Five’s Alive!

The forest must have known…it was our last day of Nature School at the Jaffa Environmental Education Centre.  It was absolutely alive today. Chirping, croaking, buzzing, skittering and uncontainable kid squeals filled the illuminated forest. Animals appeared to be performing just for us.  Chipmunks were brave (and quite chatty), tree frogs surprised us, salamanders introduced themselves and birds of all sorts sang from the canopy.  We soaked it all in and digitally documented much of our interactions.  It was a sweet, sweet day in the trees.  Our word of the day was “appreciation”, and maybe, just maybe, the forest appreciated us spending five days in its space becoming stewards and being ready to share a crucial message of sustainability and conservation.  Wow.


We always spend the first part of the day with our daily literacy routine and finding quiet time with our tree buddies.  It was almost hard to concentrate as there was all kinds of playful commotion in the trees.  The quieter we were, the louder the animals of the forest became.  We knew we were in the middle of something not often experienced in a typical day.

We had a quick snack and decided to take advantage of the good luck and Dan led us on a forest hike that took us deep into the woods.  Our job was to capture various sounds of the forest with our QuickVoice app.  We would also take photographs so that we can later sew the sounds and images together with iMovie.  We call these soundscapes, a great idea our music teacher gave me last year at a Jaffa trip.  Stick rubbing, rustling leaves and other fun sounds were soon overshadowed with our recordings of live animals!  We captured wood tree frogs barking like angry ducks, chipmunks chirping like birds (and coming within two metres of our recording location) and unidentified birds high in the canopy.  I can’t wait for the kids to create their final soundscapes and reflect upon the awesomeness of this morning.

On the same hike we again attached macro lenses to our iPads and took more fantastic shots to fill up our ‘can you guess what this is?’ padlet.  We tried looking under logs and had great success – many students were able to have friendly (but usually evasive) salamanders crawl over their hands! Dan led us a to a water source, and we were able to notice the sponginess of the soil, the smell of stink cabbage, and peppery scent of a berry on a tree nearby.  It was a hike rich with life.


I wanted to spend the last part of the day being appreciative.  I am so thankful that Dan and Erin considered my ideas for a week full of curriculum in the forest.  I have been thinking about it for months, and it really exceeded expectations in the impact it had on these students.  We used Google Slides and some creative masking (cropping in shapes) to show our hearts, stars and wishes.  They needed to select a photo representing something they loved, something that was a ‘wow moment’, and a wish for Jaffa.  It was a fun, wordless way to reflect on our week and demonstrate a stewardship mindset. These would make some cool bumper stickers!

Lastly, we said good-bye to the forest.  I gave the students a few minutes to appreciate their tree buddy. After some good-bye hugs it was apparent that a few students were really emotionally affected by their time here.  We become attached to things.  This extension of our classroom is no different.

It’s going to take some time to consolidate all of our learning. There is lots to sift through and polish.  Our audience needs to be authentic.  We need to revisit our media throughout the year so that we can pull it into other curriculum areas.  1:1 iPads provided a gift of personalized documentation.  Each kid is telling their own story this week in full colour and full sound and with ease, and obvious enjoyment.  The forest / tech partnership was a great fit for us.  Give us the chance and we’ll show you the impact a forest has when you get up close and personal.



Four-fifths ~ Our 4th Daily Dose of Nature

Forest School continues.  T-shirt weather in October.  Dry soil and fragrant vegetation. Un-ending streaks of bright white sun dapple a hundred different values of greens and browns in every direction.  This is not typical for mid-Autumn and we are soaking in every minute.

Our sensory descriptive poems grow with more expertise as we pose and stretch with our tree buddies (they’re really good listeners, by the way).  We are less distracted by the insects and mini-creatures that fill the forest floor as we get really close and focus on our own breathing.  The only real sounds that are out of place during literacy time are my crunching footsteps as I travel from tree to tree, checking in on the learning.


We regroup and focus on the word ‘stewardship’.  We create visual texts about enjoying Jaffa respectfully.  Plants have feelings too…we think.

Grade 3’s need to know how to use a coordinate grid map. What better way to practice this skill than with an authentic map of forest!  We each selected five locations that we’ll visit tomorrow to capture sounds for a ‘forest soundscape’ (Thanks Ms. McCready!). We mapped them with coordinates and practiced our compass rose directions.

We then excitedly found amazing spaces in the forest to document in VIRTUAL REALITY! The Google Streetview app allowed us to create 360 photospheres of various parts of the Jaffa forest.  I published mine to google maps, and anyone around the world can now take a 360 peak into our special forest classroom. Techy-geeky session to the extreme. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that we have this capability at our fingertips now. Incredible.


We built up a big hunger by now, and good thing because it was potluck day! It was a feast of delicious spoils. Thank you families for your contributions.  Dan manned the open-fire cooking area and toasted fresh garlic toast and sautéed potatoes.  We even used real plates to cut down on waste and used the environmental centres’ composting and recycling program to limit our trash impact.  It was a classy affair, but students had to earn their lunch and complete a photo scavenger hunt of the buffet table and look for packaged vs. unpackaged foods.  What might have been on an early settler’s or first nations people’s table 210 years ago?


If anyone ever needs help advertising why forest school is fantastic learning, please let my grade 3’s know! We feel we’ve almost done it all here.  We are sad that tomorrow is our last day, but know that we’ve had an unforgettable opportunity.  Tomorrow will be jam-packed with more tech-enhanced learning in our outdoor classroom.  I hope our tree buddies don’t miss us too much!

PS – Shout out to our favourite app, piccollage.  It is so enjoyable sharing our learning with text and visuals in such impactful ways.  Google comes in a close second place with the incredible-in-your-hands mapping and virtual reality capabilities.  All free! Play!

Three in the Trees

The midway point of our Forest School week has arrived.  I look back at what we’ve already accomplished and absorbed and I know there is so much more to fit in before the end of the week.  This week serves as a huge springboard for ongoing discussions about stewardship and creating empathy in these young global citizens.  The teacher in me wants to check off the ‘complete’ box on the list of curriculum expectations we are dancing with this week.  The realist in me knows that this experience is about inquiry, observation, wonder, evidence collection and appreciation.  The “tasks” will be polished, practiced and published once we are back in our classroom next week.  Enjoy the ride, Mr. D, because once back in the classroom, you know you’ll be yearning to create experiences that simply can’t compete with the natural fascination humans have with our physical world.


Today we again revisited our tree buddies. Completing non-fiction booksnaps with science texts on their iPads is a peaceful way to begin our time in the forest, and we’ll continue to start our days this way.  Also, my students are completing a daily selfie mindfulness project this year, just so they are thinking about emotions and maybe identifying factors that impact them every day.  Taking these selfies with their tree buddies is cool – maybe having their special place in the forest will let them think about their identity in a new way (e.g., protector, scientist, steward, conservationist, questioner).  As we settle into routine here, I’m curious as to what our conversations at the end of the week about our daily selfies might reveal.

We had a special visit from Erin Mutch, the Thames Valley EnviroSci Coordinator responsible for creating and providing this Forest Week pilot with Dan Arppe from Jaffa (we’re the first-ever class to give this a go!).  It was great timing as she brought clip-on macro lenses for our iPads.  These lenses allow you to get extremely close to the subject and magnifies the image to show incredible detail.  Dan taught us about the invasive species at Jaffa (e.g., garlic mustard plant, emerald ash borers, even earth worms!) and we took a long hike to discover and photograph some of these species in the forest.  With the macro lenses, students were beyond excited to share their amazing shots.  What exactly does a super-close-up of a slug’s back look like? Moss? Soil? Incredible. Squeals of excitement! Thanks for thinking of us, Erin!

We also eye-bombed the invasive species. Using our chatterpix app, we made these plants ‘talk’ and try to explain or defend themselves!  If you need an invasive species detective, come talk to us!


In the afternoon we walked deep into the woods, off trail.  I have this great History of Aylmer text, and it speaks to the original two settlers of the Aylmer area, over 200 years ago.  The forest was described as “untamed”.  From our perch in the thick of the woods, we visualized ourselves as early settlers.  What would make us stay in this part of North America (Upper Canada)? We then went on a photo scavenger hunt for hints of ways we could sustain ourselves.  Water? Shelter? Food sources? Decent soil? It was really interesting watching the students try to source what they think would be food with which they would be able to sustain themselves. Hopefully the activity let them take a new perspective and maybe build an appreciation for the luxuries modern living provides us.


We ended this absolutely gorgeous fall day with a ‘green’ challenge. In partners, the grade 3’s created a playday activity with only found items from the forest.  The ideas were great!  Forest mini-put with a chestnut and chipmunk holes. An obstacle course. Super hide and seek. Scavenger hunts. Jumping contests.  The next step is take the photos from the planning process and create a complete rule book for each game.

I’m curious to see how many yawns I see tomorrow morning.  We’ve been working hard so far this week!  I am so thankful for this opportunity.  The parents I speak to concur! I can’t wait to show them our finished products.

Tomorrow – virtual reality time. Let’s do this!

Forest School – Day Two

Learning continues in the edu-chanted forest.  Today, literacy, mindfulness, sensory exploration, soil composition, art scavenger hunting and still life photography class.  What was really neat was being able to use the wifi at Jaffa to be able to participate in an Ontario-wide student twitter chat (something we’d committed to as part of Digital Citizenship Week).


I’m really enjoying the morning in the forest where we are able to take time with our tree buddies, read, reflect and focus on our senses with a few yoga stretches.  It is here where we can really look closely at the life everywhere around us.  After our hike yesterday and a focus on soil today, students will really be noticing things in their space that they didn’t even consider before.

We decided to start eye-bombing today.  With some small pieces of sticky tack we can temporarily attach googly eyes to bushes, rocks, … anything really.  The purpose? To humanize the living and non-living ‘members’ of our habitat.  Giving a tree a voice allows a student to practice taking a different point of view or perspective. The next step is to put these photos into the ChatterPix app and literally give these plants a voice.  What story would a tree share after watching students and animals interact in a forest all day? What might an invasive species say? Would they be able to defend their actions?


Our enviro leader, Dan, cooked up a pot of soil. The students were keen to learn about the various elements that go into creating soil. We also did some soil sample coring and compared our samples to some typical soil type benchmarks. Microscopes let us ‘dig in’ (oh, boy) a little deeper and really make connections to the dirt they all had on their pants and hands.  This was a tech-free activity and it was great to get a little dirty.  Now, being an ed tech guy, we followed up the activity with a Flipgrid vlog response back in the classroom.

A cookout lunch is always a treat.  The smell of a fire never disappoints. The wind picked up and we noticed that nature can sometimes be louder than us.

We ended our busy day with an art focus.  Using Popplet, we created a flowchart to fill with photo evidence of various art elements (e.g., line, value, space) and text labels.  We scoured the forest floor for the perfect representation of scratchy textures and cool colours.



Our final forest task was (not-so) still life photography.  In partners we framed photographs with black construction paper.  When the image is taken with a black background, we focus on the spectacular colour in the plant. Later, with photo editing and filters, we can fine tune our images for more polished prints.  There is so much we can later do with these photos – green screen backgrounds for poetry slams, wallpaper for texts on parts of plants, or simply reflection rubrics on the elements of art present in the photographs.

Alas, day two came to an end and maybe I came to the realization that all outdoor education days should end with mandatory naps for all.  23475688-58FE-4BF1-B897-FDB166813286😁😴🌳🌲

Forest School – Day 1 of 5

The premise is fantastic.  Invite a class to an environmental education centre for a full week and have the classroom teacher extend their teaching in a new and inspiring location.  What would you do with five days in a forest? How would drama, math, social studies, health and visual art factor into your planning?  If you like creative curriculum planning, Forest School is for you!

how and why wonder jaffa

I’ve committed to blogging for each of the five days me and my grade 3s spend at the Jaffa Environmental Education Centre in the Thames Valley Board.  I just know that the incredible and meaningful experiences we’ll share as a class need to be documented.  Opportunities like this are rare.  I’m very grateful to our Environmental Science Coordinator for letting me spread my wings out here in the trees this week.

So here we go.  Happy kids on a bus, bouncing down dirt roads to a favourite forest location nestled in the Springwater Conservation Area in Elgin County.  A small, but fantastic, learning centre serves as home-base for the week, and its wifi and apple tv setup are just perfect for our 1:1 iPad classroom experience this year.  As part of a Ministry TLLP, I have secured funding for each student to have a device to call their own as they explore learning in grade 3.  Obviously an iPad is not the first thing you think of when you consider the idea of “Forest School”.  However, it is a modern tool that allows students to not only document their learning in the forest, but share it with others in a powerful way.  It is important to me that our time in the forest creates young citizens that will commit to being stewards of this beautiful place and I hope the media they produce and publish will share that message to a large audience.

Dan is our very friendly nature guide.  He’s a teacher at the centre, and students were excited to see him again.  His expertise is appreciated!

Our week begins with an overview of what Forest School is all about.  Students learned the boundaries of their outdoor classroom and were eager to get out into the trees.  Our day is loosely planned into thirds.


Literacy time! I thought a calm and reflective approach to the day would be a great way to start each of our mornings in the forest.  During our literacy block, each student was partnered with a buddy tree!  This tree is their quiet space.  Here we access some ‘green’ reads, complete book snaps, and soak in the smells and sounds of the forest.  We continue our daily mindful selfie routine. We tune into our senses as we then take time to stretch and do some yoga poses with our tree buddy.


We take some creative photographs to document our space in the trees and know that this photography will serve as a background for a list poem focusing on words representing the five senses as we absorb our surroundings.

senses word poem


A guided nature hike with Dan was a highlight.  At first glance a simple hike with some photo opportunities for “I wonder” questions seems like it might be a simple or quick task.  The inquiry was endless! We extended the time of the walk just to allow students the opportunity to photograph the parts of their world they often overlook.  Look down. Look closely.  You’ll find something surprising or amazing.  Orange mushrooms? Purple fungus? Aphids that look like cotton? The world is a wonder.  These students have the photos to prove it.  What’s really cool is that at any time in the future I can have students find these self-taken images for writing prompts, science connections or endless other learning possibilities.

On this walk we continued to rely on our senses to fully experience the forest.  We also did some visualization. Our social studies focus right now is early Canadian Communities in Upper Canada.  Soil, fresh water, access to vegetation for shelter and food dictated where people chose to live.  In the untouched forest, how can we change our point of view and see the forest a different way?

Also, the thermal camera option in the Photo Booth app raised a lot of good questions. Where does heat hide in a forest? Under a log?  Which side of a tree?  A fun exploration.

thermal camera

A secondary writing focus for our trail hike was to also focus on conservation “rules” that we could share with a student audience back at school.  The task is to collect 3 photographs that will be later connected with 3 big ideas on ways to respect the forest in a visual non-fiction text style.


MATHLETES!  TAKE YOUR MARK!  A 5 strand/5 task math race.  Completed in partners, teams used the forest as their proving/testing ground for a variety of math tasks.  Distance estimation and measurement.  Photographing 100 trees in one shot (more challenging than you’d think).  Create and properly label a leaf pattern with at least one attribute.  Find a stick that is 1/3rd of the length of a larger stick and connect it to the part/part/whole mat we use during math talks.  Photograph evidence of acute, right and obtuse angles naturally found in the forest. After forest week is complete, we will consolidate all of this media evidence into a Shadow Puppet narrated ‘film’.  Math movies!


I really enjoyed watching students work together today.  It was a priveledge to watch kids breath in the fresh air with a smile, look closely at the small parts of the world that are crucial in the interdependence of plants and animals in our habitats and ecosystems, and make connections to our classroom learning.

4 more days? Can’t wait.