Connecting the Outdoors with Environmental Learning

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Its surprising really how often I feel I need to make the connection explicit to folks about engaging in the natural world and the relationship to environmental learning. Somehow, environmental learning has in alot of places and alot of dialogue come to mean something different to many people. Its come to meant shutting off lights, and shutting off taps. Something gets missed when the focus on environmental learning is merely focused on these sorts of actions. Not that they aren’t valuable or really have a positive impact on nature. But instead surprising because environmental learning seems to have lost the meaning of ‘environment’.

This is why I advocate regularly for outdoor experiences for students. On foot, on skis, on bicycles, it doesn’t matter the mode of transport. What is important is creating opportunities to help young people make a connection, develop a relationship with the natural world. Because it is these connections that fuel the desire to make choices in our personal lives that reduce the consumption of energy and materials.

The important part that adds value and richness to life is the personal relationship with the world around us. We have recently been hosting engagement sessions with internal and external stakeholders with the CBE. These engagement sessions have focused on asking for input into our new strategic framework to advance environmental stewardship in the CBE. We are using a tool called Thoughtstream to gather input. the link to the tool is at http://thotstr.ca/cbe/vhC We have used Bliss Brown positive social engagement model to ask people not what is wrong with the world, but instead what is right and what should we be working towards. The very first question asked folks to recall times in their lives when they felt most connected to the environment. Invariably the responses centre not on shutting off lights or retrofitting lighting fixtures or replacing a boiler, but instead on significant experiences with nature.

It is not surprising then that the CBE encourages and recognizes the value of engaging our students with nature. Thousands of our students every year spend time learning about, and exploring in natural places. For some of these students this is their first and sometimes only introduction to the natural world. Bravo to the leadership of the CBE for encouraging rich, first hand contact with nature. The value of the experiences are hard to measure and quantify in the same way that we can measure the amount of water a school consumes. And there is very little economic payback on these endeavours…at least initially. The real value of engaging students with the outdoors is the richness of experience, the opportunity to use the experience as a springboard for other learning and the rich living that comes from outdoor experience.

I have been lucky to spend most of my career so far doing the important work of engaging students with nature and encouraging them to reduce their impact on the earth by changing our lifestyles in small ways. Changing culture is a hard task. The best part of the task for me is engaging our young people with regular and constant immersion in the natural world, both close to home and farther afield.

Have a nature break today – you’ll see what I mean

Roy Strum
Env/Outdoor Ed Consultant
CBE

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Influences on learning – reflections on Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’ and my experience as a Teacher

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Hattie’s book, Visible Learning, includes tons of insight into what we should be focusing on as teachers in our work with students. Focusing on the influences with highest impact on achievement makes sense. Hattie’s meta-analysis work sheds light on the priorities attached to effective teaching. This blogpost really aims to share my reflections on some of those insights.

Students influence their own achievement in many ways. Personal dispositions and the influences of early opportunities to structured learning are often cited as important variables in achievement. Hattie identifies the following personal dispositional characteristics as key factors related to achievement:

– a student’s willingness to invest in learning
– a student’s interest in developing a reputation as a learner
– a student’s demonstration of openess to new experiences

In my work with children both in community sport and in the formal school system, I’ve seen this happen countless times. Kids who are invested in learning learn. When kids have some success they receive peer feedback which reinforces their self perception as a learner. And kids who are open to trying out new things learn more. I have found that the key to enabling these things to happen in your classroom is related to the learning environment you create. Is it a place where kids have a clear picture of what success looks like. Are students challenged adequately to reach beyond what they think they can do. Is your learning space one where the expectation is that everyone will improve and learn; that everyone has the capability of achieving great things.

Its something how often it happens when you read something and you say to yourself ‘this isnt really all that new of an idea’. The challenge as a teacher is to not stop there, as that can reinforce the notion that you’re already doing ‘it’. Instead, deliberately finding an edge to the work you do is critical in advancing your own practice. Reinventing your work for every group of children that you work with keeps it fresh, and keeps me on my toes as a teacher.

Openess to new experience is a real challenge in physical education. Often by the time students reach grade 7 or 8, they have a pretty clear self perception of whether they are a ‘jock’ or not. This translates often into low confidence and effort in trying new things. Changing perceptions of physical activity becomes the major challenge of middle school and high school phys ed teachers. As a teacher, whether or not you were a national team player in any sport is alot less relevant than simply being able to connect with kids and create spaces where they can take risks, enjoy physical activity and become more physically literate.

Check back in as I reflect further on Hattie’s Visible Learning.

Roy Strum
Env/Outdoor Ed Consultant
Calgary Bd of Ed