Thursday, January 23, 2014

Visit our new site!

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for reading the EEC graduate student blog, it is such a joy to share our thoughts and experiences with you. I wanted to let you know that we have moved and you can now find our posts here:


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are You a Tourist or Resident?

In early September, we were given a tourist test in our Ecology and Natural history class.  It was a simple test, and it succeeded in opening our eyes to our lack of knowledge of our natural surroundings. 

Take the test for yourself to see what you know:

  1. Name the shrub nearest to your front door.
  2. What are the trees you can see from your door?
  3. What direction does your window face?  Your bed?
  4. What is the current moon phase?
  5. What plants or animals here (or in your area) may hurt you?
  6. What species of trees would you want to avoid in a wind storm?
  7. What /where is the nearest stream/creek from your front door?
  8. List the trees and plants here (or in your area) that you can identify with confidence.
  9. Write a service that those species provide.
  10. List the birds and wildlife that you can identify with confidence.

When I first answered these questions, I listed “unknown” for six of the ten questions, but after several months at Islandwood, I have significantly more detailed answers to provide to each question.  Knowing the answers isn't the real eye opener though; it is the realization that there is an abundance of diversity around us. 

Being more knowledgeable led to an unexpected increase in awareness and understanding about the network of life around our human communities.  I already sought to protect the earth, but now I had more connection because the earth was taking a specific and personal shape.  Suddenly, there weren't just trees. There were Red Aldors, Big Leaf Maples, Redcedars, Western Hemlocks, and Douglas Firs, and they did more than generically provide shade and shelter because they have unique characteristics that distinguish them from one another.

This is where stewardship arises.  Once the connection between the natural world and the cultural world is found, stewardship has meaning.  Islandwood has done a lot to help me build the bridge between my world and the natural world, and the word stewardship carries more weight as an accomplishable action rather than a fantastic ideal.  


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Community Building Matters in Education

Why would community building matter for education? This answer is two-fold because the community that the educator is part of should be just as valuable and rich as the one the students are part of in school.  An emotionally safe environment that allows intellectual risk taking can lead to amazing knowledge construction and discovery, but these environments must be created and nurtured as communities.
The experiences at Islandwood have taught me a lot about the power held in the community.  It came almost as an epiphany this season as I watched Christmas movies, and I realized that Scrooge and the Grinch lacked empathy, community, sense of place, personal connections, and morals.  As they stayed in isolation, sure of their superiority compared to the interconnected people around them, they drifted further away from society and deeper into egocentrism and misery.  It was only after they connected with others that they found happiness, and for education that’s big news since the brain is primed for learning when it is happy, safe, and has purpose. 

I used to think that communities organically arose from student interaction, but I did not credit the immense intentionality behind collaborative and social-emotional learning until Islandwood gave me students in the field.  Suddenly I realized that there were only four days to get a team to accomplish goals that required a cooperative cohesiveness. 

The community agreement, the team building, and the socialization all gave the instruction meaning and personal connection.  There were also the intangible lessons that could not be explicitly taught like empathy, moral development, social skills, democracy, and societal roles.  These skills all have enduring understanding applicable to any area of life or subject in school.

Not only do field instructors see the evolution of community within their students in the short span of a week, we live it as graduate students.  We see Bandura’s, Piaget’s, and Vygotsky’s theories about cooperative and collaborative socialization among peers come to life as we create our own community agreement, have community check-in, debate in class, bounce ideas off one another, discuss findings, and work together. 

Without the community, we would not be as strong of educators and our students would not achieve their highest potential.