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planted shade trees along the Credit River, and distributed information to students, parents and community members about the Redside Dace for the last couple of years.While learning many connections between this minnow, its habitat and human water practices, our student’s community involve- ment has enabled them to realize that they can make a differ- ence. They now understand how simple things like picking up garbage, recycling, and composting are all connected to the health of the Redside Dace. This makes unappealing chores like emptying the compost bucket all the more likely to happen! If you were to visit us on any given day, you would see


some classes working indoors with information they gained in the field or on curriculum items that are best done inside. Other classes would be on the playground working on cur- riculum that would have previously taken place indoors. Still others would be out in the community actively involved in their own project or that of a community group. And you would notice that student-led inquiry has generated some of the work—as a natural evolution of our learning. We know we have come a long way and we have a long


way to go. It has not always been easy.We’ve faced the usual roadblocks from a system that exists to perpetuate itself and has had a top down military approach for decades. But, we would never go back. As a community college student said to us as we worked together on a project by the Credit River:


“I wish school had been like this for me. I would have learned more. These kids get it. They know why they`re learning this stuff. It`s important to them. It took me a long time to figure it out. It was just stuff in books. They can see how it works!”


As we share our approach with other teachers and


schools, it is sometimes dismissed because at Belfountain, we have nature at our fingertips. In response, we are quick to point out that our program is not about nature, it is about connecting with your community. And as a small, rural school, we face some disadvantages as well. We don’t have a built environment around us.We cannot survey modes of transportation in our community or watch the construction of a new apartment structure or mall down the block. These are equally rich learning opportunities that await any teacher in those communities to mine for curriculum. Nor is this an approach that is dependent on funding: outside of the funding we received in our first year to support teacher professional development, our funding needs have been minimal. You don’t need to pay for a bus to take you out of the community when the opportunities are in the community. It does take time to help students develop into a commu-


nity of learners who recognize that being outside the class- room is okay and, dare it be said, fun. All you need is a long term vision and a willingness to achieve it in small steps. Applying integrated learning to an outdoor setting with


student-led inquiry as part of the mix is not only an effective way to deliver programs, but it has also encouraged a more humane atmosphere and collegial spirit in us all. When report- ing to parents, we have real things to discuss, and their children actively participate in that process. They can more readily speak about their work because they helped to shape it. We are thrilled to be part of a new face of education in schools. As this shift continues, we are seeing students who


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are more attentive and focused on learning the curriculum together in the out of doors. We see students actively partici- pating in their community. We see collaborative decision- making becoming the norm and children becoming emo- tionally attached to the natural environment. Students and staff alike are becoming passionate about treading lightly and lovingly on the earth which supports us. And we see the personal interests and natural curiosity of individual students beginning to shape and drive our program. Student-led inquiry is becoming a reality at Belfountain School. Spread the word. It can be done!


Pamela Gibson, Bryan Bibby Smith and Janice Haines all teach at Belfountain School in Caledon, Ontario. In May 2010, Belfountain School won the Outstanding K-12 School award given out annually by the Canadian Network for Envi- ronmental Education and Communication.


Footnotes


1. http://www.hummingbirdservices.ca/ (See Steve’s ad on the inside back cover.)


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