Giving something a name

Sitting in our outdoor discovery centre

I’ve been reading about different ways to develop a sense of place, and feel more connected to the land.  One of the ways both Basso and Raffan talk about, especially when looking at indigenous nations, is how we name places. When we name things we build our relationship with them, we define how to use them, and we create a way to interact with the place.

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve changed one of my classroom practices since last year.  Last year, one of the first things we did as a class is name ourselves.  How do we want to be called.  I have two classes this year, and I had planned on doing it in our new unit, but I think I missed an early opportunity.

There’s two ways for me to think about this.  One is that, we could have taken an early opportunity to define ourselves, and how we work together. We could have started naming and identifying ourselves as a group in order to really think about how we work with the place around us.  The other is that now that we know more about us, and how we work together we can maybe come up with a more informed and relevant name.

I suppose though, I know now that we need to name ourselves, we need to name our team, and we need to think about the places we inhabit.  I’ve been working more on talking about the Sang Cancil stories. The Little Mouse Deer, who is much like Briar Rabbit.  The students are really liking them, they connect and think Sang Cancil is funny, they are asking more questions about who the leaders were in the past, and making guesses about important other creatures in the jungle. It’s more surprising than I thought.

It’s been a good journey so far, knowing more about our place, and starting to make connections.  The kids even went out in the rain yesterday.  Fun times.

Basso, K., H. (1996). Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Raffan, J. (1993). The Experience of Place: Exploring Land as Teacher. ERIC Online, 16(1), 39-45.

The importance of rest and reflection


I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the importance of resting for reflection (maybe because the holidays are coming up?). Also a couple of weeks ago when we did our presentation, one of the teachers talked about the importance of giving students time (for learning on their own, but now I’m also thinking for reflection).

I know personally that for me holidays need to be restful. I need to take time and sit on the couch so I can think and reflect about what’s been happening and how to improve. I need the time to actually create headspace and wonder about how to improve.  This can’t be something I do in school, or something forced, it needs to be time intensive.

I guess for me, I’ve been wondering if I know this to be true to me, and I suspect it to be true of most people, then when do our students get this.  When do they have a chance to authentically reflect (not just reflect for me, or for learning, or for something else). My new year’s goal is to make sure they have some time to think.

First week of "magic spots"

Student photo

This was our first week of magic spots.  I am only doing this with two students so far.  We are working on a year long project to make a stop motion video (as well as address feelings regarding) a specific spot in school.  The point of this project is to connect students to a place in nature.

When we first went out I was excited to get the project underway. We have a rather large field, and I said to the students you can pick anyplace you would like to be for your spot.  Both students stayed relatively close to the school, and only one picked a view of a tree (the other picked a view of a slide).  I had explained what I thought was important about the project, but both students had said they had already picked their spots (before we went out together). So while it was great they had been thinking about a space meaningful to them, I was a little concerned about where the space they chose. 
After the first day we did a short debrief regarding their feelings.  Both students just felt hot, and not real attachment, which was to be expected.  I found some grass that was seeding and got them to look deeper into their space.  This seemed to be effective.  After recess one of the students came up to me and noticed more grass that looked strange. 
So far, the project has been going as planned I guess.  The students seem interested, but it’s only the first week.  It might be a challenge to keep this enthusiasm happening all year. 
When I was a classroom teacher it was easy to make sure every student got outside and was quiet for at least five minutes a day, it seems so much more difficult without a class. 
They are all very excited about making the video though.  

Who’s responsible

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Steve took it

To be honest, I haven’t been really looking forward to this post.  I’ve already been really focused on Common Sense Media and I’m looking forward to being certified for my job this summer.  I thought it I would just write everyone.  Everyone is responsible.  But then I started thinking more about how we are taught about how to live in the “physical world” and for me, ideas expanded beyond just students.

During my Environmental Education Master’s program we discussed the idea of intergenerational learning how everyone can learn from each other.  Talking with Addy while driving for a meal I really started to think about the possibilities.  
My grandma used to get all kinds of games, viruses, etc. on her computer.  She wanted to be on facebook to keep in touch with her grandkids.  She needs to know about digital citizenship.  My boss is scared of twitter because of possible repercussions, so he needs to learn about digital citizenship.  The students in my class are still pushing boundaries in their digital world, they have less fear, but there could be more consequences. 
I think what we need is more of a campfire, or roundtable discussion.  Seriously have everyone involved.  Instead of just giving full lessons, make stories (videos, slideshows, etc.) and share experiences.  We talk so much about the importance of stories this would be a great chance for us to share all these ideas with each other. 
By incorporating everyone, and sharing stories, we can make these ideas more meaningful for everyone and less lesson like. Everyone would be involved, we would create shared stories and these stories would evolve as our relationship with the digital world is evolving. Just a thought.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by MaRS Discovery District: 

I’m in the middle of blog lessons, and as we start talking about what and how we will write we are delving into digital citizenship. So far what has impressed me most about my student’s interpretations of this idea is that good digital citizenship is basically good citizenship, they just see it as an extension of their normal community.

Thankfully this allows me to talk about integrating good global citizens into my lessons this week. We can talk about what responsibility means to us in a digital and natural world, and how often those things are connected.  Most of my students know what it means to treat their classmates with respect, making that connection to posting pictures of others online makes sense to most of them.  Making the extension that these actions (both positive and negative) last longer online then they do in the classroom can be a difficult concept, but we have looked up the first website, and that makes it possible to see how long things last online (even if they are no longer as relevant as they once were). 
Responsibility to a community is something I feel we need to highlight in these lessons, and I can talk about our responsibility to the natural world as well.  Citing sources is like where we get our resources from. We need to be aware of where these things come from and treat their origins with respect.  Thinking about how we interact with others is extremely important in order to help our community reach its full potential.  
When I think about permaculture principles (the ones we made for the kids, Earth care, People care, Fair Share) I think it is easy to put these ideas into our digital citizenship classes.  I guess what I’m really wondering is how Digital citizenship is different from citizenship, any ideas? 

Sustainability and Tech

It is budget time and as I ask for more devices for my students, I wonder about the social and environmental cost behind my request. I’ve seen the videos and heard the horror stories of the “recycling” plants in China and around the world. I worry about the personal cost to people in these situations too, and wonder what is being done about it.

Since our school has started an iPad program I thought I would look into how Apple was thinking about sustainability. Apple says they are committed to transparency and are a member of different third party organizations to confirm this. I started reading their report on sustainable practice.

I guess I realized that everyone wants to be committed to sustainable practice but actual action is harder to take.  From their report it looks like Apple firmly believes in helping their workers (including third party workers) gain fair wages, working conditions and success.  I think all these things are true, but I do wonder about third party monitoring.

Going back to earlier post ideas, I wonder about recycling and design process.  How can we start designing computers and tablets, and whatever else to be fully repurposed.  I heard a program (forever ago it seems) on the CBC about tech designers looking at how the companies would have to be responsible for the waste (it would be included in the price or something) they then started talking about renting equipment.  The point was you could pay the company (Apple, Samsung, Motorola, etc.) for a specific package, when the time to renew that package came up the company would take the phone and hopefully reuse the different components to make a new phone or tablet, etc.

Cradle to Cradle has been a focus for me these last couple of weeks, if it doesn’t show.

Cradle to Cradle

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the holiday season, gift giving and how those thoughts impact the environment.

Aitana Leret Garcia » DP2.- Cradle to cradle: Waste = Food : taken from -

Aitana Leret Garcia » DP2.- Cradle to cradle: Waste = Food : taken from –

So I bought a back pack for my travels around with this philosophy.

I got it from kickstarter if you want to check it out

Anyway, with my focus on permaculture the last couple of weeks as an individual and my focus on design as a teacher this cradle to cradle philosophy has really got me wondering about how we can teach students more about the ideas behind sustainable design.

Taken from

I read this book three years ago, and was really concerned that tech people weren’t buying into this philosophy.  So I want to make lessons that incorporate this idea.  I love the idea of publishing ebooks rather than wasting paper, but we’re still using important resources in order to produce the tech to make the ebooks.

How can we bring the cradle to cradle philosophy to class?

I think a lot about my implicit and explicit teaching.  When I work with students how can I reinforce the idea of sustainable design explicitly and through my implicit actions?  This is my focus for this week: being really aware of how I promote sustainable design.  Any help is more than welcome.

Permaculture Principles

I’ve been reading this book on permaculture recently.  I’ve looked through these ideas before, but one of them really caught my attention this week.

The edge of the Pacific Ocean

To me, especially when teaching, I feel like my colleagues and I don’t do enough of this.  Too often we are trying to really focus on teaching the bulk of students and making the curriculum work. We don’t often look towards the edges of our students.  I also wonder how often we look to the edges of our teaching and learning.  How often are we just looking towards accepted practice rather than trying to try something new?

I do realize that with students we need to make sure we are doing the best we can, and often parents have  a memory of school that they want to see in the classroom.  So, what does teaching on the margins and edges look like?

More than that I guess is what are we doing as teachers to have students look to the edges?  I want students to be able to see the great things that are happening at the edges of our natural worlds and our tech worlds.

I guess more than anything this idea of looking towards the edges really gave me hope on mixing my two passions.  Where two things meet is an opportunity to discover great diversity. Having people who can see two different worldviews (embracing permaculture principles as well design technology) is the way I want our world to exist. I think it is here where design will change the world.

Please message or post about how we can use the edges and margins to enhance education.

What does it mean to be outdoors?

Next week I head back to work, it’s exciting, and daunting, as I start a new job, but I’m looking forward to interacting with young learners again, and getting a sense of what it means to be an environmental educator in a tech job.

This week in our #enviroed chat, we are looking at cultural diversity in the outdoors.  I’m looking forward to the discussion, and thanks to @RangerRidley I decided to look at this before the conversation starts.

Before writing this, I had a quick chat about the idea with my friend Angela.  She mentioned a camping program for new people to Canada , and I think she and I had talked about it before.  The idea that we have to integrate people into new natural environments is interesting. The statistics from the site said that while the program is called, “Learning to Camp” around 3/4 of the participants are “New Canadians”.  My first thought about this stat was, why new Canadians? Do all of us feel comfortable in our own environment?

As an expatriate, and an international school teacher, I wonder about how different people perceive the world around them and how it changes who they are, and what they believe.  Without going into too much, for fear of going on forever, I’ll just write about a few of my favourite experiences abroad in the outdoors.

Living in Australia in 2005, I realized everyone was outside, all the time.  I wondered if it was about the way they ran business in WA, most stores close at six and many are closed Sundays. The sporting nature of their culture may also play a part.  But what I remember most about Western Australia was the space. When we went camping, we were often alone, just us, and the park rangers had little sheds where you paid, but no one was usually around.  The idea was that people felt comfortable out in nature and could interact with it responsibly (I think?).

I moved to Korea after that, from 2006 – 2008 I lived in different areas around the country.  There seemed to be seasons for everything, and a structure to being outside. Beach season in the summer, would end abruptly, regardless of the temperature in September. So we would have the beach to ourselves.  Hiking season was wonderful, gorgeous leaves, crisp mountain air. However, almost all the paths were paved, and the women hiking in high heels always made me laugh.  People were outside, but it didn’t always change their attire.  There were people who were really geared up, and would have the hiking poles out, and all the new hiking vests for a short hike, so a lot of individual approaches to hiking, rather than a cultural perspective.

While in Kuwait, I was first amazed that people had been living in the desert for so long. I was introduced to Masdar and wondered how people so focused on oil, could start something so progressive. I asked students about how their grandparents had lived and what had changed, but few asked or seemed to care.  I remember there was not much outdoors time, save for the rare people who went out on the water in their boats. I started an environmental club, mostly my students, and we planted gardens that could work in the desert and watched mushrooms grow.  Most of these students were not Kuwaiti, but from other middle eastern countries.  I had a sense that most people would rather be inside, rather than out, but when it is 50 degrees, can you blame them?

Cambodia, I thought, would be totally different. A lush tropical land where people enjoyed being outside most of the time. During my research for my thesis, I found there was a lot of resistance from parents about having their students outside.  Their main concern seemed to be around safety. I’m not sure what that entailed specifically, but it made me wonder about how people perceive the outdoors.  We had a conversation on #enviroed a couple of weeks ago that went into the idea of safety and the outdoors.  Like most things, the more you are outside, and trained to be outside (like the camping program, or good environmental ed practices) the safer you are.  In the parents’ defence, most of them are expatriates as well, and it may not be the fear of the outdoors, but the fear of snakes, scorpions, or other things they are not used to.

Going back to my constant wondering, is how do we bring expats, or new people to our community to understand the place where we live.  Is the camping program run by Ontario a good thing, is it effective? Why is it only focused on camping?

Really looking forward to this twitter chat, and reading about how different people think about this topic.