Lessons from SaltSpring

What a day…I still haven’t accepted what occurred. Perhaps writing about it will make the surreal real.

On the first day of this back-to-school journey, way back in September, we shared who we are as individuals as well as our teaching philosophies. I was and still am a person who recognises the disconnect between our students and nature and I am concerned. And, although I now see the value of 21st century technology and am ready, willing and able (somewhat) to incorporate it into my practice, I wish to “balance face time spent with an electronic device with face time spent experiencing the outdoors”, whatever that may entail.
So what a thrill it was to spend part of a day with Robert Bateman, a former teacher, scratch that, a teacher and an icon, who reinforced my passion for taking the classroom outside.
How did this happen? How is it that I am here?
Perhaps a little background is required…
I have been teaching a Sustainable Resources 12 cum Horticulture course for 3 years now. My first profession and passion is for gardening and all that it entails and I love sharing this with my students. Through this course, which continues to evolve, my school has developed a terrific composting program as well as a community garden. My students learn where their food comes from while growing it. I witness the most distant, uncommunicative students take delight in seeing their gardens grow. My kids work on the beds around the school, including a waterfall that Mr. Bateman designed and helped to install. Somehow, today’s visit resulted.

Along with 1 colleague and 2 of my bosses (no pressure) I ended  up touring both of  Mr. Bateman’s homes (old and new), reliving some of his journeys and being taught by a passionate environmentalist. Mr. Bateman shared his concern about the disconnect between today’s youth and their environment. He reminded us that our kids spend  7 hours a day in front of some kind of screen and shared his perception that teacher’s hands are tied by the endless, butt-covering bureaucracy that hinders our ability to take kids on field trips. When he was a teacher in Ontario, he would take his students on impromptu caving trips after school. Now, teachers who want to take their students on an adventure are faced by a myriad of hoops/paperwork.
He had 2 suggestions to combat the situation.
1. A bio-blitz. Unbelievable idea! One July 4 in the US, Mr. Bateman and his wife spent the day at Walden Pond with passionate people (including E.O. Wilson) who catalogued the different species in a 10 km area. There were specialists for different species (spider experts, butterfly experts etc.) so no one needed to know everything. Books or online resources could be used to help id what was seen. At the end of the day, each team reported out and a celebration happened. Mr. Bateman envisioned an ongoing, yearly activity and celebration of biodiversity in an area. I can see this working at the school level, especially in my area where trails and streams abound.
2. Pledge to take a family hike once a week. Check out this link and see what can happen when kids are given the opportunity to get outside. I am inspired and want to see about holding a summer camp for budding environmentalists at my school.
I was given 2 articles to read and will report back on my thoughts once I have read them. I am also going to check out John Abbott, a teacher/educator whose ideas Mr. Bateman admires.
Our group also talked about programs that combine classroom learning with service to the community. A program where academic background is combined with structured activities that have students work on solutions to real-life problems (also featured on the news tonight), something Mr. Bateman called a “citizen scientist”. I was not sure of what this term meant, so I Googled it. A citizen scientist is defined by Wikipedia as a term used for projects or ongoing program of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation. Whoa! My kids spent last Thursday (one of the coldest, wettest days in May that I can remember) picking up garbage and collecting data for Shoreline Clean-up. They had a great time doing it in spite of the weather.

Today was a powerful day, especially since I was able to let Mr. Bateman know what we are doing at my school and how much my kids love going outside, even in the cold, wet weather we have enjoyed this spring. I am sure that the  ramifications of such a great privilege and honour will continue to resonate in the months and years to come. I will send him some pictures of what my students do. I will continue to work on the integration of nature into the curriculum of the school as a whole. I will try and develop lessons where students solve real life problems, where they experience life.


Framing the view


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