School Name: Ecole Christine Morrison Elementary
School District: SD#75 Mission
Inquiry Team Members: Judy.firstname.lastname@example.org; Suzanne.email@example.com; Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Language Arts – Literacy, Physical & Health Education, Science
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Connecting Aboriginal understandings and oral story telling practices through experiential, applied design, skills & technology practices based upon the use of our nature classroom, the land, nature or placed-based learning.
Scanning: The schools’ MDI report for 2017-18 indicated a gap in environmental awareness and opportunities to engage with nature, by the students at our school. Our team used the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning to understand what’s going on for our learners based on the following questions:
• Do learners see what they are learning in school as contributing to their own well‐being and to that of their families and communities?
• Are learners developing a deeper sense of place?
• Do they have a chance to explore and understand the consequences of their actions?
• Do they have the opportunity to learn from and with different generations?
• Are they developing a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, Indigenous
• To what extent are stories part of their experience at school?
• Are they developing patience?
• Are they exploring their own identity?
To further develop student and teacher perspectives on First Peoples’ traditions, we chose to engage students in the environmental perspectives by creating two Nature Classrooms. The first designated area consists of a forested area located within the fenced perimeter of the school. The second, a large Outdoor Classroom, has been created with natural materials. Through grant and PAC funding these spaces have given teachers and students the opportunity to access nature and explore.
Focusing on the connection to land and place will provide insight for students and our team about making connections, as well as the overall impact of environmental learning.
Our key questions included: What connections do our students have to nature from the Elders, the school, and the community? How do these connections impact their learning and social-emotional well-being? How can we make the impact of learning in a natural outdoor environment relevant and meaningful to the students’ lives?
Focus: Our focus aims to explore the impact of being in nature for students, which requires our teaching staff to be informed. Since PAC had approved more funds to develop our greening project, we wanted staff to have the opportunity to connect and develop the skills to use the green areas of the school, to benefit students’ learning. We hope to better equip those staff members that are already using the Outdoor Classroom, as well as engage those staff members who are not using the Outdoor Classroom to its full potential. Once we have developed teacher familiarity and experience, they can act as mentors to students and guide the students in their engagement with nature.
Hunch: Our hunch is that the structure of the traditional school environment, along with the need to meet curricular demands and a focus on the need to excel in the traditional subjects, contribute to a Nature Deficit (Richard Louv, website: http://richardlouv.com/ ) in students. However, exposure to nature is essential for children’s physical and emotional health, improving their cognitive abilities, and resistance to negative stresses and depression. In order to create the conditions that build curiosity (not defensiveness), we will need to inform our practice as teachers.
We believe that there is a need to incorporate more Nature in our teaching practice in order to extend learning of not just experiential learning, but also the social-emotional well-being of our students. We have discovered our experiences echoed in the book, How to Raise a Wild Child (2015) by Scott Sampson, “…Nature’s impact extends far beyond physical fitness, encompassing intellectual and emotional health, self-identity, and basic values and morals. Health benefits of exposure to nature include enhanced healing, stress reduction, increased creativity, and self-esteem. Nature also has an unparalleled capacity to stir our emotions, fostering raw and powerful feelings of wonder, awe, mystery, joy and yes, fear”. We have chosen to focus on the areas over which we have control, such as the learning experiences and mentoring that we, as teachers, can provide to the students rather then be hindered by the progress of the building of the outdoor areas. To continuously test our hunch, we will use the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning to understand what’s going on for our learners based on the questions posed while scanning.
New Professional Learning: Once we narrowed down our hunches and decided to focus on the Nature Deficit related to our students’ experience in their education, we realized that our teachers need to feel more comfortable bringing lessons into nature in order to engage their learners. We have several schools within our district that have also engaged with nature as a learning resource. We looked to the examples these schools have provided, and how we could incorporate some of the resources they use into our schools’ landscape. Together, with the Greening Committee, we have transformed several spaces to meet our ‘nature’ needs. We have examined several resources, including a book study group that explored the recommendations made in the book, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson (2015). Also, we intended to examine and explore lessons in the book, The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning Paperback (2016) by Jacob Rodenburg and Drew Monkman. Furthermore, we intended to conduct research on ‘Place Specific’ plants, as well as those Indigenous flora native to the land, and plant chosen varieties around the school grounds. We also looked to determine the Indigenous uses for these plants, and create signs to identify the plant and its uses. Lastly, we have developed a professional development workshop organized by the Greening Committee, to further explore and investigate resources and tools for incorporating Nature into lessons. We hope that teachers will be engaged by the newly created nature spaces themselves, and by the learning and experiences shared by other teachers. To keep the momentum of the Greening Committee project once all the spaces have been introduced, we would like to offer the professional development workshop on a yearly basis. Incorporating our Nature Spaces into school wide events and celebrations, will ensure that our focus on student Nature Deficit does not lose momentum. Additionally, this will provide teachers with a variety of opportunities to use these spaces.
Taking Action: This year our plan was to invite those teachers interested in further developing what Scott D. Sampson, author of How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (2015), terms EMU (Experience, Mentoring, Understanding) of Nature, to attend a weekend long workshop hosted by the school Greening Committee at Manning Park. The goal was to introduce, investigate, explore and share ideas relating to the use of the outdoor classroom and forest classroom at Ecole Christine Morrison Elementary. Incorporated in the workshop were nature walks and observations, lessons in plant identification and local fauna, how to apply STEAM and coding in a natural setting, and how teachers themselves can be nature mentors to their students. Teachers were asked to research some lessons and activities ahead of the workshop, so they could be incorporated into a catalogue of resources. Additionally, teachers had planned to meet several times ahead of the weekend to examine material supporting our focus on students Nature Deficit, and to plan tasks that could be shared — such as presentation of ideas, creating activities, preparing meals and so on. Upon return from the workshop, the Greening Committee was to put into place some of the ideas and activities planned by the group during the workshop, and present the ideas and experiences during one of the staff collaborative meetings. Ongoing meetings and collaboration were intended to provide opportunities for reflection on new approaches to learning.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 school closure and limits on gathering, we were forced to cancel our workshop. Throughout the online learning portion of the school closure, the Greening Committee made an effort to support staff with resources and lessons pertaining to domestic nature and technological nature (Sampson, 2015).
Further strides were made upon our return to the classroom. The Greening Committee was able to encourage teachers and students to plant Indigenous seeds along the boundaries of our school. Teachers were eager to use the outdoor nature areas with the smaller number of students in each class. A schedule was made available for teachers to use these areas, while maintaining Health and Safety standards. School wide events for students at school, and those at home, promoted getting out into nature as a means to relieve stress and take advantage of one’s domestic nature. The school closure provided teachers with the opportunity to develop a bank of resources and lessons they would have not previously explored. Resources such as online virtual field trips, live stream nature videos, interactive tablet applications and e-reader material.
Checking: Thankfully, our nature spaces will continue to be developed and improved upon for years to come. Although we may not have been able to fully engage with the focus of our study, we did find limited opportunities to incorporate some new resources and address aspects of the nature deficit experienced by students. With such a huge focus put on technology during the latter half of the academic year, teachers felt the need to encourage students to get away from screen time and have experiences in nature. Fortunately, our team had already compiled some activities to engage students in domestic and technological nature experiences.
Although monitoring the impact these connections had on students learning and social-emotional well-being was difficult, we did get a sense that students did take the opportunity to engage with nature when encouraged to do so by their teachers, by speaking with teachers and parents in the school. Directed activities that incorporate nature showed positive student responses and produced more connection to the strained teacher/student relationship experienced by so many during distance learning. Nature-based activities students were able to do while at home, showed them how learning can be meaningful and relevant to their lives. Next year, when we have had the time to properly engage with the focus of the study, we will have students answer the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning questions to understand what’s going on for our learners based on questions asked during the scanning process. Optimally, we would have students answer questions after having engaged with nature in a meaningful way. The students could use nature journals to reflect on their experiences which could be shared with the team. We will celebrate the learning gains made as a team during our annual workshops and later at the collaborative staff meetings.
Reflections/Advice: Having not had the opportunity to fully engage with our focus, we look to continue our study for the following year. We have already started planning for a workshop that can meet new Covid-19 Stage 3 requirements. We have thought of ways we can encourage staff to support our focus while potentially teaching remotely. We would like to create a bank of online resources available to teachers, that will engage students in domestic and technological nature. While we are away from the school, our nature spaces will continue to be improved and maintained so that they are up and running as soon as we get back. We are all hopeful for a return to a school environment where student and teachers can embrace their environmental awareness.