Evelyn Dickson Elementary SD#91 Nechako Lakes

School Name: Evelyn Dickson Elementary

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members: Becki Larsen: blarsen@sd91.bc.ca
Tori Silver: tsilver@sd91.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: tsilver@sd91.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, STEM / STEAM

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Cultivating curiosity and wonder through outdoor learning.

Scanning: After the extended break due to COVID, we were noticing an increase in unregulated behaviour and disengagement. We then focused in on a different way of learning in order to address the wide array of needs in our classrooms. Through outdoor experiential learning and place-conscious activities, students who normally struggle to succeed academically through traditional learning in the classroom setting are more engaged and able to share their learning in different ways.

In our grade 1 and grade 3 classrooms, we have noticed a special connection between both grades, as well as with us teachers. The students have had the opportunity to build strong relationships with both teachers instead of just their classroom teacher, providing them with more support and connection. This ties in with the first OECD learning principle, Learners at the Center. Being able to work collaboratively through co-teaching opportunities has strengthened our program and enhanced the learning for our students. We want to continue to develop a program that recognizes individual differences while providing entry points for all students to engage in. By allowing students to build horizontal connections and learn about their surrounding environment, learning becomes holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational. These rich learning experiences are providing opportunities for students to become resilient, self-motivated learners.

We were hoping that:
1. Students would develop an understanding of place and build connection with the land that our school is on.
2. Students would engage in mindfulness strategies through interactions with nature that benefitted their emotional states.
3. Students would become self-motivated learners with a developed sense of curiosity.

Hunch: Students within a traditional indoor classroom setting do not always share the same opportunities and experiences leading to a lack of engagement. By allowing students to get outside and interact with the community and surrounding environment, it provides each learner with a strong connection and lived reality to their learning. By removing the barriers of formal indoor learning, students can develop a deeper understanding which can be internalized through inquiry practices in place of rote memorization.

New Professional Learning:

  • Support and mentorship from the SD91 Curriculum Services Dept. (Debbie Koehn & Michelle Miller-Gauthier)
  • Weekly collaboration between inquiry team
  • Story studio workshop
  • Professional development resources on outdoor learning (books, articles, blog posts) *will continue over the summer*
  • Pro-D participation in outdoor learning practices
  • Professional Learning Seminar – UBC HELP: Outdoor Play Research-Learning Opportunity
  • Principal support

Taking Action: Our team discovered early on the importance and lack of proper outdoor gear that our students came to school in. We are beginning to develop a lending library where students have access to appropriate gear for the weather. Our future plan is to provide enough gear so any student who is unprepared has access to proper outdoor attire. We also want to expand our outdoor program and include other teachers who have expressed interest in joining in on outdoor learning. We would also like to use some of our formal collaboration time to build this program.

Much like the importance of routine within a classroom setting, we have found that a routine in our outdoor classroom needs to be in place to ensure safety and for overall classroom management. Our classes would go outside twice a week regardless of the weather to promote resiliency. During our Monday outdoor time, we focused on arts, STEM and sciences, allowing students to participate in many hands on, exploratory tasks. We began our Friday class by reading a story with an embedded outdoor theme and then the students participated in buddy reading (grade 1: grade 3) followed by a related activity. Free play was embedded in our schedule to promote creativity and imagination.

Checking: The largest difference we observed was the grade 3’s relationship with their grade 1 buddy. We saw this evolve from being a participatory role to a mentorship role. They learned to support their buddies and created strong bonds with each other. Toward the end of our learning journey we noticed that students were becoming more mindful and respectful of the land, as well as proud of their surrounding area. They were also very eager to share their learning space with visitors and explain what they had learned.

Reflections/Advice: One area we would like to improve and expand on is the collection of physical evidence that supports the benefits of the outdoor program. We have, however; collected many positive examples through observation and conversation but are working on a way we can show it.
For next year we hope to create more opportunities to get our students outside on a regular basis. We plan to do this by increasing our outdoor time by going out everyday instead of just two days a week. We also hope to get more classes involved and continue to include more FPPL and community experts.

Leave a Reply