CFE Blog – Monday, Week 1 – Claudia Gillard
The cohort was very excited on its first day at the UBC Orchard Garden; it was nice to see old colleagues again, and to just have the chance to get outside after being in a traditional school setting for the past 10 weeks.
The day’s activities modelled what we as future teachers should include in an orientation to a garden or outdoor class with children and youth, beginning with a gesture of appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to learn and teach on the traditional and unceded territories of the Musqueam people. In recognizing the First Nations who had lived on the land we were learning and gardening on, we were made aware of the way in which place-based learning connects this generation of learners with past generations, thereby prompting a sense of responsibility to future generations.
In a warm-up activity Susan Gerofsky made the point that outdoor learning is a physical and emotional experience, as well as cognitive one, when she asked us to share our favourite Spring scent. We were prompted to physically connect to the land throughout the day, listening to the sounds in the canopy as we walked through the woods, tasting new leaves and parts of plants we had never tried before. We also experienced the physical labour of tending to a garden. As we turned the soil, weeded, raked and carried weeds and leaves to compost, we became viscerally aware of how much of the earth’s energy, and human energy, goes into producing our food. Through these exercises, we experienced how powerful learning is when it is embodied through all the senses. The exercises also helped us empathize with our future learners’ possible reluctance when initially introduced to outdoor education.
Next, we had a safety orientation, where some small groups tried out more creative teaching techniques, such as acting out safety violations, and eliciting reasons to call one emergency number rather than another. A few important points for our teaching practice: the need to research the toxicity of plants before planting a school garden, to warn young learners not to taste before checking with an adult, and to pack, or have participants pack warm drinks, and personal supplies of allergy medications.
We came to the heart of the matter when we were next presented with two questions to guide our inquiry and reflection throughout our CFE experience: ‘What’s good about teaching outside?’ and ‘How should we act/be as teachers in the garden?’
Some ways we answer these as we embark on our experience are:
The value of teaching outside:
· Allows for many different ways of learning
· Respects the many ways of learning
· Place-based learning is contextualized
· Encourages learning to be more personally meaningful
· Is Inquiry based
Builds team-work and leadership skills
How we should teach outside:
· Be a co-learner, not an expert
· Focus on learning how to learn, rather than learning facts
· Establish a framework for learning, with some structure
· Have some expectations to guide learning
· Encouraging an inquiry approach in our learners by asking them what they’re curious about and what they expect or would like
· Need to communicate why learning is taking place outside
· Need to scaffold freer, learner-led activities
· Prepare learners who may have barriers to being outside
· Acclimatize to a ‘slow pedagogy’
· Be prepared with supplies such as mats and gloves, to build student comfort with the outdoors
· Moderate our expectations of learners
· Plan experience-based lessons
· Teach inter-generationally
Having the opportunity of being outside at UBC Orchard Garden, after having been in a window-less classroom for the past 10 weeks, really made me appreciate how my young learners must feel at being cooped up in a classroom for 6 hours/day, 7 months of the year, and it reinforces my belief in the need all learners have to learn outside.
This first day gave us all something to reflect on and inquire about, as it gave us a taste of several possible outdoor learning contexts: the orchard garden, the forest, the farm at Landed Learning, and the First Nations traditional circular spindle-wheel garden ‘Seedsatem’. As our CFE progresses, we will all be developing our inquiry questions and reflecting on the possibilities for learning and teaching in these varied outdoor learning contexts. I look forward to reading my cohorts’ reflections and seeing how our collective thought develops as we experience the variety of environments the traditional unceded territories of the Musqueam People at UBC affords us as we progress through our Community Field Experience.
Thanks for reading, and I welcome your thoughts and comments!