Monday, 6 November 2017

Connecting place and learning

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.  Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, "the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings."
David Sobel

Schools follow curricula developed by provinces, and establish vision and strategies for learning that reflect both the curricula and the strategic mandates of school boards. A commitment our school has established as part of our vision is that our students will learn through and within the context of place - coming to know the land where they live as more than just streets they drive on to get to school, or to get to the local mall. Often, this is called place-based learning and has become a discipline of it's own to study. In the CBE we also call this Literacies of the Land. Whatever the label, connecting place and learning is how we all come to know ourselves in the world at Eric Harvie School. 

The community of Tuscany offers a widely varied landscape for our students to study, explore and use as a source of inspiration, investigation and reflection. Visits to the coulee, Two-Toed Pond and various community walks
 all mean our students have first hand experiences with nature in many different contexts. Sometimes our learning is quite scientific in nature - identifying plant and animal species or footprints, exploring habitats, wondering about food supplies - while other visits are more about making connections when we name our 'sit spots', take time to be quiet and see how we feel and relate to nature, explore colours and seasonal change. Whatever learning adventure calls us though, we are always ready to respond and get outside - even when it's weather inclement!

This fall we visited Glenbow Ranch, a legacy gifted to the province of Alberta by our namesake, Eric Harvie's family. We will visit again in the spring. While we were there, students engaged in a wide variety of activities ranging from observing, naming and exploring to measuring plants, sketching wildlife, reading maps, making bark rubbings, identifying scat, habitat and food sources, noticing landforms and geographic transitions (like prairie to foothills, river valley, wetland) and wondering about the first settlers who established homes and a small community there.  Another close-by natural experience that fosters strong connections to the land and helps children understand the land is a part of us as much as we are a part of the land.

We are using our trip to the Glenbow as a source of inspiration for our non-fiction school-wide writing assessment for all our Kindergarten-Grade 4 students. Whether we write in pictures, swirly writing or full paragraphs, students have an opportunity to reflect on their visit to Glenbow, on their connections to the place and the impact it has on their lives, the lives of animals and the lives of other humans. We have literally hundreds of photos the children took to remind us of things that might have slipped to the back of our memories, and visual journals to capture our thoughts, questions and ideas as we begin to write our images into non-fiction pieces of writing - everything from lists, to poetry to instructions and directions, as well as descriptive and scientific explorations. For our non-fiction writing, we do not need to just rely on our imaginations because we have made connections and observations, we have questions and results from our investigations - and we know the place where we live, the places where we visit, all help us become who we are in the world and how we will grow up to change, preserve and honour the planet where we live.

This is how we connect place and learning. Every day. 

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal