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Step Outside For Learning How a K-6 school made student-led inquiry an everyday reality.

by Pamela Gibson, with Bryan Bibby & Janice Haines I

S IT SCIENCE? Is it language arts? Is it environmental studies? Yes and no. It’s integrated learning in an out- door setting with student-led inquiry as part of the mix.

That`s the current framework for learning at Belfountain Public School in Caledon, Ontario, a small, rural school with 170 students and 10 full time teaching staff. How we got started and where our journey led is an organic story. Four years ago, we simply agreed to do more of our

learning outside. Armed with Richard Louv`s book Last Child in the Woods and a group of supportive parent advo- cates, our vision was to help students connect to nature and grow into educated stewards of the earth. That vision developed over the course of several meetings with parents, teachers, school administration and staff from a local out- door education centre. Funds were found to support a one year pilot project with my grade sixes and the grade twos. Staff from the outdoor education centre were contracted to provide the pilot teachers with in-class support one day a week, and help with outdoor learning ideas. As the pilot teacher I`d like to share with you what it

looked like then, where that idea has taken us and what it looks like now. Perhaps illuminating our path at Belfountain will help us all to ‘Step Outside For Learning’, that first giant step on the journey towards using the outdoors as the vehicle for teaching and learning the mandated curriculum.

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Replete with grief and glory, this four year journey of

discovery has also been inspiring for all of us. As the pilot teacher, my learning curve was a sharp one. Our school moved from an indoor, rotary-driven, subject-oriented, teacher-composed program to an out of doors, cross-grade, integrated, community-based program with a student-led inquiry component. Our first move was to step outside the building. The grade 6 students are the school seniors and in that

first year I was their teacher for all subjects except French and Physical Education. My goal was a grand one—to do our learning outside for half of the school day. In retro- spect, this was a pretty lofty goal for a newbie with an arts background. On the first day of school, we eagerly stepped outside for some planned activities involving poetry, data management, art, and oral language. In groups of three, we started with a playground search, looking for animal, vegetable, and mineral specimens. My students were asked to tabulate what we saw in chart form, with one axis repre- senting the letters of the alphabet and the other showing the numbers of items they found whose names began with each letter. They wrote down the names where they could and made sketches when they could not. The data was to be used later as the springboard for other teacher-arranged experiences back in the classroom. I had earmarked one hour for the hunt, but once outside,

the flurry of activity lasted only about five minutes. As their energy cranked to a halt, one child yelled, “I`m done!”


Photographs: Belfountain Public School, Caledon, Ontario

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