Friday, October 31, 2008

Getting out and INTO the classroom

IslandWood is celebrated as an opportunity for us as teachers-in-training to embrace the outdoors and use nature as a classroom. But then there's the flip side, where we actually sort of take field trips into the classroom. Fun switch, huh? It is for me anyway, after living in big(gish) city Boston for two years and having to pointedly venture out of the urban environs to experience the wild environment I craved. Now I live on an island and go to "a school in the woods", but also have this great opportunity to appreciate the city in the same way I used to appreciate natural areas back home.

I'm talking specifically about my excursion this week to Greenwood Elementary School in Seattle, for which I am the IslandWood liaison contact for the whole year. We (the grads) each liaise with two schools this year, and get the neat opportunity to go into classrooms and connect kids' outdoor experience at IslandWood to their everyday lives and learning. In Greenwood, I walked around and got a sense of the community, and in the classroom, I observed a 4th/5th-grade teacher, Lisa Dunker-Olsen, organizing the kids in an exploration of a business plan unit. I was able to gauge the energy of the students and take notes on Lisa's techniques for managing them. She used humor, clapping cues, references to standards of respect, and one-on-one student guidance all within the short time I was there. I looked around the room and saw evidence of previous discussions on watersheds, including posters listing kids' ideas of "What we THINK we know about land and water" and "What we WANT to know about land and water." All great stuff to share with my fellow field instructors when it's time for us to prepare lessons for Greenwood students when they visit in December.

All this off-the-field, in-the-classroom direct contact with teachers and students bridged an important divide for me: what happens beyond IslandWood and what our broader impact on children looks like or could look like. It was this big relief: finally, I got to get out and see who these kids are. It's hard to describe, I guess, but I just wanted to express how lucky I feel that this program allows us to see all sides of our purpose here, and really get a chance to think about how best we can reach out to a kid from where they're at. The on-site outdoor learning of the School Overnight Program and the off-site outreach of the School Partnerships Program are pretty much a perfect marriage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hello from EEC Class of 2009!

Finally, it's time for us in the Education, Environment, and Community Graduate Class of 2009 to introduce ourselves. We are excited to get this blog going again, with an aim to give you lots of stories from the "front lines" of our experience, whether teaching in the field with kids or in other aspects of our crazy time here. My name is Kristen (or Kristen Coyote, as I tell SOP students), and I'll be joined by other grads, including Emma and Heidi, in sharing anecdotes, triumphs, and challenges during our year at IslandWood.

We have now been at IslandWood, on beautiful Bainbridge Island across the sound from Seattle, for about two months. We started out with some intensive training and coursework, which can be used as credits toward a master's degree in education at UW. Then we jumped right into hands-on learning in the field, starting by shadowing some returning alumni from the Class of 08, then team-teaching with our peers, and finally solo-teaching two weeks ago. There are 27 of us, and we're split into two cohorts, alternating teaching every other week. Right now, Cohort A is in the thick of it.

I'll share one thing with you before I sign off, just so you have an idea of what a long, exciting field day with the kids is like. Tonight I took Team Estuary, comprised of 8 students from Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle, out on a night hike. Night hikes are always a source of a bit of uncertainty, because you never know how 4th through 6th graders will react to being pushed out of their comfort zone and lead into the woods in the deep dark of the night. My group was striving for reaching Mac's Pond by only the light of the stars (no moon out tonight), but it required courage and teamwork from the kids to allow themselves to trust in me, their leader, to show them a cool experience. And parts of the trail got reallly dark, but we pressed on. When we reached the cool openness of the pond, a big sky of stars opened up before us and we had enough light to feel comfortable again. We laid on the pond dam looking up, and watched--in silence--the twinkling expanse above. I marveled at the hushed wonder that they showed, even though I had thought before that they may be too rambunctious or nervous to relax and appreciate it. We didn't have time for much else after that, but we walked in a trust walk all the way back to campus with lighter hearts and greater trust. We reached the bright lights of campus and everyone giggled with relief and excitement, knowing that everything did turn out OK, and it was actually kind of cool and perfectly fine to feel scared for just a little bit.

So anyway, welcome to our experience! We'll be back again soon with plenty more to tell.