. A new perspective on that math lesson? Step outside. Writer’s block? Step outside. (as I did for this post, formulating the concept on an early morning run).

In fact I’d argue that the outdoors is almost an organic, solar powered Maker Space.  I have promoted the fact often that the outdoors is in fact the perfect space and atmosphere for collaboration. Forget desks in a row, forget “pods” – Students need the permission to move to work with others which many the educator finds easier to grant in an outdoor setting.

Connections abound when outdoors – for faculty as well as students…

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Discussing Disposables Over a Cup of Joe?

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Yesterday on CBC radio I listened to a discussion on the scandal that Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and other coffee companies are throwing our their used cups more often than not instead of recycling them as perhaps they promise.

While this could be easily considered a form of “green washing” – and justifiably is a black eye to these caffeinated giants it raises an even greater question in my mind …

Why should I feel cheated? Why is it up to a company to recycle a product after we’ve purchased it? Aren’t we as well just “green washing” by blindly leaving our footprint up to someone else to look after? If we are truly concerned about it, why not bring a reusable cup when we go in? Or even better perhaps in the name of sustainability bring your own home-brewed, coffee which you hand-picked off a store shelf after researching the best choices.

Don’t get me wrong … I have six kids and any given night two of them likely will not be having a grand sleep.  And I work outdoors all day even in the coldest of weather.

… I not only love my coffee from the store, I’m not sorry to say it’s a necessity.

I do my very best to use reusable mugs from home.  On those few times if I forget it, I’m going to use a disposable. Then it’s my responsibility. I’ve purchased it.  Heck – some places will even put my name on the cup if there was any doubt regarding the ownership.  – I’m going to feel the pang of guilt at my own actions and I will likely use the same cup for the entire day, (the joke then being I only have one cup of coffee each day – I just keep topping it up).

I’m glad this news story came out … these and other companies often say they are trying to do the right thing environmentally but sometimes a little kick in the pants is a great way to get an otherwise “decaffeinated” goal “perking” again.

But I hope consumers take some time as well to be thinking about their own actions because whether you’re point a finger or holding that disposable cup – there’s still a lot more fingers pointing right back at you.

With that said, excuse me … I’m going to top up my mug.