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!
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.
LEARNING ACTIVITY #1
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.
LEARNING ACTIVITY #2
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.
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.
LEARNING ACTIVITY #3
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.