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)

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