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.

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