Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend Getaway to the North Cascades

Last weekend, the IslandWood grads escaped to the North Cascades Institute (NCI) for the first part of an exchange program between the two organizations and one other, Wilderness Awareness School (WAS). NCI and WAS are two Washington organizations whose programs and philosophies are similar to those of IslandWood. Together, grad students and staff from all three organizations shared ideas and information about youth programs and the simple notion of getting kids to love nature.

The weekend began early on Saturday when the IslandWood grads met up and arranged to carpool for the ride up to NCI. With cars packed full of weekend necessities, the grads headed toward the ferry to begin an amazing scenic drive northward. A few hours later, we were welcomed by NCI grads and staff and soon met up with those from WAS. Our first day at NCI included guided hikes and exploration time, then informal mingling with drinks and appetizers, followed by a burrito dinner. That night, all three organizations teamed up for a friendly round of trivia and games, affording all of the grads and staff an opportunity to work together and meet new people.

On Sunday, we started the day with a group activity called Each One Teach One, in which groups of students move along the trails and stop along the way to learn from others. It's an educational activity well-known to IslandWood grad instructors, so it was interesting to participate in a different setting and with new people. Later in the day, we ventured out on hikes to Pyramid Lake, Ross Dam and Sourdough Mountain, just a few of the astounding sights around NCI. A few grads embarked on some free exploration and hiked up to a landing overlooking Diablo Lake, then continued up to a cascading waterfall. After a long afternoon of exploring the intricate, hidden corners of the North Cascades, we were all ready for a pizza dinner and campfire. By the glow of the fire, we exchanged music, stories and an amazingly clear view of the stars above.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to our hosts from NCI and our colleagues from WAS, and we began the journey back to IslandWood. The weekend was a great success, and we're looking forward to continuing the exchange when NCI and WAS visit IslandWood next month.
This week marks the start of another teaching week for Cohort D, and it promises to be an eventful one with IslandWood grads eager to implement all that we learned over the weekend.

Looking foward to what comes next!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Raindrops adorned the canopy of the forest as the gold chariots arrived, carrying the largest group of students who have visited Islandwood yet. Grads busily unpacked busses and U-Haul’s carrying the belongings of the students from their Seattle homes across the Puget Sound on our quaint island ferry. This week the bags arrived unlabeled creating quite the predicament for the students and grads as we had no idea what bags should go to the various lodges on campus. Not to fear, the problem was solved rather effortlessly and we only lost a few minutes of field time.

We were fortunate on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, the heavy rain briefly let up and a gentle mist set in. Although the rain wasn’t falling, the torrential downpour in the day’s prior left “ponds” on the Islandwood trails. I acted as the instructor of team wave and had 10 wonderful students from Schmitz Park Elementary, a school that backs up to the only old growth forest in Seattle. I discovered what wonderful “outdoor troopers” I had as we walked along the trails singing songs, playing games and jumping in upcoming puddles as the rain fell from the sky in buckets. As we trotted up the forest loop in a “kid sandwich”, (adults are the bread and students are the sandwich fillings) I watched as a student anticipated a puddle to be much more shallow than it turned out to be. Luckily, tears were kept at bay as I wrung out her tennis shoes and pant legs. She was gifted with the socks off my very own feet, (and was very happy about it as they were pink and purple) and we continued on our adventure.

We arrived at an opening in the forest and the directions began as the rain continued to fall. I described ways for students to “meet their tree” blindfolded through sensory moves. “Hug your tree, feel the base of your tree and as high up the trunk as you can reach. Walk around your tree, is there any shrubbery?” The students were overjoyed at the thought of blindfolding a partner and leading them around and were very diligent at being careful and following the directions in order to keep each other safe. Each and every student, after being led to a tree blindfolded, given time to get to know their tree and led away in a round about way, found their tree without fail once the blindfold was removed. Giggles and laughter rang through the forest and I knew they were truly living in the moment!

The following morning, as we carefully handled the baskets so generously donated to us by the “grandmother” of Islandwood, Vi, we discussed the history of the place we were exploring. We relished in the heritage, the culture and the hardships of the NW Native American tribes. As we were leaving a student added, “My father’s bad day begins when he runs into a spider web”. I very delicately pointed out to him to, “Think about how the spider felt”!

Do you have any great kid quotes? Please share them with the grads at Islandwood below… we love to share the joy of education and the humor children bring!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mochi Celebration, Adventure Races, New Classes

2010 is off to a great start with a week full of great new ways for us to push ourselves to become the best environmental educators we can be!

On Sunday, the annual Mochi Tsuki Celebration was once again held at IslandWood. Every year the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community puts on the Mochi Tsuki Celebration as a homage to the age-old Japanese New Year's tradition where the delicious Japanese rice treat of mochi is made by hand.  The event is famous on the island and people from Seattle even make the ferry trip over to experience the festivities.  With a reputation like that, there was no way I was going to miss it!

Much of the mochi-making took place outdoors where sweet rice was steamed over wood fires until it was sticky. It was then transferred to a large stone mortar where members of the audience volunteered to help pound it repeatedly with heavy wooden mallets. The mochi pounding looked like so much fun that I decided to try it, and it was a blast! Between each rapid blow of my mallet, one of the event workers stretched and flipped the mochi, making me nervous that I was going to break his fingers, but he knew what he was doing and he got the whole audience laughing and cheering.

After about 15 minutes, the mochi had a soft doughy consistency and, still warm, it was taken to a table inside where kids and adults alike waited eagerly to roll it into balls with sweet bean paste in the center. What resulted were delectable balls of soft stretchy mochi that were gobbled up by the crowds of participants!

The rest of the event was fascinating as well, with historic displays about the deportation of the Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island during WWII and multiple taiko drumming performances that left everyone's hearts racing and faces smiling. I got to see my mentor, Greg, and his baby daughter, Josephine at the celebration too! (See BIJAC's website for further information about their organization and the Mochi Tsuki Celebration.)

The quarter officially started for the grads on Tuesday and after sharing stories about our winter breaks over breakfast in the Great Hall, we split into groups for an adventure race around IslandWood! From the garden to the suspension bridge to the pond to the treehouse we ran, completing various IslandWood-themed tasks at each venue to earn points for our team.
At one place, we had to work as a team to help my fellow blogger, Diana, scurry sideways along a rope to get a rubber chicken tied midway up a tree. At the suspension bridge, we had to lead our teammates blindfolded across the bridge without them touching the railings. At the pond, we had to fill a container of water using only our hands. The race was a lot of fun and it was a great way to reconnect with our fellow grads and get reacquainted with all the trails.

The rest of the week held many workshops, classes and trainings to enhance our teaching.
We had a tracking outing with our Natural History & Ecology course, learned how to use IslandWood's collection of Native American baskets to teach our students about the cultural history of the region, met with our mentors to prepare to start teaching again, fine-tuned some of the watershed curriculum activities, improved our liaison skills, and learned about the sustainable features of IslandWood's buildings. Three of our four winter quarter classes began as well. I'm particularly looking forward to learning how to use visual, musical, movement, and theatre arts to teach environmental science lessons in the Arts Integration course and the 'visionary schools' project that spans both the Foundations of Education course and the Curriculum & Instruction Methods course. For this project, we get to develop plans for founding our ideal school. My mind is already racing with visions of school gardens, service-learning components, outdoor adventure trips, mixed-age classrooms, and lots of experiential learning opportunities in my ideal school! Readers, what would your ideal school be like? Please comment below! We'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunset from Ferry, photo by Emily Jane Schankerman (EEC grad)

Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year

The final week of fall quarter arrived quickly for many IslandWood grad students. It seems like we spent so many weeks preparing for the journey ahead, a challenge accompanied by the uncertainty of an unknown terrain, a group of new faces, and for many of us, a highly-anticipated move across the country. Now, the first term of the year is over, and the depths of these new experiences are really beginning to unfold.

The final teaching week was, without a doubt, one to remember. Cohorts A and B united for a week of team-teaching, meaning that both cohorts were teaching in the field together, and each field group was led by two grad instructors. For some, team-teaching is an exercise in working closely with another person to better learn from someone else's teaching style and methods. For others, it's an opportunity to share with a friend the many remarkable and often unpredictable moments that arise from the experience of teaching in the woods.

This week was marked by the presence of Arist-in-Residence (AIR), Jah Breeze. An IslandWood AIR for seven years, Jah Breeze is an international musician and drummer from Guyana. Each year, Jah Breeze has brought to IslandWood his vast knowledge and background in African drumming. With experience teaching percussion lessons at various Seattle organizations, as well as those throughout the country and around the world, Jah Breeze brought to this week's programming a level of excitement among the students, staff and grad instructors alike. Throughout the week, six lucky field groups participated in 90-minute workshops in which Jah Breeze taught the students about the cultural, historical and artistic aspects of African drumming. Students practiced and performed rhythms using the Djembe, a traditional African drum constructed from hardwood trees and covered by a skin or membrane.

During the workshops, students learned traditional rhythms of Africa, South America and the Caribbean. It was an opportunity for students to practice a unique cultural artform while facilitating the exploration of their own interests and abilities.

This week, the normal indoor evening program was replaced by a special performance by Jah Breeze and students from all 13 field groups. The students proudly accompanied Jah Breeze as he filled the Great Hall with the rumbles and patters produced by a group of budding musicians. The look of pride worn on each young face was that of a child genuinely touched by a meaningful and memorable experience, and as a grad instructor, it was a truly rewarding sight with which to end the quarter.

As I draft this entry, I am sitting on a plane traveling nearly one side of the country to the other. After being home for the holidays for the last two weeks, most of us are making the long trek back to Bainbridge Island for the start of winter quarter. For many, the holidays presented a welcomed and much-needed reunion with family and friends. But as I leave all that behind, I can't help but wonder what will be waiting for me when I return to IslandWood. I am often amazed, when I really pause and think, about the vast body of knowledge I've gained since first arriving here at IslandWood some five months ago. Undoubtedly, there is still much ahead to learn, especially from the children we are here to teach. As I continue my flight, now somewhere over the vast spread of the sprawling plains, I contemplate the start of a new year and the many opportunities from which to glean knowledge and growth; and as I wrap up this entry, I look forward to stretching my legs and seeing my roommate and fellow grad instructor, Hanae, waiting with a smile on the ground below.

Cheers to a brand new 2010, and I'll be seeing you all in the coming year!