Monday, December 7, 2009

So far this year, Zoe, Diana and I have talked extensively about the SOP experience and the innards of the program. I realized the other day that we have not however, discussed what we like to call our “off weeks”. As we have already stated, after our month long, extensive training all twenty-nine grads are split into two cohorts. After the split we begin to rotate back and forth between weeks in the field and weeks “off”. Prior to arriving at Islandwood I tried so hard to imagine what this experience would be like and what I was getting myself into! I came up with many different scenarios in my mind, none of which were actually the case. It is hard to imagine a program that has so many different layers to unfold and interpret.

I would like to dedicate this portion of the blog to the elusive “off weeks”.
What are the happenings? What are we held accountable for? What do you have to look forward to? On Monday of our “off week” you and your cohort attend something we like to call, “Super Monday” from 12-2. “Super Monday” is an offshoot of the classes that you are taking that quarter. It is up to the Ed team to decide which class to dedicate those two hours to. (Don’t you love homophones?) This past Tuesday, Cohort B, (The Tiny Horses) galloped down to the pond on that rather chilly, yet sunny day to do a pre-lesson for an Arts Integration course that we will be taking next quarter with Professor Hillary. She read us a perspective story, which in this case was from the perspective of a Big Leaf Maple seed. Later, we were asked to write our own perspectives story, finding something around the pond to inspire us. No activity would be complete at Islandwood without a mind map so that is exactly what we did. We shared our perspective stories and determined what elements in the stories were abiotic, biotic and cultural. This activity was excellently modeled, a regular occurrence on “Super Mondays” and is a much anticipated activity to try in the field.

Thankfully, Tuesday and Wednesday are left free for us to complete homework for that week’s classes and the next week’s classes as you will not have any time to do homework during your SOP weeks. You are also required to visit your liason school on your “off week”. While visiting your liason school you might do a parent presentation, student presentation or teach a lesson. You may be asked to do all three depending upon the level of involvement that the classroom teacher prefers.

On Thursday, all cohort members return to the grad classroom at 9am for “lab time”. “Lab time” is similar to “Super Monday” because it is up to the Ed team to decide which class those three hours will be devoted to. At 12 you are set free to run errands, complete homework or rest until 6pm when the other cohort joins you. Class will ensue from 6-9 on Thursday night and will pick up again at 9:30am the following morning. At 4:30pm our weekend begins. The weekends for many of us include quite a bit of babysitting and homework completion. Others might take a trip to Seattle and others venture even further. No matter your pleasure, you will enjoy your weekend tremendously knowing on Monday, your adventure begins again!

Beautiful pictures taken by Minna at the bog at one of our "Super Monday" classes!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bog Cranberries, Team-Teaching, Tiny Horses and Thanksgiving!

The last couple weeks have held many exciting activities!

For Cohort B's Super Monday session (a bi-weekly 2-hour supplemental training), we got to explore IslandWood's bog for the first time! A bog is a very delicate ecosystem, so we only teach our students about it from the edges, but for our Super Monday session, we were led through it by two of our prime naturalist instructors, Karen and Greg. We donned our rubber boots and rain gear, and braved the pouring skies to learn more about this rare and exciting ecosystem! In pairs, we became experts on different bog plant species then took turns teaching other pairs about our plant in Each One Teach One style, a teaching method we use often with students since it empowers them to share their knowledge with others.
My partner, Minna, and I became experts on the bog cranberry, a species of wild cranberry that grows in bogs throughout the Pacific Northwest. It was interesting to learn about the cultural uses of the bog cranberry in native tribes and how to distinguish it from the mountain cranberry.

We had a blast snacking on juicy, and sometimes sour, little cranberries as we taught our peers about their unique characteristics and helped them pick prime berries to taste. We then continued our trek through the soggy bog to learn about other plant species from our fellow grads, sometimes sinking up to our knees in the wet sphagnum moss. The whole bog experience was certainly a memorable one spent learning, laughing, and absolutely loving our job as outdoor educators.

Last week was supposed to be another solo-teaching week for Cohort B, but one of the schools that was scheduled to come had to drop out because their administration decided to cancel all field trips this fall to limit any potential exposure to swine flu, so most of us ended up team-teaching since there were fewer kids than expected. I had the opportunity to teach with my friend Jenn who was a middle school science teacher for two years before coming to IslandWood. We were  the leaders of Team Ravine, and boy did we have a blast! Our kids were excited about everything we did and always had interesting and thoughtful comments to add to group discussions. I was able to try out a new approach for facilitating the Community Agreement (a set of guidelines for the week that the kids come up with for themselves) at the beginning of the week and had much success. I also led a really thought-provoking discussion and exploration at the Blakely cemetery, focusing on how much the people who are no longer with us can teach us about the history of the place where they lived. I'm always impressed with how respectful and pensive the children are when exploring the cemetery. They don't hesitate to delve into questions of how the people died, how old they were when they died, who they are buried with, and what kinds of lives they led when they were alive. Those are just a couple highlights of what turned out to be a very enjoyable week. Even though Jenn and I had different teaching styles, we learned a lot from each other, and were kept laughing the whole time by our enthusiastic and humorous kiddos.

Team Ravine having a W.A.M.!
(Water Appreciation Moment)

On the last day of every teaching week, it is tradition for all the instructors to dress up with some kind of theme. Past themes have included pajama day, sunglasses in the rain, awkward tuck day, and 80s hairdo day. Cohort A even did one where they all wore unicorn horns that they had individually decorated with ribbons, glitter, and paint since their cohort's mascot is the unicorn.

Not to be outdone, this week Cohort B decided to show off the extreme pride we have for our mascot, the Tiny Horse (lonnng story involving deer tracks resembling tiny horse hoof prints...), so I made everyone "Tiny Horse Bling" using my childhood collection of My Little Ponies and horse figurines. Each team-teaching pair picked out their own tiny horse necklace, then we sported our tiny horse bling with prideful grins the whole day!

Cohort A doing our Tiny Horse gallop!
(we're obviously the coolest people you know...) 

At the end of the short teaching week, I got bigs hugs from all of my Team Ravine kids as they boarded the bus, waved goodbye as they pulled out of the parking lot, had an interesting debrief lunch with the rest of Cohort B and our mentors, then jumped in the car with my fellow grad, Kelly to drive down to Portland for Thanksgiving!

It was my first Thanksgiving home since high school because I went to college in Ohio and could never fly back west just for the weekend, and a perfect Thanksgiving it was. I truly have so much to be grateful for in my life! Lots of delicious food, wonderful times with family, long talks with friends, contra dancing, hot tubbing, game-playing, and pet cuddling filled the long weekend. I even baked a gluten-free pecan pie and two gluten-free pumpkin pies with gingersnap crusts from scratch! Now I'm rejuvenated for another three weeks of teaching, studying, and exploring before winter break!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Windy Week in the Woods

Another SOP teaching week has passed us by, leaving the EEC grads exhausted but enthusiastic about how much we've accomplished and learned since our arrival here, now nearly three months ago. Cohort A was joined this week by Madrona Elementary and Bailey Gatzert Elementary, two schools whose students crossed the Sound via ferry to engage in a week of exploration and discovery.

Like all teaching weeks here at IslandWood, this week brought with it enough challenges to test even the most experienced of teachers. Before the sun set on day one, high winds threatened the night hike, an evening activity that involves leading field groups through forest trails without the assitance of flashlights and head lamps. For the students, there is always a mixed reaction to the night hike; some are intimidated by the forest's shadows and seemingly never-ending darkness, while others embrace the challenge and eagerly await the opportunity to experience the outdoors like never before. On this day, though, mother nature breathed down heavily upon us, and the night hike was suspended due to the possibility of high winds. Red Alder trees are notorious for falling during wind storms, and because the night hike's setting embodies a vast forest dotted with Alders, IslandWood staff decided to make safety a priority and consequently adjusted the activity. Field groups played games and participated in typical night hike activities, but all was done in the safety of open fields near campus buildings. Later, several groups ventured inside various campus buildings and continued the evening under the veil of dark classrooms, using only dimly-lit candles for light during storytelling. Although perhaps not ideal, the night hike activities challenged the EEC field instructors to think quickly on their feet, an attribute of which we are all learning the importance.

Each week, two field groups are lucky enough to be able to participate in an activity called Dirt to Dinner. Students are able to work with IslandWood kitchen staff to help prepare meals and snacks for their fellow students using homegrown ingredients, many of which come from IslandWood's own garden. It's a great opportunity for students to learn about what grows in their own back yards and how to buy and cook with local goods. This week's student chefs cooked up quite a feast with a little help from IslandWood staff.

In an exciting twist, this week also saw the creation of a new indoor evening program called Science Fair. The indoor evening program is completed by half of the field groups, while the other half go out in the woods for the night hike. Then, the following evening, the groups switch venues so that everyone is able to complete both the indoor program and the night hike. This week's new creation was credited to Kate and Emily Jane, the school liaisons. The liaisons are EEC grads who take a week off from teaching to take charge of coordinating all of the group activities and behind-the-scenes logistics. The Science Fair program encouraged groups of students to move between various stations and experiment with common household products to gain a better understanding of important scientific principles. It was great to see students engaged in scientific understanding using everyday objects in a way that really reasonated with them. It helped them learn that science is everywhere and that they are scientists, too. Kudos to Kate and Emily Jane for the extended effort!

As always, the week wrapped up with the Wednesday evening campfire at the Friendship Circle, the usual group meeting spot for morning meetings before groups are released for field study. Both schools brought a host of talent this week, with performances that included singing, dancing and poetry reading. It is custom to end the campfire with a slideshow of photos taken throughout the week. The photos show the various field groups engaged in lessons and activities during their stay here at IslandWood, and the night never fails to create excitement within the crowd. Emotions are high as students lament the thought of going home the following morning. It reminds us, the field instructors, why we're here.

For the EEC grads, emotions run high, too, as the holidays draw near. Several grads will be making the long trek home this week and next to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. There are a handful, though, that will stay here and celebrate with our new IslandWood family. We'll have all the usual fixings and a guaranteed good time.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roughing it in the Woods!

Thank you for visiting! During the past two weeks an amazing amount of growth has taken place. I was fortunate enough to have a partner in crime last week. Danielle, a fellow grad and I team taught, sharing lessons and ideas and inspiring each other to be better instructors in the field. We, (many Cohort Survivor grads) were faced with an incredibly challenging group, a face that presented itself early in our week. The team teaching experience was exemplary, (while not every grad agrees, there are many who welcome the comrade). The support during scheduling and lesson planning was so helpful and the debrief sessions at the end of every day contributed to the maintenance of sanity during the moments of exertion.

A riveting game of tornado in team Marsh pulled a Red Alder from standing to permanently reclined. The incident resulted in a terrified instructor and an unharmed, thoroughly amused student. The majority of the teams seemed to move slower this week and accomplish less in the short time that we have with the students. It is amazing to see the differences between each group that you work with. If you are not familiar with a KWL chart, you will be after a week in the field! Each group has different interests, varied previous experience/knowledge and an array of strengths and areas for improvement. Oddly enough, consistency and flexibility seem to be two of the most important factors to remember and embrace while in the field.

Tuesday night was the most amazing night hike yet. Flashlight-less instructors led their groups through dark, canopy covered trails with a full moon shining down through the branches. A few groups were fortunate enough to witness a meteor dancing through the sky. For many of them it was a first and “life changing” experience. The week continued with challenges and successes. The team’s course is an incredibly enormous moment for the students, teachers, and chaperons. The students are given planning time and after, are invited to attempt the challenge that has been presented to them. Often times they struggle with kindness and tone of voice but it makes for a wonderful debrief afterward.

This past week we did not have any student visitors as all schools in Seattle had Wednesday off to celebrate Veterans Day. Don’t worry though, we were not left without anything to do and a full week to make trouble. Instead we spent the week reviewing the enduring understandings and revisiting classes and projects that may have been put on the back burner because of the intensity of the SOP program. One of the most insightful moments was when three alumni came to speak with us on Tuesday. They shared their experiences both at Islandwood and at the UW. The advice was much appreciated by all of the grads and gave us an idea of what to look forward to and plan for.

Cohort Unicorns welcomed a brand new group of kids off of the buses today. For the next four days they will be imparting their knowledge and love for this beautiful place. Good luck galloping grads!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Halloween Bash and a Fun Liaison Week

Firstly, I want to let everyone know about my personal blog that I'm keeping in addition to this official EEC one. The link is at the top of the list in the right-hand column, but I'll put it here for ease as well: IslandWood Endeavors. I write longer entries on that site that are more specific to my life here at IslandWood and post many more pictures. You are all welcome to follow that blog too, if you'd like!

The amount that is accomplished in a single week here never fails to amaze me. Teaching, learning, and fun make up the trio of elements that somehow manages to always pack itself into 7 days, leaving me weary but filled with eager anticipation to do it all again the very next week.

Last weekend, after the Pumpkin Carving Party that Diana described in the previous entry, the grads threw a raucous Halloween party in the Commons. The costumes were creative to say the least, including a roller skating tooth fairy (my fellow blogger, Ally), multiple characters from the Rattlin' Bog song (a tree, a tick, a Douglas squirrel), Malice-in-Wonderland (Alice gone bad...), School Overnight Program leftover queen (graham crackers, pretzel sticks, corn chips, oh my!), Green Peace, a flamingo, and a giant banana. Needless to say, we had a grand ol' time and danced, sang, and laughed into the wee hours of the night as our jack-o-lanterns carved the previous evening glowed around us.

Last week was my first week liaisoning, a term we've coined here at IslandWood for lack of a better one to describe being on active liaison duty for a week of the School Overnight Program (SOP). Roxhill Elementary, the school that I've built a liaison relationship with through leading an IslandWood orientation presentation for the students, teaching pre-lessons about ecosystems, and running an informational meeting for the parents, all at their school in West Seattle, finally brought their 5th graders for their week at IslandWood.  This meant that I, along with two other grads whose liaison schools were here also, were the go-to leaders of the week for the schools' teachers, chaperones, students, and IslandWood instructors. Our responsibilities were varied, from jumping on the buses when the students first arrived to get them pumped up about the week, to helping pass out rain jackets and fleece hats to students who needed to borrow them, to leading songs about decomposers, banana slugs and moose every morning and evening, to running Wednesday night campfire, to delivering special food to kids with dietary restrictions in the dining hall, to making sure everyone had what they needed at all times.

It was a big job to say the least, but immensely enjoyable since all of the kids knew my name, shouted greetings to me whenever I passed, and begged me to sing songs with them whenever they saw me on the trails or around campus.  Being a liaison was certainly a different role than being an instructor. I had to lead more than 100 kids at a time during Friendship Circle gatherings, evening programs, and the campfire as opposed to only being in charge of 7-12 kids as an instructor, but it wasn't nearly as scary as my nerves had built it up to be before the week started. I gained many large group management skills and learned to love the thrill of debriefing activities with a huge group and singing like my life depended on it with the voices of all those kids joining in.

Especially inspiring was the professional development session that the liaisons did with the teachers on Wednesday morning.  It's a time when the teachers can hear about ideas IslandWood has for continuing projects and environmental lessons back at their schools with the help of their liaisons. Two of the three teachers that were here last week attended the session and the ideas that flew around the room during the three hour session were so encouraging! Plans for community improvement projects, school composting systems, and neighborhood native plant guides were all discussed, and even more exciting were the plans that were made between the two teachers from different schools to bring the students from one school to the other school for a field trip to explore a local bog, do a nature-themed art project, and learn about the student-run recycling and compost program they have.  The teachers were so thrilled with this plan they could hardly contain themselves and the liaison from the other school and myself can't wait to join them for this joint school adventure! It made saying goodbye to the kids at the end of the week a whole lot easier since I could say that I was going to see them in just two weeks for more environmental fun!

That's basically the report for now. I spent the weekend visiting family in Portland (just 4 hours away!) and am now back for a week of midterm professional development, filled with lots of interesting trainings and classes. I also have a sniffly cold, but what do you expect from an educator who's around a different batch of kids every week in the drizzly Pacific Northwest? ; )

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Learning to Fly

Look outside your window and you'll see the trees turning vibrant shades of rust. The days are getting shorter, and the weather colder, the air brisker. It's already the first of November, and the days are flying by. Cohort A just finished the second week of solo teaching with Emerald Heights Elementary, a local school in Silverdale that brings sixth graders every year. It was a great week for the Cohort A graduate instructors--the dynamic that accompanies teaching older students brought a heightened level of excitement as the week began on Monday morning.

My role was that of the school liaison, which means that I was in charge of logistical planning for group activities throughout the week. Acting as liaison is a great change of pace from field instruction, and it offers a host of new challenges, as well. The week began by opening Friendship Circle with introductions and then lunch, which included brief lessons in recycling and composting, two practices that are key components of all meals here at IslandWood. After a quick review of schedules, rules and other logistics, we introduced the students to the IslandWood experience with a rousing rendition of the Banana Slug song. I donned the banana slug costume, to the amusement of 101 laughing, excited sixth graders. The remainder of the afternoon was spent distributing rain gear to the students. As a life-long Mid-Westerner, I'm quickly learning the importance of good rain gear here in the Pacific Northwest.

Throughout the rest of the week, my liaison duties varied from filling water jugs near the harbor for student fill-ups to facilitating the evening program, Ecosystems Challenge, and leading morning Friendship Circle meetings. Each day I led songs and brief lessons for the entire group of students, a task that at first seemed a little daunting; but as the week progressed, I found myself eagerly awaiting the responsibility of leading the morning Friendship Circle songs and facilitating the debrief discussion during evening programs. By the end of the week, I had become surprisingly comfortable in front of large groups.

As it always does, the week ended with Wednesday night campfire. For the students, this is seemingly the long-awaited, much-anticipated apex of the entire week; for the moment it is announced early in the week, the buzz about skit-planning can be heard throughout the field groups and within the students' lodges. It was a great show, with plenty of amazing performances by students and grad instructors, alike. There was no shortage of smiles and laughter, and the evening ended with the routine slide show of photos taken during field instruction. The kids love this part, as it highlights them as the stars of the show and serves as a reminder of their incredible accomplishments during their time here at IslandWood.

The grad instructors ended the week with a pumpkin carving party graciously hosted by our very own Emily. It served as a relaxing and fun night with our fellow grads, and one in which creative juices flowed freely in the spirit of Halloween. There was great food, amazing music and an array of exquisitely-carved pumpkins. After a long and tiring but rewarding week, it was just the R&R we needed.

This was a great week, and we look forward to many more to come. Our time here is just beginning, and there's so much more yet to unfold. In the words of a wise soul, "my golly, there's something incredible going on here."

Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The start of a new year!

To start, I apologize for the length! Attempting to summarize the past few months was like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole but I hope this helps!

Welcome readers to the 2009-2010 graduate blog! There will be three of us contributing stories and hopefully, sharing insight into the Graduate and School Overnight programs here at Islandwood. Before diving in, I would like to share a little background. There are 29 grads this year and we are from 29 different walks of life. We have moved from Ohio, New York, Vermont, Portland, etc… to be a part of this unique, hands-on experience. For those of you potential graduates who may be wondering if this program is right for you, let me assure you that we all asked ourselves that same question! There are not many people who have both a science and education background and that diversity is welcomed with open arms. I, for example am an elementary teacher who has spent as much time as possible snowboarding, white water kayaking, hiking, camping, and climbing in Colorado but have never had formal science education.

Quite a few of us have experience in one or the other but for the past few months we have spent extensive time studying, exploring our beautiful campus and experiencing life in the areas where we feel we may be lacking. The staff at Islandwood has done an amazing job in helping me feel prepared and qualified for my first solo week in the field, (which just so happened to be last week). They have imparted their stories, songs, knowledge and wisdom so that we can pass down the same adoration of nature to our young students in a way that is articulate and lasting for them.

To start, following a month of INTENSIVE training with the entire grad class (be prepared for 12 hour days… seriously), we are broken into 2 cohorts. At that point you can say goodbye to your opposite cohort because you will see them very rarely! (From now on I will be referring to cohort A as “The Unicorns” and cohort B as “The Survivors”. You too will develop ridiculous nicknames!) After another month of training, studying and observing you are paired up to team-teach for your first week in the field. There were mixed feelings circulating through the crowded prep room during this week. Some were pure shouts of ecstasy to finally be interacting with the students and some were groans of hope for the week when they would finally have the students and the lessons all to themselves. All in all it was an amazing week with beautiful weather, food to definitely write home about and hilarious 4th and 5th graders!

Directly after team teaching week it is the Unicorn’s opportunity to take the reigns and lead a group of young and impressionable minds on their four-day adventure. Referring to a loose schedule of venues, it is up to the instructor to choose where and how to present Islandwood to your group. The possibilities are endless but a few of the choices include a trip to the harbor, a scavenger hunt through the garden or venturing into the teams course all with one goal in mind, helping these children fall in love nature so that one day, they might feel inclined to protect it! The Unicorns ended up receiving an amazing gift from the heavens with torrential downpour and high winds. Impressively, spirits remained high and their first week was one to be proud of!

Just this past week was team Survivor’s first official week in the field. Monday went well and only a few of us lead our groups off trail during the night hike! No worries, we recovered quickly and hopefully it seemed as though it was a purposeful trip into the bushes rather than an accidental one! Tuesday at the harbor was amazing! My students were enthralled with a fish near the rock dam for nearly the full half hour. Thankfully, the rain stayed away and after the harbor, Team Stream was able to climb to the top of the canopy tower. A fear of heights for one student almost inhibited his success but he pushed through and even made it to the top! A fellow instructor had the quote of the week when one student at Mac’s Pond exclaimed, “Look, that bug is walking on water”! (I think they were referring to a backswimmer.) Subsequently another student retorted with, “that’s impossible, only Jesus can do that”! Wednesday, my favorite day of all brought the rain but with it brought the campfire. Students sang and performed skits and our very own Mike hit it out of the park with “Pet the moose baby one, two, three…” The grads seemed sad to say goodbye to their students and are valiantly awaiting the arrival of the buses during their next teaching week!

Moral of the story… if you enjoy the outdoors, love children and want to make the earth a better place to live… buy Carharts and a rain jacket and become an instructor at IW!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Looking forward, Looking back

Well there's not much I can say about this year that hasn't already been said many times over during these last few weeks. But what I do know is that the journey is far from finished. I am already back on the East Coast and in the full swing of a summer job, but IslandWood's meaning is evolving for me still. As I was packing up my stuff to move back, I came across some papers containing my classmates' written memories of childhood connections with nature. I thought I'd share those memories with you all again (you may recall them from Sarah's child dev. class presentation way back in fall quarter--when the power went out), in the spirit of honoring our beginnings down this path:

At the beach, poking an anemone. It felt cool and squirted water. -Emily T., age 3

Rocky Mountain National Park- I learned that lichens and subalpine plants "grow by the inch, die by the foot" and that plants take 100 years to recover from footsteps. I told everyone who would listen not to step on the plants. -Leilani, age 4-5

I remember sleeping in cabin 2 at Christie Lake Camp with my parents and sister. We ate cupcakes on a rock for Amy's birthday and I can still remember the smells and feel of my mom carrying me down the path at night with the kerosene lantern. -Erin, age 2 1/2

When I was 13 I went on a trip to an environmental learning center with my grandma. We spent a week in the Shawnee National Forest. It was so beautiful there! We went on walks in the woods smelling and tasting plants, canoeing, cliff diving, etc. -Shannon, age 13

Playing "house" under a big conifer at school and using branches to sweep dirt and needles from under the tree. -Renee, age 6

My parents' home is in a rural area. I always enjoyed hiking in the woods behind my house and camping out, both activities gave me a great love of nature! -Amanda, age 4 & up

Picking raspberries at my grandmother's house (and then putting them on top of an angel food cake that we made). -Adena, age 6

With Girl Scouts, my mom and I planted beachgrass in Marshfield, Mass., on a freezing windy rainy day with a group of older kids I didn't really know. It was miserable, but so memorable for me, and made me feel proud. -Kristen, age 7

Creating an imaginary world with its own ecology- plants, animals, interactions- while playing outside. -Susan, age 6-11

Collecting things out of a storm drain. - Heidi, age 10 1/2

Frolicking in the fields, forests, and rivers around my home. -Jon, age 6-9

Seeing a raccoon while camping. -Kendyl, age 10

In my grandpa's backyard building forts out of sticks. -Mike?, age 6-8

Playing games in the dark. I was hiding in a tree and started listening to the sounds around me and asking the tree to help me hide. -Lizzie?, age 10

Camping with my family at Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin. -Pat, age 7

Climbing in a tree with my sister outside my house. -Molly, age 6

Exploring the woods and stream behind my barn. And building forts. I read Hatchet, it was awesome!! -Ian, age 8

Hiding in the row of hemlocks in the backyard and pretending it was the wilderness- on Long Island. -Christine, age 7-10

(I couldn't read the signatures of a couple of them, correct me if I attributed wrongly!)

So there we are (most of us). All of us in love the outdoors for some reason or another, and all of us sure that this love has made us better people. And then: all of us determined to find a way to give other children the same chance to fall in love with nature. There is so much that makes us different, but such amazing things that we have in common. I am so proud to have this one thing in common with such a beautiful and inspiring group of people.

For the looking forward part: I am excited! Excited not only for what I get to do next, but for what all my classmates will do next! It will most certainly not be a dull panoply of adventures that will launch forth from Bainbridge Island this spring in the form of the IslandWood Class of 2009. Back in my hometown of Boston, I suddenly have my dream job: NPS Park Ranger on the Boston Harbor Islands-- Spectacle Island to be exact. I get to get people excited about playing outdoors on a capped and reforested old Boston garbage dump now populated with (bear with me, I'm learning...) honey locusts, baby spruces, staghorn sumac, milkweed, deadly nightshade, bayberry bushes, red-winged blackbirds, barn swallows, killdeers, blue mussels, periwinkles, red rock crabs, raccoons, and hundreds of daytime human visitors. And I just got an email update from Sarah Crowley, who is teaching outdoor ed in Alaska for the summer. She writes, "Last night I went down to Horseshoe Lake, my sitspot here, and watched a female moose become fixated on a male trumpeter swan in the lake. It followed him into the water til it was too deep and galloped a bit back to safety. Meanwhile a red backed vole ran between my feet. On my way back to my house I heard our beautiful Swainsons Thrush! They've finally made it!"

I was grinning from ear to ear when I read that. And then I realized: there are 25 other stories that I can't wait to hear from my classmates, and will continue to love to hear throughout my life. This community that we created wasn't built for this one year; it was built for a lifetime, through all of its adventures.

Thank you, everyone. And good luck to the new grads!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Through their lens

My students this past week from Westside School took such great photos with our team camera that I can't resist posting them here. I've found that this is a telling and fascinating way to see IslandWood from their point of view. And they usually take better pictures than the adults do! In this first picture, Julia was describing what an alder tree felt like--skinny, smooth, pale. At each new nature discovery, the kids gathered around to wonder at it, poke it, dare each other to lick it (for the banana slugs anyway).

There are only two teaching weeks left until summer, and we grads are all in a mad dash to do original work on our independent study project (ISP), compile teaching portfolios about our year here, and complete classwork for Seminar in Sustainability, Non-Profit Administration, and Social Studies Methods. But the weather is so nice! It's hard to stay inside and type. It helps me to remember what the point of all this hard work is.

My ISP is all about asking high schoolers who went to IslandWood in elementary school what they remember of their overnight outdoor school experience. I'm not sure how earth-shattering my research will be, but I do know that the six conversations I've had with teenagers so far have informed me tons about how to guide them on their explorations of this place and of themselves. They don't tend to remember their instructors all that well, but they vividly remember things that were completely new to them. They remember their feelings pretty well: fear, excitement, anger, fun, peacefulness. They liked feeling independent and having the freedom to explore. And in many cases, they didn't realize what the experience meant to them until they hit high school. It seems that when they can finally start making their own choices, experiences like IslandWood's sit in the back of their mind whispering, "get outside!"

All these insights encourage me to keep looking at the world with the fresh, eager eyes of a kid. It helps me to be a better teacher, but it also reminds me to always consider the point of view of all those--friend, stranger, human, plant, or animal--around me for a more rich experience with the world. Thanks again, super cool IW kids!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Core-distal contemplations

There's a lot for an IslandWood grad student to think about this time of year. I don't know if I am jumping the gun or not, but I've started thinking a lot about what's next. Up until now, our program has focused mostly on outward motivations, energies, and influences--learning from one other, making friends and forming a community, teaching the little IslandWood squirts, mentoring one another, etc. But recently, in our last quarter of the program, I've noticed this shift toward the inward focus. We were overwhelmed last quarter with groupwork and collaborative projects; and now we are swinging back into ourselves to work on our independent study projects, grant proposals and non-profit business plans, teaching practicum portfolios, and generally thinking about our individual futures.

It makes a lot of sense. We are definitely in the home stretch of the program, and it's hard not to ignore all the other stages we are rapidly approaching in our lives. It reminds me of a few things: The analogy of core-distal movement in our bodies to the rhythms of our days. We stretch out to the world and get all the information and nourishment we need throughout the day, then we shrink back in and say "hello me!" and figure out what to do with all this newly gathered material. (I learned this by taking a workshop on "Brain Dance", a theory of movement that works to enhance learning). And it reminds me of our Coyote Mentoring workshop, where we learned about the "medicine wheel"--the different energies of the day and how that corresponds to children's learning patterns, daily routines, and almost anything in nature! A person moves through a pattern of going out to the world, working hard, coming together to share and celebrate, then slowing things down and reflecting on what one has done, all to feed into the imaginative, dreaming phase where you get ready to start again, get inspired again, and work again.

But it's not the end yet! We have a whole month and half left. Remembering this makes me excited to make the most of it. Where's my planner? How many weekends are left for exploring our beautiful starting-to-be-sunny mountainous surroundings here in the Pacific Northwest? How many more chances do we have to come together and laugh about life and be our happy little community? Not a lot, but enough to make it a memorable ending that will then morph into a new, inspiring beginning.