Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A New Season

Last week, while many of our friends and families back east were digging their way out from several feet of snow, we here at IslandWood were very fortunate to have a week of mild, mostly dry weather. And for those of us who taught last quarter in what was eventually dubbed "cohort rain," the dry weather came as a much-needed relief.

As the days grow longer, signs of spring creep from within the forest and leave us hoping for more. A single banana slug sighting by grad instructor, Ann, and her field group, was the first in a long while. Meanwhile, several other field groups noticed tiny green buds emerging along the trails. For many field instructors, the first signs of spring provide motivation to try new lessons and activities. I teamed up with my fellow grad instructor, Nick, for a perspective storytelling lesson in the art studio. Both of our field groups sat by the fire as Nick read a collection of short stories told from the perspective of an organism in nature. After this bit of inspiration, the students ventured outside to choose the subject of their own perspective stories. After a bit of exploration time, the students returned to the art studio to begin crafting and illustrating their stories. A group sharing circle revealed that some produced short stories, while others crafted poems, but everyone created truly unique and artistic illustrations. For Nick and me, it was a great opportunity to collaborate and share a teaching experience with each other and all of our students.

Later in the week, after the school groups had said their goodbyes and ventured home, the rest of the grad instructors met for an informal lunch meeting regarding the upcoming spring quarter. One of the options for class credit is to complete an independent study project, or ISP. Taking the place of a traditional class, the ISP is an opportunity to study and create an in-depth project based on your own goals and interests. With assistance from a mentor, grad students can design their own ISP or choose from a list of suggested projects that include working with community organizations and/or other departments within IslandWood to produce a variety of programs and materials for future use. One example is to work with the Boys and Girls Club of King County to develop garden curriculum to be used within a wide range of their youth programming. Opportunities like this and others allows the IslandWood grads to foster relationships within the community while building their skills and knowledge of both formal and informal education and practices.

Cohort C is in the field this week, and due to Presidents' Day will teach for only three days instead of four. But next week Cohort D will return to a full week of teaching another group of lively students. As we progress through the year, we expect no shortage of valuable teaching and learning opportunities. More to come...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bones and Printmaking

Today was Super Monday!
Super Monday is what we call the supplemental training session we have for two hours on every Monday of our non-teaching weeks. The focus of these sessions varies. Back in the fall we explored the bog during a natural history Super Monday and we've also had sessions that have taught us about ways to use creative writing and rhythm in our teaching, bird call identification, and fun group management techniques. Super Mondays are always a blast and teach us very helpful skills to implement into our teaching.

Today was no exception. We were led by two of our naturalist instructors down to Mac's pond where we were told to trail-blaze around to the far side. Picking our way through prickly salmonberry branches and our boots sinking into decomposing logs, we hiked through a part of IslandWood we had never seen before. As we rounded up through the trees behind the grove of cattails, something white caught our eyes. There, nestled into the hemlock needles and moss on the forest floor, was an assortment of bones! Among them, a hip bone, a femur, and a skull. Upon closer inspection, our naturalist detective minds figured out they were the bones of a female deer. As we called out for our classmates to come look, a few of them hollered to us that they had found bones too! Lots of them! We scrambled through the brush and became wide-eyed when we came upon what they had found— it looked like a deer crime scene! There were many large femurs, jaw bones, pelvises, a couple strings of vertebrae, and three more skulls, one with sturdy antlers protruding from the top.

Our instructor Greg informed us that he had been scouting some sites to take our Natural History class last week and happened upon these bones. He told us that the other cohort had done some exploring during their Super Monday session last week, but that it was such an astonishing scene that he encouraged us to put on our detective caps and develop some theories to help solve the mystery. Practically before the last word left his lips, we scattered around the thickly wooded hillside, our eyes pinned to the ground in hopes of finding more evidence.
Within seconds, shouts started rising up from all over, "There are more bones over here!" "There's a fully connected leg under this tree!" "This skeleton still has muscle attached!" Sure enough, there were deer bones at various stages of decay strewn all over the forest. Some were hidden under draping sword ferns while others were lying open on top of stumps.

For some people, this scenario might have been a nightmare, but for environmental educators like us, it was fascinating! After about an hour of detective work, we regrouped to discuss our theories. Many of us concluded that the most likely cause of this scene was that people had been dumping roadkill over the hillside from the highway a couple hundred feet above us for quite some time, which wild animals like coyotes had then gnawed clean, but we're not sure. There are so many possibilities! One of the IslandWood grads is planning to do her independent study project at the site in the spring to continue excavating, map out all the bones and further investigate causes.

After retracing our steps back around the pond to the main trail, we hiked back to campus where most of us attended a professional development session with Mette Hanson, a well-known printmaker in the Pacific Northwest. IslandWood hosts Artists-in-Residence a few times every quarter who run workshops for kids and sometimes lead evening programs or performances. In December, we had African drummer extraordinaire Jah Breeze as an Artist-in-Residence, and in January we had poetry guru Vicky Edmonds. Although the primary focus of Artists-in-Residence is to work with the kids, they sometimes also offer professional development sessions for IslandWood staff and grads.
In today's session, we learned about the art of printmaking then got the opportunity to carve our own print blocks and roll on a variety of brightly colored inks to make a series of prints from our blocks. Needless to say, it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and all of the participants were very proud of their final prints. I love taking a break from the rest of my life to sit down and just let the creative juices flow.

At the beginning of the year, the grads were asked for input on what kinds of artists IslandWood should host this year and we had lots of ideas, but we'd love to hear yours! What kinds of art would you want your students to have the chance to experience?