Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Beautiful Moon

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, 
a full moon on a dark night and the road downhill all the way to your door.”
-An Irish blessing 

There is something completely magical about a bright moon on a clear evening. And a lucky group of grad students were able to experience this enchantment the other night after class in a very special way. 

In Clancy’s Science Methods class, we have been diligently journaling about the moon each night, noting if its visibility, luminosity, position in the sky, and any details we can see. So, on a clear Thursday night, Clancy met us outside of the learning studios as we trickled out of Denise’s class. Set up was a viewing scope attached to a small TV screen. As Clancy fiddled with the scope to get it just right, we were all gathered around, anxious to see the moon up close. As soon as it came into view, bright and detailed, we spontaneously started cheering and exclaiming with awe. We were just like an SOP group, giddy and excited, marveling at the moon’s beauty and sharing this unique experience with each other. We erupted in songs about the moon, took turns at the TV to see the moon up close, and passed around binoculars that provided a similar spectacular view.

Even if he wanted to, Clancy probably couldn’t have gotten the group to sit down and journal at that moment. He stayed back and let us explore, discover, and fire off questions like, “Is there such thing as a dark side of the moon?” It was an important lesson for us, not only to learn about the moon, but also to remember how our kids feel most of the time when they are here: full of wonder, awe, and completely inspired by the beauty of our natural world.

We get it almost every night
and when that moon gets big and bright
it's supernatural delight
everybody was dancin' in the moonlight

 -Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tales from the Field

We are so fortunate as EEC graduate students here. The wonderful backdrop to our learning is IslandWood’s 255-acre campus of greenery and sustainability. We are equally blessed as IslandWood instructors. The classrooms for the many students that visit each week are awe-inspiring spaces like tree houses, trails, and hidden wild zones nestled off the beaten path. We can plan lessons around watching leaves fall from the tops of big maple trees, dark starry nights by the pond, and unexpected black-tailed deer sightings.

A few weeks ago in class, one of our teachers shared a poem by Taylor Mali, a former teacher and current poet. Titled Undivided attention, this piece speaks to the difficulty of teaching while there are exciting distractions outside a classroom window. In Mali’s story, students are glued to the sight of a piano being moved out of an eighth-floor window, and not so much enthralled with learning math. As teachers, we want the students to be most engaged in what we have to offer them. As I listened, I thought how lucky we are at IslandWood to be able to use the wonders of nature as an integral part of our lessons.

In the second half of Undivided attention, Mali writes:

See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year 
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.
So please.
Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers' crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.
Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

(Full text of poem found here.)

Here, we don’t have to compete with sudden occurences in the great outdoors. We can use them as richly as we want. And we have been. For the past five weeks, these moments, big and small, have been happening. Enjoy the following tales from the field, when grad students have been able to teach “like the first snow, falling.”

Julia Hugs a Tree
“When I was team teaching with Ted, we were leading the kids on a solo walk . Ted went first to lay down the cards to follow and read. Then, each student went on their own. One of them said: Hug a tree. Don’t worry: no one’s watching. I was the last to go through, after all the kids had their turn. When I got to the card, I actually hugged a tree and felt a little silly. The second I got within eyeshot of the kids, they all started asking me: Julia, did you hug the tree? Which one? They were so excited! The more we talked about it, the more they all just started randomly hugging trees. This lasted until the moment they got back on the buses.” 

Mashawn and the Moon Shadow 
“We went on a night hike and we had a full moon. We were hiking on the Spine Trail by the bog, where there are all these clearings in the trees. The kids were hiking and they were all clumped together. But then, they looked to the right and could see their shadow. Immediately, they started asking: why is my shadow there? It’s night and it’s dark, what is going on? They got to see their shadow at night and that was a really cool experience for them. I explained about how bright full moons cause moon shadows.” 

Bri and the Big Leaf Maple
“I was really trying to get the kids to hike last Thursday because time was short . So, to keep them moving I said: while we walk, keep eyes open for the biggest maple leaf you can find. They got really into it and were finding all these leaves for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, they all get to take their leaves home."