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(Un)Learning: Embracing Education Outdoors Teacher Conference

| Categories: Our People, Sustainability
Earth Day Pro D

Today is World Environment Day. In honour of this day, we reflect on sustainable learnings (and un-learning) that took place this year for educators across the District. 

On Earth Day this year– more than 150 educators from all grade levels and all areas of the VSB gathered to learn and unlearn from each other about outdoor learning. This unique session was devised and delivered by a team of dedicated VSB educators. 

“Our vision for this Pro-D event is to highlight the good work that is being done on school grounds and nearby green spaces, to mentor individuals with varying levels of eco-consciousness, and to continue to build up leader capabilities,” says Elsa Medina, co-president of the local Environmental Educators Provincial Specialist Association (EEPSA) Chapter. “We are growing a collective of educators and other professionals in our District to work together in a good way for our students.” 

The morning started with 11 field experiences throughout Vancouver, all outdoors. Educators welcomed colleagues to their schools and nearby parks to showcase how and where they take students outside for learning. Among many others, there was a bike riding field trip at Byng, an Indigenous food and medicine workshop at šxʷwəq̓ʷəθət Crosstown, an outdoor science and math workshop at Gladstone, a school garden tour at Nelson, an urban-setting nature workshop at Strathcona, a Camosun Bog Plant Walk, and a showcase from the Outdoor Education Prep teachers at Cunningham. 

"What makes taking kids outside easier? We shared a list of free or affordable field trips, hacks on field trip paperwork, and ideas for how to take science and math classes into the garden. We also looked at Gladstone's "plant library" where students practice plant ID using plant cards or iNaturalist, make monthly observations of their plant-friend and practice being more aware of the Moon cycle and seasonal changes. What is the magic that I found to get the students to connect with those that grow out of the ground and those that buzz around? A half of a yoga mat to sit on!" Says Jana Ronne, a teacher at Gladstone Secondary. 

After their morning workshops, the attendees gathered at Tupper Secondary for a vegetarian communal lunch. Alec Dan, member of Musqueam, led a welcome ceremony. Alex Plattner, a teacher at David Thompson Secondary then led a plenary presentation about how we can “ungarbage” our waste systems. 

“The problem is not what doesn’t end up in the garbage, but what does end up in the garbage,” he says. “Waste becomes garbage only if we let it. We have a golden opportunity to teach students how to sort waste into proper streams so it doesn’t become garbage. We will only begin to solve the problem by first acknowledging that we need to change the way we think – the garbage bin has to become the last place we throw waste, not the first.” 

The afternoon workshops at Tupper included topics such as how to get started with taking learning outside, climate change action tools for all grades, Indigenous weaving and place-based pedagogy, as well as an innovative LEAF framework for student capstone projects. The closing plenary session was led by VSB Indigenous Curriculum Consultant, Brandon Peters. 

“There are teachings and opportunities to learn from the world we have around us – from the various beings that share our world, to the land that supports the very fabric of all life – there are valuable lessons that surround us,” he says. “Curiosity and an open mind and heart will help us learn about and respect our surroundings to ensure that we preserve this world for future generations.” 

The participants left the day with newfound knowledge, confidence and encouragement for taking their learning – and unlearning – outside the classroom. Collectively, they have the potential to impact thousands of students every year - a powerful legacy of this Earth Day at our VSB.

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