Teaching with Tech

I’m starting a new job this year, rather have started (which is why some posts have been delayed, and making #enviroedchat much harder to attend).  

This year I am a tech coach, and tech teacher. It is hard for me to balance the idea of being an environmental educator and tech teacher, mainly because I worry about how tech teaches consumption (with iPads, etc.) and how most of our electronic resources are either not recycled, or recycled poorly.  However, I’ll talk more about this later. 
Right now, I’m really interested in this idea of coach. What is a coach, and how is it different than a teacher?  When I”m outside with the students, I usually know more than most of them, about what things are around, how environmental systems work, and I’ve been around longer, so my theories are more solidified.  When I’m using an iPad or tablet, I don’t always know more, and I’m not sure that I should. 
With the idea of tech coach, I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy.

Taken from http://www.world-track.org

So who is this guy? Usain Bolt’s running coach.  Wild huh? 

After talking with Addy about the idea of tech coaches, I’ve really wondered about what skills I need to develop.  At first I was thinking about my own personal skills and my need to become a better user of the tablets and netbooks, etc.  Now I think, my knowledge (maybe more like my environmental knowledge) needs to be broader, I need to know concepts and systems, and be able to pick out specifics in others. 
While I don’t need to be able to do everything, I need to be able to structure my questions and activities so students can achieve their personal best, maybe world best (likely a stretch). 
I’ve been thinking a lot about it, especially when interacting with hesitant teachers.  I need to reassure them that being the best isn’t the goal, but like all teaching, helping others achieve their best is the goal. 

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.

What Should We Know/Teach?

What Every Student Should Know About the Environment


There are scores of possible models of environmental education programs, and most have many of the following large concepts in common. As students go from kindergarten through high school, they can work their way down the list.
  1. Earth overflows with life.
    One of science’s biggest mysteries is how many species share this planet— estimates range from 5 million to 100 million species. Many environmental education programs begin with the premise that life is vanishing; young learners should first know that Earth teems with a huge number of creatures.
  2. Each creature is uniquely adapted to its environment.
    Every species evolved to possess a unique set of adaptations that enables it to survive and thrive in its ecosystem. Students should be on a first-name basis with many local creatures.
  3. The web of life is interdependent.
    Organisms evolve complex relationships, each depending on numerous other species for their survival.
  4. Materials flow through ecosystems in cycles.
    All creatures need water, air, and nutrients to survive. These materials cycle and recycle through ecosystems. The water we drink today is the same water we’ve always had, and always will.
  5. The sun is the ultimate source of energy flowing through ecosystems.
    Food grows from sunlight energy; our houses are heated by fossil fuels created many millennia ago from ancient sunlight.
  6. There is no waste in nature; everything is recycled.
    In nature, every waste product is used by other creatures. Humans have bent those circles into straight lines, where things are used once and tossed.
  7. We consume resources to live.
    Every student should know where the trash truck takes the trash, where water comes from, and how the nearest power plant makes electricity.
  8. Conservation is the wise use of finite resources.
    We are physical creatures with real needs—to eat, drink, build houses, write on paper. But how do we use these resources sustainably?
  9. Humans can have a profound effect on environmental systems.
    Fossil fuels pump carbon dioxide into the sky; habitat loss is causing the extinction of large numbers of species. Our actions profoundly affect the ecological systems that sustain living things—and us. Nature can often repair these systems (forests grow back, for example); but humans are changing systems faster than nature can adapt.
  10. Each of us can powerfully affect the fate of the natural world.
    Because each of us is directly plugged into the planet, the actions we take—or fail to take—profoundly influence earth’s systems.
– Taken from ASCD, Mike Weilbacher, May 2009 | Volume 66 | Number 8 

Teaching Social Responsibility Pages 38-44

After a great #enviroed twitter chat, of which I could only play a small part, I thought back to what environmental education actually was, and what we as teachers needed to understand. 
During my thesis, I used a participatory action research model to look at how we were teaching environmental education, and this was one of the articles we looked up.  
Coming from a perspective where there is no need for any more doom and gloom, I really resonate with the first point.  Earth overflows with life.  Sometimes, we don’t always see it, sometimes we question why it is there, or want to move it or kill it, but one thing is true, there is a lot of life, and it is something we need to celebrate more. 
I’ve been reading a lot over the holiday, so far anyway. And one of the things I am struck by is how little we truly understand about life. I wonder if this goes back to the nature deficit disorder , and our inability to notice or name things? 
Anyway, what matters about environmental education, why are we teaching it, and what do we need to do to (re)connect young learners with nature? 

What Shapes Us?

What we believe transcends our thoughts and integrates into the way we teach.  Our values are passed to us from our community members, parents, teachers, and society (Moser, 2007). Through these values, our actions spring forth.  We are products of our community, and our community is shaped by the idea of our home space.  The people and values that surround us growing up, shape who we are going to be (Moser, 2007).  How do our previous experiences effect how we shape future students in different places?

Teachers have a variety of reasons for teaching (or not teaching) environmental education (Hart, 2003).  In some schools it is not necessary or required to teach environmental education.  While this is not true for my school, there is no established environmental curriculum.  This means teachers’ perceptions of environmental education dictate what and how they teach (Bengtson, 2010; Hart 2003).  How we perceive what we teach can lead to how we engage students.  Through critical self-reflection we can better understand what we believe, which allows us to think about how we engage our students.  Bengtson (2010) says it is critical that we are aware of both our perceptions and our setting when we engage in environmental education.  Are we better environmental educators if we believe environmental education is worthwhile?
As teachers move around, they may not have acquired the knowledge necessary to teach relevant environmental facts.  This dissonance between knowledge and applied values may hinder how expatriate teachers engage students in EE.  Sammel (2005) asserts that knowing who we are as environmental educators is a first step in understanding our educational program. Through interviews with my co-teachers, I can learn more about what they know about our new to us tropical environment and how that relates to what they choose to teach in class.  The perceptions of our shared place effect how we teach about the environment; therefore, we may need to learn more about our new homes before creating an effective program.
Experiences also help to shape our value system.  As expatriates, we have all come from different places, and believe different things. While many of us who travel experience similar occurrences, our previous experiences shape how we perceive our life in our new home.  I wonder how significant life experiences shape who we are as educators (Chawla, 1999; Anderson-Patton, 1980)?  


______________________________________________________________________________
Anderson-Patton, V. (1998). Creative Catalysts: A study of Creative Teachers from their own Perspectives and Experiences. (Dissertation) Retrieved from Proquest Dissertations and Theses UMI number 9838453

Bengtson, K.H.M. (2010). Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions of Environmental Education. (Dissertation) ProQuest Dissertations and Theses UMI number 3434324

Chawla, L . (1999) Life Paths Into Effective Environmental Action, in Journal of Environmental Education, Fall 99, Vol. 31, Issue 1
Hart, P. (2003) Teachers Thinking in Environmental Education: Consciousness and Responsibility
Moser, S. C. (2007). More bad news: The risk of neglecting emotional responses to climate change information. In S. C. Moser & L. Dilling (Eds.), Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (pp. 64-80). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Sammel, A. J. (2005). Teachers’ understandings and enactments of social and environmental justice issues in the classroom: What’s “critical” in the manufacturing of road-smart squirrels? (Dissertation) ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

Nature Deficit Disorder

Product Details
Richard Louv’s Book
on http://www.amazon.com

Did you know that the typical American child spends 44.5 hours per week plugged into electronic media (not including homework and school)*?  getting kids outdoors

This seems like a lot of time. While I haven’t checked the survey, or how they have collected their data, I wonder about what it means to be “plugged in” or “connected”. 
I bought this book sometime ago, hoping to read it this summer holiday, so was wondering what it meant to be connected in a virtual age. When so much of our lives takes place virtually, where do we find room for the natural? 
To me it seems obvious that we are lacking something, a connection to our place. Can we really heal this through spending more time outdoors? As an elementary teacher, I think that one of the most important things we can do is try to build a community. By having learners working together with the best intentions for a more harmonious community, I find that we can develop skills to improve our ability to interact with others. Now I’m wondering if I’ve left out major parts of our world. If we forget to add other living things into our community, what relationships are we neglecting? How can we really connect to nature, if we’re connected to the virtual world? 
These past two years I’ve tried to instill some permaculture principles into our learning. The students have really caught on to the Fair Share, People Care, Earth Care language, and often bring their wonderings about these ideas up during our sharing time. 
Permaculture Principles
Can we use technology to plug in to, and enhance our community? Can we do this by using less energy, and being more efficient? Or does more focus on technology always mean more waste, and less for the future? 
The students in my class have been asking lots of great questions, and these questions have led to my own personal change of habits. I want both worlds for my students, where they can comfortably go between the natural and virtual world. Or are both worlds natural now? 
Please leave a comment if you have any other blogs, articles, people to see and learn from. 

Comfortable being a beginner?

Reports are done, it was great to see all the progress our community has made throughout the year. As I’ve been reflecting on this, and my new position (in tech) I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of being a beginner.

Jeff Utecht posted this on his blog sometime last year. I’ve been rereading it just about every month, mostly to remind myself, to be comfortable in new situations. As teachers, I feel that we are under some obligation to know, have experience, or have mastery of something.  Our tech world is constantly changing and evolving, so we are always beginners, or should be if we subscribe to this idea of life long learning.

My new position, is going to make me uncomfortable at times. I’m not the kind of person who really wants to call myself a technology leader. I understand that it is useful, I see an amazing opprotunity to engage learners, I hope for the best, but I don’t feel like I’m leading. Jeff’s post really reminds me that, it is okay to feel that way, for that, I’m really thankful.

As always, I want to know more about incorporting slow pedagogy, or environmental education into this new tech position. I wonder, what the future holds, and what information, or skills we really need.

Thanks Jeff

Slow Pedagogy in a Fast World

I am still working on my thesis, a participatory action research project, that looks at how teachers engage in environmental education.

I’ve been taken by this article by Payne and Wattchow.

As I’ve been reading it, I’ve been wondering about how we, as educators, can develop a slow pedagogy as well as the tech skills necessary to live in a constantly changing world. How can we, “live in natural places over time”and encourage students to explore the quickly changing digital world?

I’ve been having students sit in “magic spots” (a place where they choose at the beginning of the year, and sit there everyday for ten minutes) so they have a connection to their specific place. The plan (for next year) is to have them bring an ipad out once a week and take a picture of their spot. They can use the technology to show changes over time, make a stop motion video, or a blog highlighting the connection they have to their place, as well as the changes they have noticed, and the feelings associated with both of these ideas.

I teach at an international school, and I constantly think about how students are displaced, or disconnected from their “natural” environment. As a result, I think, they turn to virtual places to find their identity.

Just torn, as usual, about what to do through tech. How can I share my two passions while making sure we provide the same kind of opportunities for future students to be outside.