Outdoor Learning – Breathe It In

Today was a day I have been looking forward to since filling out paperwork last spring. MarshQuest is a student-led environmental learning experience held in man-made wetlands near Aylmer, Ontario.  The local high school students who run the day are part of an Environmental Leadership Program led by an innovative teacher that values out-of-the-box learning and immersive experiential training.  Cool!  It is great to link up with these student leaders and watch as my grade 4 students are taught by these youth.  I bet my students are happy to have someone other than “Mr. D’s” voice leading science discussions.

As my career lengthens, I am keenly aware of the value of these outdoor opportunities.  Is it the way an outdoor ‘classroom’ smells?  Is it the refreshing blasts of fall air keeping senses sharp?  Or, is it the immersive experience that captures student engagement?  All of the above!  First and foremost, taking students out of the four walls they begrudgingly become accustomed to immediately creates a buzz factor.  New!  Novel!  Different!  Secondly, walking around a marsh, a block or two around town, or even the school yard means that we are moving and thinking at the same time.  Talk about quality activity.  Lungs, heart and brain are activated.  All senses become part of the learning – not just the eyes and ears.

Impact is something we hope and plan for our lessons to possess.  But let’s be honest…not every classroom lesson is going to be as impact-full as we wish.  Authenticity matters, and taking kids TO the learning creates more impact then bringing the learning to the kids.  Authentic experiences stick with us.  I don’t remember a lot of lessons from my school days, but I can remember almost every field trip I have ever been on.  Why is that?

A trip like today’s MarshQuest trip reminds me why I decided to turn this school year into a professional project.  A field trip EVERY WEEK!  These will mostly be walking field trips to find curriculum learning in the local community.  I’m really hoping that taking students TO the geometry we see on main street will make the learning stick.  I’m optimistic that taking students TO the real-world examples of advertising means that the examination of use of media will be an experience students remember.  I’ll guarantee that taking students TO the community experts and citizens in Aylmer will deepen understanding of how our social studies, arts and science curriculum connections matter.

My professional project for this year is entitled, “Community Citizenship through Curriculum”.  I’ve aligned with pillars of the community to provide unique access to information that will allow students to create their own inquiry project about the heritage of the town as Canada’s 150th birthday approaches.  It means leaving the four walls of our classroom often.  It means a little more organization on my behalf and a lot of support from parent volunteers but I truly believe it will result in an unforgettable year for these kids.  Did I mention that I’m fundraising for a 1:1 iPad ratio so that these kids are armed with the most creative learning tool out there?  Positivity!  I’m learning that if you don’t ask, you don’t receive, and I humbled to acknowledge that I’ve already reached 30% of my fund-raising goal.

Outdoor learning.  And lots of it.  Where do you see science?  Where can you find evidence of humans helping or harming?  How can multiplication be found in a grid of bricks on an alley wall?  Can an obtuse angle be found in a tree branch?  How can we make a meal following Canada’s food guide when in the grocery store?  What speaks to these students’ identities as we explore our community?

I’ll admit I’m curious to venture into Google Expeditions – the virtual reality field trip app for tablets and smartphones (ideally in Google Cardboard).  I’m just wondering to myself, does a field trip still feel like a field trip without that blast of wind, rustling of leaves in the background, or the smell of environment stimulating all your senses?  I think I already know the answer…

Hey, if you’d ever like to go for a walk through Aylmer, I have 27 students that would like to come along for the ride.  I promise you’ll learn something!




Litcon 2016 is here on October 1st. I’m running one of the breakout sessions.  Conferences mean crumbling cookies, lines at the coffee table, lanyards, nerves, and mostly importantly, lots of fresh ideas.

Speaking somewhere in the middle of the day means that while enjoying keynotes and breakout sessions, you’re secretly hiding your anxiety about your own session.  Nothing to worry about though.  Digital strategies for engaging students is something that I find easy to talk about.  Excitement is contagious so I enjoy sharing student classroom success to perhaps entice another teacher to try something new.  I like new.  Fresh is good!


Here We Go! Version 2016

The first day of this school year with 27 fresh-faced grade 4s was great. Clean slate.  New beginnings.  Excitement!  I am hopeful that all of my big plans for this year come to fruition.  These kids deserve “challenging”, “out of the box”, “real-world”, and of course “fun”.  I think that I am in a unique role where I get to take them to new places and open a few doors.  What a gift, right?  Even with the odd technical glitch ; )

I consider myself a co-learner.  That means that I’m also learning with the students. Students and I go along for the ride together – fearlessly trying new things and learning from our mistakes.  We share our successes!  This also means that I’m doing something new, too.  And I am.

I have my first classroom twitter followers!  I’ve never used Twitter as a way to communicate with parents but I’m really intrigued in inviting families into our classroom in an ongoing way.  Daily photos of fantastic work.  Success criteria.  Tips.  Reminders.  Dialogue.   I’m already a fan.

A classroom Instagram account is also something new for me.  I’m starting a little project this year.  It involves bringing students to the curriculum (instead of just bringing curriculum to the students in the classroom).  This means weekly field trips, finding curriculum in the community and capturing it.  21st century education technology then lets us dissect, debate and annotate our learning back in the classroom. Bring the world into room 205.  Big idea – but one I’m really excited about.  Our Instagram account, entitled, community_through_our_eyes, will become a photo-essay documenting our journey in our community-based learning.  All subject areas can be found in the real world.  I want to make this learning meaningful!

What else might be new, as I co-learn?  Well – in a 21st century classroom, student interests and questions help us guide our learning.  I guess this means that there are always fascinating tangents that pop up that simply must be explored.  New technologies become introduced, students learn to ask quality questions that matter, and we all take time to reflect and connect our learning.

My new mantra for this year’s class?

                              EXPLORE – CREATE – DIGITIZE – REFLECT & CONNECT  

Now, I like to keep things fresh, but there is one piece of last year that I simply will not let go of.  It is last year’s quote of the year (from my favourite novel, “Wonder”).  It reads:

          When given the choice of being kind or being right, choose kind.  

It’s perfect.  It addresses all the goodness that can be captured in a room full of young minds trying to do their best.  If we continue to choose kind, everyone wins.

193 days to go.  Just wait to see what these kids can do.