Part 1: Analysis of Context
1. What do we know about our learners?
Sullivan Elementary is located on the Eastern border of Newton and sits in the middle of a well established older community juxtaposed with a fast developing neighbourhood of townhouses and single family row homes. We currently have 280 students of various cultural backgrounds and there are no significant socioeconomic barriers. There is a very active and supportive PAC at Sullivan and many moms volunteer within the primary classrooms as well as plan school community events.
Recently there have been changes to the BC Curriculum which include the adoption of the First Peoples Principles of Learning. The teachers at Sullivan had been noticing over the years a decrease in students’ ability to self-regulate and for the past few years have been focussing on Social Emotional Learning as a school focus. In 2016, the primary team had begun exploring outdoor learning with concentrated explorations of the neighbouring mini forest. What they did not expect was that they began to observe changes in students’ social and emotional learning as they continued to interact with the natural setting of the forest.
Wanting to explore this further, our primary team of teachers proposed the following action research questions: “How might outdoor learning contribute to the development of Aboriginal Perspectives and World Wide Views? How might participating in outdoor learning help develop, in ourselves and our students, an intrinsic understanding of the First Peoples Principles of Learning?”
Specifically teachers were interested in the 2nd principle: Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focussed on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships and a sense of place).
2. What evidence supports what we know about our learners?
In September, all students in Divisions 12-7 participated in creating a drawing and short journal entry in response to “What is a forest”. Some observations made by the teachers were that many of the students did not have their own experiences or memories within a forest setting and their pictures and sentences were abstract and generalizations. Many commented on their fear of the forest or only commented on the physical attributes of the forest such as trees.
Over time it is anticipated that as students learn and experience the mini forest at Sullivan Elementary they will begin to develop the 2nd principle from the First Peoples Principles of Learning. They develop their own understanding of a forest and all the parts of connectedness to our own lives and develop a stronger individual sense of place within their neighbourhood and school community.
We also hope and want to track any changes in students’ social / emotional well being. Are students able to empathize more with animals and therefore with their peers as they learn about animals in the natural forest habitat? Are they better able to self regulate as they build connections between their own identities and nature? It is anticipated that students will show growth in both these areas.
Part 2: Focus and Planning
3. What focus emerges as a question to pursue?
“How might outdoor learning contribute to the development of Aboriginal Perspectives and World Wide Views? How might participating in outdoor learning help develop, in ourselves and our students, an intrinsic understanding of the First Peoples Principles of Learning?”
4. What professional learning do we need?
- Learning about points of the Inquiry process (connect, wonder, investigate, construct, express and reflect)
- Professional Development around outdoor learning (workshops, Twitter feeds, blogs, websites, books etc.
- Monthly meetings to plan , reflect, connect , question, create and investigate
- Report out on progress and observations at monthly staff meetings
- Weekly newsletters to families to share outdoor learning experiences
- Work with Heidi Wood (District Aboriginal Helping Teacher to gather resources
- Visit outdoor school Maple Ridge Eco School
- Bring in Aboriginal Cultural Presenters
- Visit Opal School in Portland
5. What is our plan?
The plan is to go on weekly forest walks with all our classes from K-3 to learn about the interconnectedness between our lives and the ecosystem of the forest. By creating experiential learning experiences students learn about community, about animals and their habitats, about migration, hibernation and adaption, about weather and seasons and life cycles. Students are taught to ask questions they are curious about and while the class as a whole has an inquiry theme, students are encouraged to learn and follow their own natural curiosity.
By using Little Bits, natural puppets and art, students are able to recreate the connections they learned about on Forest Wallks through various means of story telling.
Teachers are making ongoing observations and recording anecdotal comments on students’ growth in the area of social emotional capacity. Specifically they are looking for improvements in self-regulation, self awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills.
At the end of the school year, teachers will again ask students to draw and write about their understanding of “What is a forest?” They will compare these pictures and writing to the samples created in September and be able to make a judgement as to whether or not the students have embraced the 2nd First People’s Principle of Learning: “Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focussed on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships and a sense of place).
Part 3: Reflect, Adjust, Celebrate
6. How will we know our plan is making a difference? (evidence / success criteria)
We will know we are making a difference when we look at our anecdotal notes about individual students. Have we seen increase in empathy with students? Have we seen an improvement in emotional regulation since the beginning of the year? Have there been improvements in peer relations and problem solving skills?
We will also know we are making a difference when we examine the end of the year pictures and writing in answer to What is a Forest? In order to be successful, students will not only comment and draw trees, but will be able to detail the ecosystem that lives within and explain the relationships between animals, the threes, ourselves, extreme weather, life cycles etc.