Sunday, May 10, 2015

"A Week in the Forest" ~ Inspiring Learning Outside

"It's a good thing to learn about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun." 
~ Richard Louv

This quote sums up beautifully the amazing experience and positive impact of the Ministry Pilot Project our class was fortunate enough to be a part of last week entitled "A Week in the Forest." This project was founded by Tanya Murray, an Outdoor Education Teacher and Specialist with Sibbald Point and Forest School Practitioner, with hopes that every child and educator alike could feel inspired to learn outside! Part 1 of the Pilot took place at Milliken Mills Public School in Markham and focused more on the urban school setting. Our school was Part 2 of the Pilot since our landscape was one that promoted a more rural environment and something we will now always call the "magical forest." 

I truly don't think a blog post could do this experience justice, but I feel that the photos alone tell the story of this exciting chapter of learning for myself as an educator and for my students. 

PART 1: Developing an "Outdoor Mindset"
We often talk about having a "Growth Mindset" in education which involves embracing new learning, taking risks and inspiring change, but how could these same principles transpire into developing an "Outdoor Mindset?"; one that allows us to look at nature as a landscape for learning?
As a team of educators within this pilot project, Tanya got us to think about and brainstorm ideas related to the following prompts:

Outside we learn...

Outdoor Learning is...

We wish...
I would like to challenge my followers to consider how they might develop an "Outdoor Mindset?" If you're an educator, what does your school community look like outside the walls of your classroom? What elements of nature can you capitalize on with your students? If you're a parent, what ways can you increase play outdoors? Going on a simple Nature Walk is a wonderful way to begin!  
For myself, this brainstorming session was a turning point for me as many "lightbulb moments" took place within our discussion and I feel that this dialogue alone, changed my perception around learning outdoors and the positive impact that it could have. It got me to consider the many benefits and opportunities that outdoor learning brings to our students that an indoor classroom cannot. 

Looking back on this past week, I witnessed firsthand the positive impact that the outdoors had on our youngest learners. From their self-regulation, problem-solving skills, and independence, to their excitement, eagerness and motivation to learn, there was no doubt in my mind that I too felt inspired to learn outside and alongside my students.       

PART 2: Planning & Purposeful Play
With the nature of the project being in the "pilot stage," it's important to note that the planning piece unfolded over the course of the week while being responsive to our students interests and needs within our outdoor classroom environment. The planning of each day was based upon much reflection and conversation as a team as we considered the outdoor barriers (e.g. safety, number of students, washrooms), key learning moments, and student engagement. 
As a way of addressing some of those barriers and ensuring student safety was number one, we decided to split our class into two groups as a way of minimizing numbers, addressing students' needs and giving us the opportunity to really dive deeper into dialogue with each of our learners when outside. 
With the help of some inspiring community partners from the York Region Nature Collaborative, Diane Kashin and ThinkinEd, as well as Diana Tucci from Forest School, supported our learning with thoughtful provocations and invitations for students to explore nature, our Caterpillar Inquiry and most importantly, giving students the opportunity to see themselves as "outdoor learners." 
Each invitation for learning was thoughtfully set up to support and extend our learning about caterpillars and nature of our inquiry. We also wanted to make sure that there was a cross-curricular approach to each provocation as a way of making visible to educators that you really can do it all outdoors! 
As a way of being resourceful, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many materials from within our classroom (e.g. cutting boards, clips, apple sauce containers, clipboards, loose parts, etc) could be used and respected outdoors. 
Even though this project took place over the course of 5 days, it was truly incredible to see how quickly and easily our students adapted to these new routines, expectations and environment. 

Students freely flowed amongst all of the provocations within the forest and created their own extensions naturally within the space. I truly can't wait to continue the momentum from this project by continuing to embrace outdoor learning for the remainder of the school year.  

PART 3: "Sit Spots"
This concept was something that I absolutely loved and builds on the framework of developing a connection with nature. Within the project, students each received a "sit spot" to which they would use every morning before entering our "magical forest" space. 
The beauty of the "sit spot" is that it gives students the opportunity to have repeated access to a space and build an appreciation for nature. As educators, we are the adult role models who can nature that connection to that outdoor space. Even if your school doesn't have a forest, pond or open area, "sit spots" are still possible even if it's on a soccer field. 
Our class began with a 2 minute "sit spot" and each day we increased the time to build stamina, awareness, and connection to their natural soundings. It was amazing to see how in-tuned they got with nature as students were excited to share what they saw and heard after enjoying their "sit spot" time. As an extension, bringing in different materials such as magnifying glasses, clipboards, writing materials, frames, etc could all be used for students to enjoy while sitting in their "sit spots" and as a way of capturing what they see and hear.

PART 4: Reflection
To avoid making this blog post a small novel, I just can't say enough positive things about the nature of this pilot project! As an educator, I discovered a hidden "gem" behind our school that I never knew existed and witnessed firsthand the love and excitement that our students had to learn outdoors. The hashtag #InspireLearningOutside rang true each day and our caterpillar inquiry came to a close while another inquiry about insects took off! Our students' creativity, imagination and love for learning grew daily outdoors and it was amazing to see them take risks, go outside their comfort zone and develop a sense of environmental stewardship. I can even say the same about myself as an educator. I stepped outside my comfort zone daily, took risks and have gained a new sense of appreciation for nature as an educator.  
A HUGE thank you goes out to Tanya for her collaboration, patience, enthusiasm, passion and love for the outdoors. She not only inspired me daily, but she helped me see how amazing the outdoors can be as a second classroom. Thank you to Diane and the instructors from ThinkinEd for also inspiring me daily throughout this project and for helping create an enriching, thought-provoking and robust learning environment outdoors for our students and for us as a teaching team.  

If you would like to see more photos and ideas created throughout this Pilot Project, be sure to follow the hashtag: #InspireLearningOutside on social media. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Curious about Caterpillars

Here is a snapshot of some of our documentation about our most recent and exciting inquiry! This is a very exciting time because next week we will begin a Ministry Pilot Project called "A Week in the Forest" which will allow us to embrace the outdoors in our learning and we are excited to bring this inquiry into this wonderful opportunity! Stay tuned for more posts to come!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lights, Camera, Action: Extending our Movie Theatre Inquiry beyond the walls of our classroom!

This blog post is long overdue but one that I'm excited to be sharing nonetheless! Our Movie Theatre Inquiry continues to be an engaging and exciting learning space in our classroom! Prior to our March Break, we had the incredible opportunity of visiting The Roxy Theatre; a historically restored movie theatre located in Uxbridge, Ontario.

Image from Google Images
The planning and purpose of this field trip was to support our students' understanding of what movie theatre's look like and what roles are needed, but also extend their learning beyond the surface to develop a deeper understanding around how they operate! Little did we know as an educator team, that the morning itself would be full of surprises!

Upon our arrival, students instantly recognized the "ticket booth" from our classroom discussions and were greeted by the lovely Miss Cathy! Their reaction was priceless as it confirmed their predictions that the circle in the middle was in fact a microphone!

Once we entered The Roxy, the first thing we saw was the popcorn machine and students couldn't wait to find out how the popcorn gets made! The theatre was full of collected movie artifacts, posters new and old, and decor that helped celebrate that "old-time" flare of what going to the movies used to be like a long time ago.

Students recognized many similarities between The Roxy Theatre and our very own movie theatre in our classroom! It was truly wonderful to see the excitement in their eyes as they made those connections (e.g. menus, popcorn and drink sizes, movie seats, big screen). Noticing that The Roxy had different flavours of drinks and a variety popcorn toppings led our students to want to add that into our movie theatre when back at school - a perfect next step for our inquiry!

The Roxy is a place that definitely celebrates the love for movies, and to our surprise, Miss Cathy directed us to look at two big black machines which happened to be old projectors from 1920 and 1932! She showed us what "film" used to look like and how the projectors worked and even taught us that one of the projectors didn't even play sound! We learned that the sound for the movie came from a radio or from a live band!

The next part of our excursion was by far our students' favourite - learning how a real movie theatre makes popcorn! Due to the fact that the popcorn machine itself was very hot, Miss Cathy walked us through each step and answered all the questions our students had! To our surprise, students got to each go behind the counter and scoop their own little bag of popcorn and enjoy it for the rest of the trip!

Miss Cathy then took us upstairs to the special Projection Room where we got to see firsthand how the movies play off of big computers in a real movie theatre! Due to privacy reasons, I cannot post these photos, but I can share how excited our students were to see the big screen from the little projector window!

Lastly, our students got to feel like special VIP customers as Miss Cathy shared exclusive previews while we all sat in the theatre enjoying our popcorn! 

All in all, this type of excursion truly allowed our students to extend their learning beyond the walls of our classroom. It provided a firsthand look at the workings of a movie theatre and how it related to our dramatic play back in our classroom. Presently, our students have added new feature films and have been working on forming different menus with specific flavours, prices and more! We look forward to continuing our inquiry and seeing where it takes us next! 

A big and special thank you to Cathy Christoff for being so accommodating and patient with our young learners and providing them with an incredible learning experience to support our inquiry! 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Always Learning; Four-Ever Inspired

February is a month that celebrates family, love and friendship! Of all these things, I am extremely fortunate to have so many inspiring colleagues that are also wonderful friends. Within the realm of education, practices and pedagogy are constantly evolving and it is because of these friends that I continue to push my own thinking and learning, reflect, and take risks for myself, my program and with my students. Whether it be lunchtime conversations, after-school workshops or casual coffee dates, three friends in particular have allowed me to pave new roads in my journey which I couldn't be more excited about!

Trista Dutt, Joanne Babalis, Vanessa Bianchi, and myself are all teachers, bloggers and passionate risk-takers who have enjoyed connecting as colleagues but also as friends, through networks like #CTInquiry: Connected through inquiry: A curious community of learners, social media (twitter, blogs), and in person.    

“Four-ever Inspired” was created out of these unique, organic and inspiring conversations and connections that I've been fortunate enough to have created over the last four years of teaching within the York Region District School Board. To begin this exciting new chapter, the ladies of Fourever Inspired met at the Indigo Starbucks in Yorkdale Mall to brainstorm, collaborate and develop a plan for what we wanted our blogging community to be about...

A mosaic of creativity, learning and dreaming.

Each member of Fourever Inspired is colourful, creative, and dynamic in their own unique way. But...when together, the colours, creativity and passion that comes alive paints the most beautiful picture of collaborative learning.

-Vanessa Bianchi-
The Evolving Educator

Vanessa Bianchi is an educator for the York Region District School Board, who is currently serving as a Grade 5 Homeroom Teacher. Through various leadership opportunities, workshops, conferences and collaborative efforts with colleagues, she has gained an interest in building positive and collaborative climates within the school environment. This collaboration allows for the design of intriguing spaces for students and teachers to learn, as well as construct curricular expectations around student-interest and passions, allowing for a dynamic educational experience.

Vanessa Bianchi and I became quick friends while teaching at the same school for the past three years. She is an extremely passionate, dedicated and driven Junior/Intermediate teacher, and we discovered quickly that we had lots in common and shared philosophies when it came to teaching, friendship, love and life. Our journey together as educators and friends continues to grow as we bounce ideas off each other constantly, share the many celebrations going on in our classrooms, and seek outside learning opportunities to fuel our passions.

-Trista Dutt-
Kindie Korner

Trista Dutt has a degree in Early Childhood Education, as well as her Bachelor of Education in Primary/Junior divisions and Kindergarten Specialist. She is currently teaching FDK at Moraine Hills PS, where she is a K-2 Lead Teacher and Learning @ Schools Classroom. She is passionate about the early years and exploring the world of play- and inquiry-based learning.

Trista and I had the privilege of meeting each other four years ago when we both landed our permanent contract positions with the York Region District School Board. I think back then we already had inklings that we would be seeing each other lots in the future! We were fortunate to be involved in a collaborative Math Hub with our two schools at the time which led to some wonderful new learning as we began our kindergarten journeys. I was instantly drawn to how passionate and knowledgeable Trista was, how eager she was to take risks in her learning and try new things within her program. We soon came to realize that we had lots of mutual friends within the field and I feel very lucky to have her within my Professional Learning Network.

-Joanne Marie Babalis-
TransformEd: Transforming our Learning Environment into a Space of Possibilities

Joanne Marie Babalis is a Teacher-Librarian, Early Years/Inquiry Lead Teacher, PhD student, and Kindergarten Additional Qualification instructor at York University.  She is passionate about designing spaces that inspire inquiry-based learning and creative innovation for twenty-first century learners.  Her blog, "TransformEd: Transforming our Learning Environment into a Space of Possibilities" continues to reach educators throughout Canada and beyond. With each post, she hopes to make visible the power of inquiry, as well as the strong potential of all learners.

I was first introduced to the incredible work of Joanne Babalis by my old teaching partner, Heidi Theis who was an avid follower of her blog. After visiting Joanne's first Open House session, I witnessed firsthand the endless possibilities that classroom environments and the kindergarten curriculum can have on our youngest learners and how the practise of inquiry-based learning can have such a profound impact within the walls of our classrooms.

And so the journey begins...

We look forward to having you follow our journey!

Reflectively Yours,


“Four” more on the ladies of Fourever Inspired and the unique stories that brought them together, including those essential “work bag” items...

...visit Vanessa’s post, “Fourever Inspired: A Collaboration”:

...visit Trista's post, “The Start of Something Truly Inspirational”:

...visit Joanne’s post, “4Ever Friends”:

What's in my work bag?

Kate Spade Spiral Notebook, Michael Kors Glasses, iPad Air with iPad Air Smart Cover, MacBook Air, Learning in the Early Years (ETFOpley professional resource), Classroom Keys, Staedtler Coloured Pens, Sharpie Highlighter and Pen.