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Another responded, “There`s nothing more out here!” Yet another, “I can`t find anything!” My heart sank. I gathered them altogether and for the next half hour proceeded to point out examples of insects, plants, rocks, etc. on a teacher-led tour while they passively recorded, fooled around with each other, talked about last night`s TV, and generally lost interest. I hit rock bottom when one child said, “Can we go in now? I`m bored.” Back in the more familiar classroom set-

ting, the rest of the learning activities went well. Even the sharing circle I had planned around the question: “What was the most interesting part about being outside?” was a pleasant expression of togetherness. But, even then, some of the answers had little or nothing to do with my lofty visions of fascinating insects and cloud formations. The art activity was a bigger success with some wonderful paintings of plants and insects. And the classroom sized data management chart we created was a hit. By the end of the day, the bare walls were full of alphabetized paintings of plants, insects, rocks and all manner of outdoor wonders. We again sat on the floor in our now routine circle together, passed the talking stick, reflected on the day, and expressed our hopes and dreams for the year ahead together. To my great surprise, some students expressed their enjoyment of the day. They dutifully confessed that most of their dreams for the year were about getting along with each other—a normal reaction to a first day at school. But even then we were morphing into something new. When I reflect on that day, I now realize that I expected

too much too fast from a bunch of indoor children who didn’t know how to act together outside as a learning com- munity. Through trial and error, my colleagues and I have since become better outdoor teachers, and better teachers in general. And our students have slowly accumulated outdoor experience and a comfort level that only time and incremen- tal learning can bring. Now when we have an experience ahead of us, preparations are made to scaffold the new expe- rience.We move slowly and thoughtfully. Four years later, a dramatic shift is taking place at

Belfountain School. All the teachers in the school have, with varying levels of comfort, committed to a shared vision. The amount of time we spend outside and the type of activities we undertake are not pre-scripted, but we share a belief in seizing the rich opportunities for students to connect with their community outside the doors of the school. What changes have occurred as a result? The following three have been the most significant:

An Integrated Approach to Learning As we went along, our timetable naturally evolved from a traditional subject-driven system in order to accommodate student projects and collaborations taking place away from the school building. Now learning is driven by multi-subject outdoor experiences. As teachers, we have learned to inves- tigate the possibilities in allowing real experiences to direct

our programs. We have found it easier than the traditional approach to guide students toward learning the curriculum- mandated skills, knowledge, and attitudes.While our job still requires us to tease out subject-specific evaluation for report cards, we’ve found that in an integrated approach, much time is saved as specific skills spiral back to be prac- ticed time and time again, enabling each teacher more time to observe where each student is at. Our students now take more ownership and personal

responsibility for their learning. As they learn in the com- munity, they make connections with the skills they need and between their previous and newfound skills and knowledge. Learning has become relevant. Students more readily see what their strengths and challenges are as they are working in small groups or alone on projects with real consequences in the community. We have taken a curricular leap of faith as we moved

toward a student-led, integrated program. Subjects lose their stronghold and meld into real integrated learning for life. At this moment, only grades 4 to 6 French remain rigidly entrenched to a traditional timetable. And with some juggling, planning time for each teacher has been accommodated in the school’s timetabling.

Example: Vermiculture Grade 6 students assisted kindergarten students in estab- lishing a vermiculture project, using designs found on the Internet. The two classes exchanged questions and answers, observations and comments.When it came time to clean out the vermi-composting bins, the older students researched the information that the kindergarten students needed. The question “do worms have eyes?” led into a six week kin- dergarten unit to answer all the other worm questions the students came up. Books were read and written, paintings and sculptures were created, worms were compared and magnified, and songs were composed and sung. As is often the case, this integrated study was also a student led inquiry.


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