Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are You a Tourist or Resident?

In early September, we were given a tourist test in our Ecology and Natural history class.  It was a simple test, and it succeeded in opening our eyes to our lack of knowledge of our natural surroundings. 

Take the test for yourself to see what you know:

  1. Name the shrub nearest to your front door.
  2. What are the trees you can see from your door?
  3. What direction does your window face?  Your bed?
  4. What is the current moon phase?
  5. What plants or animals here (or in your area) may hurt you?
  6. What species of trees would you want to avoid in a wind storm?
  7. What /where is the nearest stream/creek from your front door?
  8. List the trees and plants here (or in your area) that you can identify with confidence.
  9. Write a service that those species provide.
  10. List the birds and wildlife that you can identify with confidence.

When I first answered these questions, I listed “unknown” for six of the ten questions, but after several months at Islandwood, I have significantly more detailed answers to provide to each question.  Knowing the answers isn't the real eye opener though; it is the realization that there is an abundance of diversity around us. 

Being more knowledgeable led to an unexpected increase in awareness and understanding about the network of life around our human communities.  I already sought to protect the earth, but now I had more connection because the earth was taking a specific and personal shape.  Suddenly, there weren't just trees. There were Red Aldors, Big Leaf Maples, Redcedars, Western Hemlocks, and Douglas Firs, and they did more than generically provide shade and shelter because they have unique characteristics that distinguish them from one another.

This is where stewardship arises.  Once the connection between the natural world and the cultural world is found, stewardship has meaning.  Islandwood has done a lot to help me build the bridge between my world and the natural world, and the word stewardship carries more weight as an accomplishable action rather than a fantastic ideal.  


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Community Building Matters in Education

Why would community building matter for education? This answer is two-fold because the community that the educator is part of should be just as valuable and rich as the one the students are part of in school.  An emotionally safe environment that allows intellectual risk taking can lead to amazing knowledge construction and discovery, but these environments must be created and nurtured as communities.
The experiences at Islandwood have taught me a lot about the power held in the community.  It came almost as an epiphany this season as I watched Christmas movies, and I realized that Scrooge and the Grinch lacked empathy, community, sense of place, personal connections, and morals.  As they stayed in isolation, sure of their superiority compared to the interconnected people around them, they drifted further away from society and deeper into egocentrism and misery.  It was only after they connected with others that they found happiness, and for education that’s big news since the brain is primed for learning when it is happy, safe, and has purpose. 

I used to think that communities organically arose from student interaction, but I did not credit the immense intentionality behind collaborative and social-emotional learning until Islandwood gave me students in the field.  Suddenly I realized that there were only four days to get a team to accomplish goals that required a cooperative cohesiveness. 

The community agreement, the team building, and the socialization all gave the instruction meaning and personal connection.  There were also the intangible lessons that could not be explicitly taught like empathy, moral development, social skills, democracy, and societal roles.  These skills all have enduring understanding applicable to any area of life or subject in school.

Not only do field instructors see the evolution of community within their students in the short span of a week, we live it as graduate students.  We see Bandura’s, Piaget’s, and Vygotsky’s theories about cooperative and collaborative socialization among peers come to life as we create our own community agreement, have community check-in, debate in class, bounce ideas off one another, discuss findings, and work together. 

Without the community, we would not be as strong of educators and our students would not achieve their highest potential.  


Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter at IslandWood

Hi friends,

Thankfully, the weather has warmed back up for our last teaching week this quarter! Winter certainly payed us all a visit a few weeks ago. It was freezing! The students and instructors were champions though (thank you gear volunteers) and it was exciting to see the landscape change so dramatically with the cold weather. The frost filled mornings and icy evenings were spectacular!

As the temperature probably won't dip down like that again for a while, I wanted to share some fun photos highlighting our winter wonderland experience!  

It snowed, and even stuck on the ground for a few hours! The understory was breathtaking with the white dusting.  

Mac's Pond froze over too! So much for the pond investigation and floating classroom.... But on the bright side, who knew that rocks made such an awesome sound skating across frozen ice?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrating Gratitude!

As I settled back into my cabin in the woods yesterday, I took a few moments to reflect on what I am grateful for. My family and friends, the hug from my roommate, my Natural History class, the kale growing in the garden, the crisp sunshine sparkling on the frosty grass outside my door …

The list goes on. I have so much to appreciate, especially here at IslandWood. And although it is the season of giving thanks, as my Child Development professor shared with us a few weeks ago, practicing gratitude is an important ritual that should be cultivated throughout the year. It actually scientifically proven to make you happier! And healthier!

As the days get darker and the quarter gets busier, I want to remind us all how important it is keep in mind all of the things that bring us joy. Here are some amazing resources that have been really helpful to me in shaping my practice:

·      Check out The Greater Good Science Center at University of Berkeley. There is a database with articles and resources to help build gratitude both on an individual level but also in the classroom, and also has resources for other topics mindfulness, empathy, compassion and happiness.

·      Gratitude is contagious! Share your thanks and appreciate all of the good taking place around the world by using the World Gratitude Map.

·      Explore Yes! Magazine’s Teacher Resources for teaching happiness, resiliency, and community.

·      Keep a gratitude journal!

How do you cultivate gratitude and happiness? Post your comments below, I would love to hear your thoughts!