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#KindergartenBioBlitz – Using Twitter This Week to Challenge Classroom Teachers to Get Out

June 9, 2013

One of my passions in environmental education is to try and help classroom teachers create a seamless integration when it comes to a connection with the outdoors.

Recently, Professor Peter Higgins at Edinburgh University said that, …” Despite political support, the lack of a consistent understanding of outdoor learning and its benefits by education authorities and teachers continues to limit opportunities for quality outdoor learning experiences.” It was a call for school pupils to spend more time learning outdoors. A fascinating article, yet an all too familiar read at the same time.

The same can easily be said here in Canada as well. In Ontario, the province where I reside the Ontario Ministry of Education created first the Shaping Our World, Shaping Our Future  in 2007 and it was quickly followed by a Policy Framework from the Ministry in 2008 known as Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow  Both these documents state the value and importance of bringing children outdoors on a regular basis.

I have been teaching outdoor and environmental education for over 25 years and one of the things I have come to realize quite clearly is that the field centres I work at, the provincial or national parks we visit, the conservation areas we hike are wonderful for creating those epiphanies and those “Wow!” moments. But what has become equally clear to me is that there is an unbelievable need for us to work together with classroom teachers to change that one day pond study into a month or even a year long study of biodiversity or habitats.

Programs like the Peel District School Board’s Classrooms Without Walls (CWW) allow the field centres staff to work with teachers in the development of outdoor lesson plans but equally important, to conduct those lessons with the students to help teachers recognize potential issues in teaching without obvious boundaries.

I’m a huge fan of this concept of getting teachers to bring students outside on a more consistent basis. An urban nature walk, reading beneath the shade of a tree, or even taking the pressure of a test by allowing it to be performed outdoors. Like technology in the classroom, there is a time and a place for being outdoors. It should not be used because it can be, but because it is the right avenue at that time.

Milkweed Beetles

This photo of milkweed bugs was taken this past week when we experimented in supporting classroom teachers using Twitter. In Canada last week was Environment Week and in an effort to make note of it Kindergarten classes who have participated in the Classrooms Without Walls project to bring their students outdoors and have their students send photos of insects in their neighbourhood. We used the hashtag #KindergartenBioBlitz and fairly quickly other local Kindergarten teachers and even those not in our Board or even our country were participating. Questions were answered, conversations began, photos were shared and 100’s of students explored their neighbourhoods.

Participating teachers were encouraged by having us “close by” to answer questions on what was discovered or even where to look. Students delighted in “stumping the naturalist” occasionally and some great and continuing networking happened as well.

And, perhaps there is use in having seasonal chats for others as well. How to prepare for your winter field trip? What’s involved in a visit to the Sugar Bush? What should we expect for our day on the high ropes?

As for the #KindergartenBioBlitz, it is certainly something we will be continuing – perhaps even having one in the spring and one in the fall each year.

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