Lochside Elementary SD#63 Saanich

School Name: Lochside Elementary

School District: SD#63 Saanich

Inquiry Team Members: Sarah Miller: sarahmiller@saanichschools.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: jerickson@saanichschools.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Flexible learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Exploring how repeated visits to a familiar, natural outdoor setting will affect play and interactions between students and the environment.

Scanning: We began this year with the intention of providing our students with regular and frequent learning and play experiences in the natural world. This included time spent on school grounds, as well as weekly visits to a local forested park. During the scanning process, we noticed that students gravitated towards games involving running and chasing. They seemed to be using the space in the same way they would use the school playground or gym, and this often lead to aggressive forms of play and upset feelings around play negotiations (ie. zombie tag). Our hunch was that many students in our class were unfamiliar and unpracticed at playing and interacting in natural outdoor spaces, and that they needed support and scaffolding to play and interact in this new type of environment. During the scanning process, we drew connections from the First Peoples Principles of Learning describing the importance of connectedness, reciprocal relationships, and the importance of place.

Focus: We selected this area as we are both advocates of the importance of learning and playing outdoors, and helping children develop a connection with the natural world. We noticed a disconnect between our expectations for this outdoor time and the actions and behaviours of our students. We were hoping to help our learners build a repertoire of new ways in which to play and engage in the outdoor world, and through this develop a meaningful connection to place.

Hunch: At school, children have access to play areas and equipment that often pre-define the play options (ex. gaga ball pit, tag games on the playground). Time to play is also limited and defined due to scheduled recess times. This year, place and time for play were further restricted due to Covid guidelines. Opportunities for extended, un-prescribed play in nature were limited and often unavailable during school hours on school grounds. In addition, the school practice of individual, one-time only field trips does not provide students with the time needed to develop the experience and skills necessary for working and playing in nature.

New Professional Learning: Professional learning in the area of outdoor education has been an on-going process for us and many of our colleagues. Focusing on this inquiry question inspired us to take our own learning deeper. The opportunity for professional collaboration and discussion was a big part of our learning, helping us to distinguish valuable areas to focus on. Engaging other outdoor education professionals, shared reading of outdoor education books, and developing our own knowledge of the outdoor environment all contributed to a greater understanding and richer inquiry experience. To help share our learning from our inquiry project with the school community, we provided ongoing opportunities for the staff at large to expand their knowledge base and comfort level around outdoor education. This included hands-on learning in the natural spaces at our school as well as a school-wide book club. A goal for next year is to further share our own passion for outdoor learning with colleagues and families.

Taking Action:

  • Repeated visits to a local, natural, outdoor environment (daily outdoor time on school grounds, weekly visits to school nature trail, weekly visits to local forested park)
  • Explicit teaching and class discussion to develop different ways to play and engage in the outdoor environment
  • Involving learners in a community circle to share their emotions and concerns around existing play and to generate new ideas and solutions
  • Scheduling of large blocks for outdoor learning that included time for both structured and unstructured exploration
  • Establishing routines and rituals for entering and leaving the space intended to help foster a connection and appreciation for the space (welcome song, shared stories, song of thanks)

These strategies were added on throughout the year as we scanned and questioned the learners and saw areas of need. In combination, these strategies helped to address our areas of concern and fostered a richer and deeper experience for our students.

Checking: We used the four questions as part of our scanning process to develop a baseline at the beginning of the year. We noticed that many of our students had a limited number of connections within our school. Our children were in kindergarten and grade 1, and their limited schooling, shortened 2019/2020 school year, and Covid regulations all restricted the number of adults in the school that they knew and that they felt knew them. In regards to the questions about their learning, they often were at a lack of how to respond to these questions at the beginning of the year. As we progressed through the year and incorporated the strategies mentioned above, we noticed that their responses became richer and more personal. They began to see themselves as learners and contributors in their outdoor learning experiences, and their responses reflected this. For example, one group became involved in an ongoing shelter building activity. They knew what was important to their learning, where they wanted to go next, and the steps and support they needed to make this happen. The strategies we implemented were a good start in helping to deepen and enrich the outdoor learning experiences for our students. We see this as a beginning for ourselves and our students, as we continue to seek ways to build a purposeful and meaningful outdoor education program. At the end of the year, one student shared his realization that, “nature takes care of us and gives us all we need.” This helps us to set our intention moving forward to not only deepen our students’ connection to people who support and believe in them, but to also create that same connection and belief that nature will do the same.

Reflections/Advice: This inquiry helped us to see the incredible power of collaboration and discussion, both with colleagues and also learning alongside our students. The process of scanning and developing hunches helped us develop a good starting point for where change could be made. Involving the students, both in gathering evidence through the four questions and as active participants in developing and implementing the strategies, created space for learning and reflection. As we said earlier, this has only deepened our own interest and curiosity in this area. We would like to continue questioning and investigating our own practices while pursuing further professional development and learning. Our advice to other teachers and schools with a similar interest is to start small, with just one step, in collaboration with others with a shared interest. For us, our first commitment was a weekly visit to the local, forested park. Once this was established, we were able to add to this program, question what was working and what wasn’t, and make meaningful changes. Doing this in collaboration with colleagues provided the support and accountability to see this plan through. The power of a shared interest helped to maintain momentum and excitement for ourselves as educators. The experience of a shared inquiry grounded our thinking and decision making around everyday practices and will continue to do so going forward.

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