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!