Category Archives: teaching

5 reasons to love outdoor education

I’ve spent the last two weeks facilitating two back to back outdoor education programs for an international school from Jakarta. Two weeks straight, 150 middle school kids, and an amazing team of 6 facilitators backed by our logistics superhero.  I was working for Odyssey Institute, a Bali-based company whose mission is, “Contributing to global sustainability through experiential education.”

I’m covered in mosquito bites, sore in places I didn’t even know existed, and so tired that I’m considering installing voice to text software so that I can complete this post in a starfish position. But it was worth it. Working in Outdoor Ed is exhausting, but it’s one of those rare jobs where every once in  a while you look at your co-workers and ask, “We’re getting paid to do this?”

Here are five reasons why:

1. Oh the Places You’ll Go: Like I said – teaching outdoor ed means getting paid to travel to new and exciting places. Over the last year, my job has sent me tubing down a river, camping in a volcanic caldera, balancing atop a high ropes course in the rainforest, and snorkelling a world-class reef.  I also get paid to revive my weary muscles in therapeutic hot springs and sleep in 4 star eco-resorts.

Working in these places is different from being a tourist because passivity is not an option. On this last program, I led an all-day rainforest hike. The facilitators completed the hike once before the kids arrived, but the next 3 times it was up to us to make a lesson out of it. More than just walking through the steamy jungle, we drew metaphors for human communities out of the layers of the rainforest and stopped to create ‘sound maps’ while the kids sat in silence in a riverside clearing. Creating focussed site-specific activities allowed me to connect actively with these new places.

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2. In-tents-ity leads to transformation: Sometimes in the classroom, days and weeks can blend into a monotonous drone. This is never the case in outdoor education. The intensity is high during these short, challenging programs.

When I was researching my MA thesis (source long forgotten), I remember reading something about how in many  ‘peak experience’ youth programs,  full-on schedules stretch teens into a  sort of liminal space (often intentionally through physical exhaustion) which opens them up to lasting emotional transformation.

On one program, there was barely a minute of real down time.  By the time we reached the evening program – a ‘true self’ mask making activity – the kids were exhausted, but they were also in a space where they were able to share deep self-reflections that would never come out in a classroom setting. Many of the kids (and in one case, the teacher chaperones) ended up tearily confessing their self-doubts and regrets – a level of emotional honesty that rarely surfaces in self-conscious adolescents.

Whether the intensity peaks during emotionally charged programs, from pushing physical boundaries, or from extending one’s comfort zone,  I believe that these are the educational moments that are truly transformative.

3. Teachable Moments: It’s dark and rainy, and eighteen grade six kids are walking through the forest in silence without flashlights. It’s a short night hike, and we’ve been stressing the value of integrity. The idea that integrity is about doing the right thing when nobody is watching. One of the girls trips and stumbles, scraping her knee.

In the debrief, we ask, “Who did not stay in integrity throughout the hike?” and a girl sheepishly admits that she turned on her flashlight and broke the silence to help her friend when she fell. This sets off a discussion about what integrity really is, and the difference between following rules and sticking to your values.

Another day, we reach the spot where we planned to have lunch and notice that a huge branch has fallen from one of the emergent trees next to us. One of the teacher chaperones happens to be the science teacher, and he leaps into a conversation about epiphytes, mutualism and parasitism, allowing the kids to examine firsthand the ecosystem thriving on this one branch.

The messiness and unpredictability of experiential outdoor education create endless teachable moments.

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4. Teamwork: Collaborative unit planning and PD days aside, classroom teaching provides few opportunities for teamwork. This can lead to teachers whose classrooms are fortresses of old habits and stale ideas.

Because of health and safety, outdoor educators rarely work alone. In the last two weeks I was paired with two different inspiring educators, and I had opportunities to work alongside the whole team for big group activities. In this team of six, our experiences were amazingly diverse – from a professional rock climber to a university lecturer. I learned so much from my co-facilitators and I will take these new strategies, games, and insights with me.

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5. Get outside and get into it! Outdoor ed is never dull and working in this field has made me more resilient and resourceful. Every day presents new challenges – the kid who is afraid of everything, the thunderstorm that cancels an activity at the last minute, teachers who treat the program like a personal vacation, leaky tents and broken sandals and leeches and sprained ankles…

The facilitator has to overcome all of these unexpected things while keeping everyone safe, managing the schedule and flow, and maintaining high morale. I let a millipede crawl on my face so the kids wouldn’t be afraid of bugs. I faced my own trepidation to smile and cheer as I completed the high ropes course. I invented a ‘Jungle Boogie’ vocal jam to lift everyone’s spirits in the middle of a tough hike. With every program I facilitate, I become stronger, more flexible, and more patient.

IMG_7807I definitely haven’t left the classroom behind for good. Being an outdoor educator has given me valuable skills and insights that I can apply to classroom teaching.

What do you love about outdoor education? If you don’t know…find an opportunity to take your students outside, get messy, and grow.

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Now that’s my kind of classroom…

For the past week, I’ve been in Byron Bay, volunteering as an “Amigo” for the Youth Permaculture Challenge. The amount of learning taking place here is amazing. It’s heuristic, hands on, constructivist, embedded in the local community, and globally aware.

There have been so many inspiring moments over the last week that I don’t know what to blog about first! So here are a few photos of some of the students’ learning moments –  ranging from cooperative engagement in an activity to quiet reflective journalling.

There are so many ways to learn when your classroom has no walls.

 

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a bunch of kings and queens: spoken word for the last day of grade 9 english

I discovered something about teaching: the last day of school is heartbreakingly anti-climactic. The kids are busting out of their seats. They chuck all the graphic organizers and short stories and assignments that you poured your heart and soul into in the recycling bin, and barely turn back to shout, “Have a good summer!” as they tear out the classroom door and down a paper-strewn hallway.

I wanted to do something special on the last day, beyond playing music and feeding them chips and freezies. I won’t be returning to my school next year, and I wanted my Grade 9 students to know that I care about their futures, even though I won’t be there to shepherd them through the senior grades.

After Gil Scott Heron died last week, I was thinking about the power of poetry – a topic I blogged about last year. On the second last day of school, I showed one of my classes some of his videos, tying them into our unit on Raisin in the Sun and the Civil Rights movement. I came home and sat down and banged out a spoken word-style poem, which I then performed for my classes. It wasn’t memorized, and I stumbled a few times, but my students seemed to appreciate it.

It was affirming to see them pick up on the references scattered throughout the lyrics – references  to essay writing and to the texts that we studied throughout the year. Performing this in my classes and getting high fives from kids in the hallways after school made the last day of school a bit less depressing.

A Bunch of Kings and Queens

No more pencils no more books
No more teachers’ dirty looks!
But if the looks are dirty
You must not be in my classroom,
Because the kinds of looks I give are squeaky clean
Know what I mean?

If only you could have seen what I’ve seen:
A bunch of teens
A bunch of dreams
A bunch of kings and queens

On the first day of school I asked you to write a personal credo,
“I believe this teacher chick
is a total freaking weirdo”
(Never fear, Batman’s here, though
Our very own personal classroom superhero)
No matter what you wrote on that page,
There’s no chance you’d get a zero.

You think you don’t have any beliefs.
Well, I believe you do
When I look at every one of you
Read your writing
Hear you speaking
Learn your point of view
I believe one of the most radical things you can do
Is to give yourself permission to be YOU
And then, I believe we can do this learning voodoo
I believe it’s as simple as tying a shoe

In-line citations
Gave you heart palpitations
But you can argue, prove and explain
All hundred and one Dalmatians

Or just keep it to five paragraphs
This kind of proof don’t need a graph
Be like Moses use your words
So you never have to use your staff

Don’t be shallow like Bassanio
Don’t wait for three red cars to go
Don’t let the world defer your dream
Define your themes
Or foreshadow a life lived without extremes

You think your life’s ‘maktub’?
Wanna have more hits than You Tube?
Don’t just glance at the grade on your paper
Read the comments if you want to improve.

Have integrity,
Stop begging me for marks.
Ignite the sparks
That set off a learning bomb
Of brilliant knowledge destroying the dark

Think critically
You’re killin’ me!
Don’t be afraid of riddling me
With more questions than there’s gelato in Italy

I never sent you to the principal
This bond we’ve got’s invincible
I still respect your right to learn
Even if your pink sheet’s full
I won’t cut off a pound of flesh
As long as you don’t feed me bull…

Shifting topics in the middle of an essay
Making up excuses because you waited til the day
Before to do the chore of sitting down and thinking,
…And then thinking some more
…And then editing and proofreading
‘Til your pencil is sore

Mutual respect keeps us all out of trouble
Don’t burst this bubble
Look at every written word
Like you’re peering through the Hubble
Telescope
Have high hopes
Try to cope
With the deadlines and the pressure
That make you feel like you’re at the end of your rope

Dope! That was a simile
My rhymes are packed with imagery
I see the moonlight reflected in shards of glass
Inspiration’s what you’ve given me
And I hope I gave it back
Hope I helped you stay on track
Hope I showed you that it’s not about what you lack
Nor is it about what you own
You are not defined by your jeans
Or your laptop
Or your phone
Or by the times when you’re walking through a crowded hallway feeling all alone

Lots of cool people were nerdy in grade nine
Lots of smart people got bad grades in grade nine
Lots of loved people were left out in grade nine
Lots of kind people were bullies in grade nine
Lots of smooth people were awkward in grade nine
Lots of worried people are doing just fine
Keep learning your lessons,
I’ll keep learning mine.

This is my credo
It’s got me this far
Believe in yourself, whoever you are
You’d believe in yourselves if you’d seen what I’ve seen:
A bunch of teens
A bunch of dreams
A bunch of kings and queens

time to time time

Even teachers have an end of the school year countdown. These days, mine is not so much “50 sleeps til camp!” as it is “ONLY 23 days to get all that stuff done?” 40-something essays to mark, a busload of new assignments coming in next week, a play to read & analyze,  final summative tasks to facilitate, and a whole unit on urban geography.

This past week was my much-needed Passover vacation, and I took advantage of every day (and yes, vegging on the couch reading a book during a late-April blizzard totally counts as taking advantage). I also spent a week with my mom in Arizona, eating great food and climbing mountains in Phoenix and hiking deep into the Grand Canyon.

I find myself now prepping for the final 23 days (minus assemblies & shortened staff meeting days) of the 2010-11 school year. My last 23 days as a first year teacher. I am calling on all my time management gods to help me squeeze all the juice out of this month. What am I going to do? Here are a few of my strategies:

1. WWPD: What Would Pamela Do? Pamela was a colleague of mine at a non-profit, and she is the Hermione Granger of Microsoft Outlook. She had colour coded everything, pop-up reminders, multiple task lists ranked by priority, and she actually DID her TO DOs. I’ll make lists, schedules, keep things in labeled folders. I will embody Staples (lay off on the ‘easy’ button jokes). But I will also…

2. Drop the perfectionism: Doing something imperfectly is better than doing nothing perfectly.

3. Time to Time Time: There are three kinds of time: structured work time (the time when I’m in class, in meetings etc.), unstructured work time (time outside of class that I dedicate to marking & prepping), and my time (time to see friends, relax, dance, cook, live my life). I need to know the difference between these three – particularly the last two. All too often, my work time bleeds into my personal life, which prevents me from really doing either one well.  To that end:

4. Plizzans: Knowing that I have dinner plans with friends, a HotDocs film to catch, or a bellydance class means that I have finite hours to spend shuffling papers around and opening and closing windows on my desktop. The busier I am, the more I get done.

5. Count: One…Ha! Ha! Ha! Know how many papers I have to mark. Mark one. Watch the number shrink.

6. Break out the ol’ mantra: When I was an undergraduate, somehow just repeating the phrase “Stress is counterproductive” made me actually sit down and hammer out paper after paper. I don’t know why this phrase worked – it’s not even catchy – but it did.

As I wrote this post, there was a knock at my front door. My upstairs neighbour and vestibule confidante, Mary, dropped by to welcome me back home. Mary just happens to be a yoga teacher and author, and a very in-touch and self-aware woman. We were swapping our stories of stress, and she shared with me 5 sayings that her late yoga master told her (actually, she just ran upstairs to find the fifth…). Not all of them are apropos at this moment, but they’re worth having in my back pocket, and I’m sure they will all be salient at one time or another.

– Recognize that the other person is you

– There is a way through every block

– When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off

– Vibrate the cosmos and the path will be clear

The third one is really speaking to me right now. Please share ways that you manage scheduling, stress, and the time crunch of the teaching profession. And…..START!

Antflick. Ms Antflick, 007.

My favourite days as a teacher are the days when I am able to make curricular connections to world events. Our calendar is full of special days celebrating, commemorating or raising awareness about social issues, and whenever possible I try to tie these events in to whatever course I’m teaching.

Earlier this year, on World Toilet Day, I had my grade 9 Geography students discuss global sanitation inequities while squatting beside their desks (see: The Big Squat). On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, I screened the “I have a dream” speech to introduce rhetorical devices to my grade 9 English classes, and had the students write their own “I have a dream” reflections.  In my grade 11 Social Science class, we looked at MLK as a social sceintist (the lesson is available on my other blog – SAP on the Web).

This week, I had another opportunity to spend a few minutes opening kids’ eyes to the world outside our classroom walls. The 100th annual International Women’s Day was a couple of days ago (March 8). The evening before, this video of Daniel Craig, the most recent James Bond, appeared on a few of my friends’ Facebook pages:

I showed it in all of my classes and discussed International Women’s Day. We had interesting discussions based on one of the student’s questions, “Why isn’t there International Men’s Day?” My students – both boys and girls – made some great comments and seemed to really be paying attention to the video’s message.

  • In Geography, we discussed why gender is an important measure when studying demographics. We also discussed the status of women in Canada vs. in other societies around the world.
  • In English, the students wrote their daily “Credo” in response to the video and to our discussions. We also linked International Women’s Day to our discussion around the status of Portia and the other female characters in Merchant of Venice. For the media strand, it became a lesson on critical media literacy – unpacking what 007 stands for, if and how the role of the Bond Girl has evolved over the decades, and why Craig dresses as a large breasted blonde.
  • Finally, in my Sociology, Anthropology & Psychology class we tied it in to our Sociology unit and talked about gender norms, zeroing in on the idea that in this video, the man, and not the woman, is “seen, not heard” while Judi Dench in the role of M is heard but not seen.

I was inspired by my students’ questions and comments, and my conviction in these tiny activist measures was reaffirmed when I got home to find an email from one of my student’s mothers, saying that she tried to show her 14 year old son the video at home and he replied,  “Oh, I know, the thing with Daniel Craig wearing a dress.  Ms. Antflick already showed it to us.  She’s a feminist!” She went on to thank me for exposing her son to such progressive ideas (progressive? in 2011?).

It’s the little things that make the hours of lesson planning and marking worthwhile (she writes as she blogs instead of preparing for her third and final teacher eval…)

Perez Shakespeare

On the first day of my Merchant of Venice unit, I asked had my Grade 9s to do a graffiti wall and answer a bunch of questions. One of them was, “What scares you about Shakespeare?” I got the classic answers, mostly having to do with unfamiliar language, challenging new vocabulary and boredom. One student wrote, “dudes in tights,” and yet another admitted being afraid of Shakespeare’s moustache.

While I can’t do anything about the Bard’s ‘stache, my overall objective over the next month is to make Shakespeare a bit less scary for my students. We started with a round of Shakespearean balderdash, a game introduced to me by my English prof at OISE last year. Now we’re on I.ii, the scene where Portia and Nerissa gossip about the suitors. I created a little activity to help the students see the humour in the scene: Shakespeare meets Perez Hilton. It gets them to apply their own language to the text, and it will be a good opportunity for formative assessment, as our unit summative is a teen magazine.

William Shakespeare meets Perez Hilton

Lady Gaga wears a dress made of Q-Tips!

Brangelina adopt quintuplets from East Timor!

Miley Cyrus spotted binging on pickled eggs!

Celebrity gossip is everywhere these days, but it’s nothing new. In Act I, scene ii of Merchant of Venice the wealthy heiress Portia and her lady in waiting, Nerissa, are discussing the potential suitors who are competing for Portia’s hand in marriage. The two women gossip about the suitors – their clothes, their manners, their habits, and their personalities.

Your task is to be an Elizabethan celebrity gossip blogger. Write a creative blog post about any of the suitors in this scene, or about one of the other characters we have met in Merchant of Venice.

  • Your post must contain accurate and specific references to the character
  • Use your imagination – fill in the details as though the character is a contemporary celebrity
  • Include a creative headline
  • Write in a playful, casual tone but use correct spelling and grammar

Example:

Portia Dishes the Dirt on Oprah

It girl Portia sat in Queen O’s chair yesterday and dished the dirt about the stable of international suitors who have been knocking themselves out trying to woo her. Oprah’s audience was treated to some juicy gossip about the Neapolitan prince’s – ahem – “horse.” Apparently Miss P.  would rather gallop through the countryside with the Venetian scenester Bassanio. TMZ spotted the blonde beauty checking out Bassanio’s assets at a recent masquerade. Yesterday, @Bassan_YO tweeted, “Move over Jake Gyllenhaal! B dog’s going to Belmont 2 find the golden fleece!” Is it true love, or true lust?

SAP on the Web

Recently I have been maintaining another blog – this one  was created specifically for my grade 11 Intro to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology class (HSP3M – a.k.a. SAP, the one where I did the ‘study your teacher’ first day activity).

It’s called SAP on the Web, and has become my primary means of communicating with my students outside of class. So far it has not been the most productive forum, but it’s definitely a more functional way to get handouts, links, and media texts out there, rather than relying on our school’s Edline page.

I’d love to hear other educators’ ideas around creating a meaningful online community for your secondary school classes. Of course, feel free to use any of the handouts or resources that I post on there.  I am totally indebted to other teachers’ blogs, tweets, and wikis – there are so many great ideas out there.

Thanks for sharing!