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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.

Guest Post: How a School Community is Like a Garden

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This post was written by Shannon Heighington a Brampton, Ontario based teacher in a Medically Fragile, Developmentally Delayed classroom. She also completed her Principal Qualification Program, (Part I). Full disclosure, in her spare time she helps me raise our children and not only tolerates but encourages me.

I feel a school is very much like a garden. I’m not speaking of the gardens of eras past where each row was tidy and specific. That image reminds me too much of the one room schoolhouse with each row and desk being assigned to a certain pupil based upon age or form alone.

NO, instead, I speak of the garden that has diversity within its numerous plants. While each plant may be heading in a different direction, they all share the same flowerbed. Some plants as they grow attract butterflies, others may be there for scents or visual aspects and still others could one day be on our own supper table.

Yet they all need the same basic care and opportunity to grow.

We often discuss in education the differences between being equal and being fair and once more the garden metaphor works in this capacity. For each member of the garden to succeed they have their own needs. Some individuals needs more water, others need less shade. Some plants work well beside others and other clash. The wise gardener knows that there is no book that will define the “right conditions” for each but that we can provide the best possible conditions through being a student of the environment, the climate and how each member interacts.

As a special education teacher for may years, I see this first hand. Some students might need more ISS/ESL support then others. Each child is an individual; not everyone is going to fit into boxes with all the boxes checked off.  Each child comes with their own history, their own ideas and their own stories.

If a plant, like a student, seems stagnant, it should be obvious that the growing conditions may need to be addressed.

A garden, like school, does not end at the edge of the flowerbed or school fence. Instead, it takes an entire community outside those defined boundaries to help in the success of the growth within.

It’s not just books or AQ courses or research articles one reads that help us bloom into educators and leaders. It’s the staff that has come from all different backgrounds that we can gain knowledge from. It’s all the administration that helps to shape the school. Some of the most important interactions we learn from are from other students in the school not just our classes. Parents play a very important role; they are the ones that give the backgrounds and struggles and successes they and their child has faced.  Given this information helps to guide us on how we interact with the students, or which type of programs we need to develop to help us to be more successful.

We cannot forget the community working with residents; local companies, municipalities and others all help to guide educators and students.

A few years ago working with the fields centre staff for the Peel Board in conjunction with a local high school and the City of Brampton, my IGLD students developed an Eastern Bluebird project.  This new idea program helped to teach them empathy and respect for the environment.  The local high school cut all the wood; for the bird house; the field centre staff came and helped the students use power tools to build the houses. Both schools took a hike near the school and hung the bird houses on city property.  Every day I had students coming in to school saying they saw birds and babies. This was a huge accomplishment for these students. They continued to check on the houses on their own and as a class.  They were so upset when a few of the houses were damaged by others. They wanted justice for the birds.  For some this was the first time they believed in themselves.

The field centre staff introduced a very vital aspect to our current concept of community. We may all live in the same neighbourhood; but we shop outside our community; we attend different faith based centres, if any… in fact. The last community hubs we have are green spaces and schools.

When we wake up in the morning to walk out the door, everything/one that we interact with through the day helps guide ourselves and those you come into contact with for their day as well.  A farmer or gardener who takes his or her role perhaps as a hobby rather than as a passion will no doubt see a less bountiful harvest after all.

There are so many educators who have helped me to blossom and could see when I started to wilt and were there to nourish my soul. No doubt these educators had had mentors who helped them to blossom as well.

I have always believed that students (and teachers alike) can accomplish anything if they have the right growing conditions, support and people to help guide them. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson “A weed is a wildflower whose attributes have not yet been discovered”.

And that is the greatest thrill of working in a school community, inside or outside – discovering those attributes in all.

Shannon is a middle school teacher in Brampton, Ontario and you can follow her on Twitter @shanheighington 

July 31st – World Ranger Day

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photo from

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.