School Name: Ecolé Christine Morrison Elementary
School District: SD#75 Mission
Inquiry Team Members: Lorien Osborn: firstname.lastname@example.org, Judy Cathers; email@example.com, Shannon Greig: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Other: Nature and placed-based learning
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Connecting Aboriginal understandings and oral storytelling practices through experiential, applied design, and skills & technology practices based upon the use of our nature classroom, the land, nature or placed-based learning.
Scanning: This year we were able to start the building and planting of the two school nature classrooms. The first area, the Forest Classroom, consists of a forested area located within a fenced perimeter of the school. The other area consists of a larger square made of natural materials and surrounded by local Indigenous plants. The Greening Committee is looking to further develop the areas over the next academic year. Through the use of these two areas, our team hopes to engage learners in Place-Based Environmental Learning; thus, providing insight into the connections and impact of Placed-Based Environmental Learning on not only our students, but the larger community as well. We will continue to develop the NOIIE Inquiry project we had started the previous year and been unable to complete due to the COVID-19 lockdown and school closures. As had been examined the previous year, the schools’ MDI report for 2017-18 indicated a gap in environmental awareness and opportunities to engage with nature by the students at our school. Our team used the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning to understand what’s going on for our learners based on several questions from previous years’ inquiries.
– Does the nature and Place-Based Environmental Learning at school translate to the family unit and larger community?
– Do learners exhibit a deeper sense of place?
– Are the learners given the opportunity to have nature and place-based experiences with different generations?
– Do learners exhibit a greater appreciation and understanding of Indigenous knowledge?
– How and to what extent are stories part of the learning experience of learners?
– Are learners developing and exploring their own identity as well as their social-emotional well-being.
Focus: We chose to focus on Place-Based Environmental Learning due to an observed gap in our learners school experience. As noted by Scott Sampson, “… Nature’s impact extends far beyond physical fitness, encompassing intellectual and emotional health, self-identity, and basic values and morals” (How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of of Falling in Love with Nature, 2015). We observed that in order to make a Placed-Based Environmental Learning program successful, teachers required the training, resources and tools, not just the construction of nature-based learning areas. Our hope was to provide teachers the skills and materials needed to use the Forest and Outdoor classrooms so that they can begin to engage with a Placed-Based Environmental program within the curriculum. In doing so, we hoped that the learners had been given the opportunities needed to engage in activities that would provide answers to some of the questions we had about the benefits of Placed-Based Environmental Learning.
Hunch: In previous years, we had theorized that the nature-deficit seen in our students was the result of the structure of the traditional school environment and a need to meet curricular demands. However, once the spaces were created, we continued to see a lack of Placed-Based Environmental Learning programming taking place at our school; this was even with smaller class sizes and a shift away from curriculum towards a focus on mental well-being, during the re-opening of schools after the Covid-19 lockdown. Our hunch is that a lack of teacher knowledge and available resources in Place-Based Environmental Learning, combined with the lack of adequate nature-based learning facilities, has made it difficult to explore Placed-Based Environmental Learning within the curriculum by teachers. Furthermore, once the two areas were created, teachers had limited knowledge of ways in which to engage with the spaces in order to provide meaningful Place-Based Environmental Learning.
New Professional Learning: We were looking to restart some of the professional-development we had only just begun the previous year, prior to the COVID lockdown. Previously, we had planned to start examining several resources, including a book study group to explore the recommendations made in the book, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson (2015). Also, we intended to examine and explore lessons in the book, The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning Paperback (2016) by Jacob Rodenburg, Drew Monkman. Furthermore, we had hoped to be able to access the professional development workshop in Manning Park organized by the Greening Committee, to further explore and investigate resources and tools for incorporating Nature into lessons. Unfortunately, very little of this has happened this year due to the ever-changing COVID restrictions. We are, however, already planning to start the book club and complete the professional development workshop at Manning Park this up-coming academic year.
We were successful in conducting research as to which plants are ‘Place Specific’ to our area, as well as those Indigenous plants native to the land, and plant these specific plants around the school grounds. Classes looked to determine the Indigenous uses for these plants and create signs to identify the plant and their uses. With the construction of the Forest and Outdoor Classrooms, we were able to start the process of identifying and planting Indigenous plants. This required members of the greening committee to search plant databases and consult with local Indigenous mentors, to identify those plants already established in the area and those that would grow and be useful as learning tools.
Some helpful resources include: Native Plant Unit (by Donna Walker), Sto:lo Ethnobotony resources, Plant Gathering (book by the Sto:lo), and Pacific Northwest Plant Cards (by Strong Nations). Next year, we will have learners create signage for the plants and resources for their uses.
Taking Action: Knowing that teachers would have a challenging year, we chose not to make it a school-wide project to adopt a Place-Based Environmental program; nor did we engage teachers in specific Placed-Based Environmental Learning workshops or professional development. Our strategy for this year was to allow teachers the opportunity to engage with the Forest and Outdoor classroom within the context of their own knowledge, and provide the opportunity to offer suggestions and ideas from the Greening committee as well as the Indigenous Liaison and Halq’eméylem teacher. Several teachers engaged in Place-Based Learning Environmental Programs for plant identification and artwork, with the guidance of the Halq’eméylem teacher and the use of the Native Plant Unit (by Donna Walker). As the year progressed, our focus shifted to one of mindfulness and mental well-being. As noted by Scott Sampson, “Health benefits of exposure to nature include enhanced healing, stress reduction, increased creativity, and self-esteem” (How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of of Falling in Love with Nature, 2015). Thus, the Forest and Outdoor classroom became places for mental reflection and mindfulness activities, in addition to Placed-Based Environmental Learning programs.
Checking: The questions we asked ourselves at the beginning of the academic year may have shifted away from the need for Placed-Based Environmental Learning towards that of mental well-being; however, many of our originally determined questions are still valid. Our team used the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning to understand what’s going on for our learners based on several questions from previous years’ inquiries. We found that our learners did have the opportunity to make connections to nature even without the training and tools we set out to provide teachers with. When asked at the end of the year, our learners identified the Forest classroom as a place for deep reflection and mindfulness. Connections were made with Elders through the use of zoom meetings, and learners felt engaged in environmental learning through the stories they heard. Learners exhibited a greater appreciation and understanding of Indigenous knowledge. Upon the passing of Olemaun (Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, 1936-2021) — author of children’s books, story keeper, residential school survivor, and Elder to our school Community — our learners continued to refer back to the stories shared that had been part of the learning experience and impacted their lives. Finally, our Placed-Based Environmental Learning programs were adapted in ways that we hadn’t predicted, to help learners to develop and explore their own identity as well as their social-emotional well-being. In a year that demanded flexibility, we did not necessarily complete the goals we had set out to accomplish, however, we managed to adapt and create new goals along the way that will hopefully guide our inquiry for the following year.
Reflections/Advice: We were very hopeful at the end of the last academic year that we would have our Placed-Based Environmental Programs up and running and ready to be used this current year. Now our team can look back and posit, we were naïve in thinking everything would just fall right back in to step. This year has required flexibility and compassion. This was not the year to start insisting on new practices and data gathering, rather, it was a time for mentorship, helpful suggestions and sharing resources and ideas. That being said, we look forward to the new year in the hope that we can find a way to make our professional development plans take place, and provide the Placed-Based Environmental Learning programs that we have so looked forward to engaging with.