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#EnviroEd Chat Continues To Evolve


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


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.

Peel21st Project 188

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?


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.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 71 Write Your Hike, Hike your Tale


In Ontario where I live the first week of October each year is Ontario Hiking Week. It is the perfect time to be out and marveling at the fall colours and watching migrating birds pass through our region.

Hiking is not only a super healthy activity to do with your family or class but is also a chance to create your own choose your own adventure tale for the students to tell.

Have your students ever sang the song, “Going on a Bear Hunt?” This week, why not have them create their own experiential version in or around their schoolyard. Tell the tale of the hiking you do this week. How will you prepare? Did the weather impact your decisions? What were the biggest discoveries?

Pay attention – you will see leaders where you expected none. You will see inquiry where you never thought to look. And, I guarantee you will see a desire to do it all more than once.

And, as their teacher I encourage you this week to help document the story. There are some amazing apps out there for you to make use. Erik Missio approached me this week for an article he was writing for CBC Parents this week on How Technology is Like a Pair of Binoculars and the article mentions numerous apps one can use.

Although you can help them document and tell the tale of their journey – I recommend leaving the journey itself up to them. Let them decide the paths you take but be their as a guide to insure that wise decisions are made.

Language Arts and storytelling is the goal of the challenge – please feel free to share your stories with me and others!

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 70 – “1st In Your Class …” Walls

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I have spent much of this glorious autumn thus far outside with either my own 6 kids or with students exploring and enjoying the great outdoors. This week I have had numerous kids come up to me having done something they didn’t think was within their realm of comfort. And as is often the case, it only takes one to step up or out for the others to recognize it may not be that silly or frightening.

Then there is the feeling of awe a child has at having been the “first in the class” to do something. It comes like a badge of honour.

As an example, I was teaching my own kids how to climb a certain tree this week. (sidenote: ALL my kids are expert climbers and could teach anyone tree climbing methods but this tree was smaller and we were discussing how to climb it with little impact to the tree itself). I climbed the tree and the branches began to sway.

As soon as they saw Dad in the tree – my six year old decided she had to be the next up and although often the more cautious of the bunch was pleased as punch to be the first taker. For the rest of the day we heard tales of how it felt being the first up there (after Dad) and what it was like being a leader of sorts in her mind.

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Today, we went to the creek and while wadding in the water we quickly came across a crayfish. I picked it up and all the girls, including Mom, were quite fascinated by it. I showed them how to grab it without getting pinched and how to release it without hurting it was well.

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This is when I brought forth the question, “Who wants to hold it first?” My nine year old was the brave soul who did and as you can see by the photo below – the pride is something she is going to be sharing with her class at school on Monday.

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Now not every kid is going to be the first up the tree. Not every kid is going to feel comfortable holding or catching crayfish – but I can guarantee that just about every kid in your class has been the first to do something outdoors and what kind of recognition does this bring to that individual – even those less comfortable outdoors? Being the first to do something and to have other students or the teacher show an interest in it can build such intense pride and passion for something that thy may not have given a second thought to be suddenly makes them feel special.

Perhaps they were the first to jump in a lake, or sketch a dandelion or find clouds in certain shapes. This blog has always been about trying to help students and teachers alike grow in their inquiry in the realm of outdoor learning. As such I wonder what your book, wall or own blog comments might look like with your “1st in Your Class” findings. How will it grow through the year as students share their “firsts” with the class through photos or stories.

A student unsure of their abilities in one activity sometimes just needs to see their other abilities recognized for them to take that step off the dock and into the water!

Please, as always share your thoughts and results!

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 69 Be Leaf Inquiry & Art


In the northern hemisphere we’re awaiting with bated breath the arrival of Autumn. Some of us are eager for the relief from humidity and mosquitoes while wistfully looking back on back porch dinners and trips to the beach. Still others are looking forward perhaps with some trepidation and perhaps a little stubbornness, avoiding the reality of packing up shorts and sandals and pulling out windbreakers and sweaters.

Either way, the earth is tilting once more – the air is getting crisper and the first frosts are likely only weeks away.

As the first geese begin their south bound migration and the fall harvests approach, many think of Autumn as a prelude to hibernation and for many the animal it is. Yet deciduous trees also see the proverbial writing on the wall. Days are getting shorter, the ground is getting colder and photosynthesis is becoming more of a struggle for them.

As the chlorophyll which tends to cause the green in the leaves breaks down – other chemicals in the leaves remain behind leaving many parts of the forest with a brilliant canopy of leaves. Here is a super table top experiment via Karen Dasgaard that depending on your classroom set up you may be able to try to show the pigments in your local leaves.

No matter the science behind it – the change in fall leaves is a magical time for outdoor exploration. From an artistic point of view you and your class can create some stunning art.

Autumn is also a perfect time for outdoor stories. Take advantage of the last warm weather under a painted canopy of leaves to read your favourite nature related stories.

One of my all time favorite fall leaf activities is to take daily photos of a tree changing day by day and this would be the perfect week to start such a project. You can then put this into a time lapse video or perhaps some other artistic form.

This week’s challenge is to “be leaf” that your students can find creative ways to study, hypothesise and inquire about the changing leaves – as always, if your class has questions feel free to send me a query via twitter. Share with the #EnviroEd hashtag what you and your students have discovered or created.

Whether your class is studying the seasons, plants, chemistry or just looking for new outdoor stories to tell – Autumn is a perfect day to day teaching tool.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 68 #KindergartenBioBlitz Autumn 2015 Edition


It’s time again for another round of this popular school yard based inquiry! For those not aware, #kindergartenbioblitz has been a staple not only in the Peel District School Board were I work but over the years has grown into other classes across the globe.

We encourage teachers and students to explore and create questions on what shares their school yards with them. Send photos, sound clips, Vines, videos and other queries on Twitter using the hashtag #kindergartenbioblitz during the week of September 14th – 18th. What insects, plants, weather and other outdoor marvels can your students find.

I guarantee that no matter how long an educator has worked at a school, by looking at it through the eyes of a four or five year old – you will see the school yard in a whole new light.

Each day has a different theme to help carry on the inquiry as described here in this Steller online story created to share with your students.

Monday: “Predictions” – what do you think you’ll discover

Tuesday: I notice …” statements – share what you find by taking the time to #lookclosely in and around your school community

Wednesday: “I wonder …” statements – having taken the time to look closely – share your wonders with others. What are you curious about?

Thursday: “This reminds me of …” statements – On this day we try to find similarities to the students life, memories, things they have seen or heard of and more. There is super discussion by this point in the week.

Friday: “Sharing the Journey” – on this fifth and final day we ask classes to retell their #kindergartenbioblitz story – via iMovie, Padlet, Storify, blogs, or in other ways.

At the end of the week I’ll Storify the week’s dialogue and add to our Pinterest page as well.

The power of this thrice a year initiative is in the participants though. #kindergartenbioblitz is as successful as its participants allow it to be. Share your discoveries with each other – but just as important I encourage you to respond to others be they at a school down the road or across the ocean. More than one class to class project has begun with the connections made via social media on this simple yet powerful project.

We’ve even had high school students join in and ask Kindergarten classes questions or answered their own questions which makes the younger students feel even more engaged.

So this week’s challenge is to participate, spread the word and encourage in the autumn 2015 edition of #kindergartenbioblitz!

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 67 Encouraging the Spirit of Adventure

The Fram in the Ice

I have always been a fan of historical explorers and adventurers. My office bookshelves are full of the true tales of Sir John Franklin’s Erebrus & Terror expeditions, Fridtjof Nansen’s successful traverse of the North East Passage, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki Voyage and just as exciting, the overland excursions of Samuel Hearne, David Thompson, Dr John Rae and Henry Stanley’s famous line “Dr Livingston I presume?” .

I’ve mentioned before I am a fan of human endurance – as a marathoner with over 40 42.2 mile races under my belt I am profoundly astounded at the ability to push through the proverbial wall and find the energy to continue when one feel they cannot any longer. Through my long distance running I feel, (rightly or wrongly) a bond with those explorers of old. Some will argue that they lived in a simpler time. Little technology at hand they counted on their own abilities and those of their teams to succeed.

I often think of this at the beginning of a marathon or even at the beginning of the school year. I know it is extremely possible to reach that point where you feel you just can’t take another step. Franklin in his overland journeys had his team so desperate that they ate the moccasins off their own feet!

When when it has happened to me, I have been lucky enough to have a fellow runner — every single time a stranger — their seeing me in a difficult spot they could relate to and give me the encouragement to take that next step and the one after that. I’ve tried hard to follow suit. I’ve encouraged more than one first time runner and slowed my own pace to help them cross the finish line.

As educators how often this school year will we hear, “I can’t do it”, or “…it’s impossible”? How often will a co-worker say, “There is too much on my plate…”? We have it in us to feed those that are suddenly starving of ambition or cause. We may not be able to start someone on their quest for knowledge but we can sure keep those fires burning.

Any journey gets it’s start with a full tank of curiosity but it runs stronger, faster and longer when the adventure is energized and applauded by others.

As such, this year as educators let’s encourage that Outdoor Inquiry. Let’s embolden our students, our colleagues and our personal learning networks.

And recognize that while the destination may enlighten, it’s the odyssey that makes the individual and crew.