Friday, January 25, 2013

Tracks in the Snow

On the Trail
Mouse Tracks

Rabbit Tracks


Today we ventured into the woods in search of animal tracks.  We read a story involving animal tracks and decided to look for some in the snow in our backyard.  It was the perfect day for it with newly fallen snow and little disturbance.  We found several sets of tracks and were able to identify a few with a chart I provided.  We actually saw the mouse that left the above prints as she/he ran for cover on our approach.  In addition to the various tracks we saw a nuthatch, several chickadees, and many American crows.  It's amazing what you can see, learn and observe on a short 15 minute trip in the backyard! 

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year's Resolution

Bailey writing on the meaning of nature-study . . .
What may be the results of nature-study?
"Its legitimate result is education--the developing of mental power, the opening of the eyes and the mind, the civilizing of the individual.  As with all education, its central purpose is to make the individual happy; for happiness is nothing more nor less than pleasant and efficient thinking.  It is often said that the ignorant man may be as happy as the educated man.  Relatively, this is true; absolutely, it is not.  A ten-foot well is not so deep as a twenty-foot well; and although the ten-foot well may be full to the brim, it holds only half as much water as the other."  --Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Nature-Study Idea, 1905

Our backyard project is in many ways nearly complete.  We have two trails, garden beds, a walkway near the wetlands, tree identification signs, birdhouses, and soon outdoor seating for 30 students surrounded by trees.  It's beautiful.  It's incredibly beautiful.  We could add more, and like any good garden, there is room to grow and room to blossom.  But now the real work is in our hands as educators.  How do we make this project a tangible tool for teaching?  I've thought about this since the day of its conception and yet I have written not a single lesson plan (although, truth be told, my class has been out on the trails many times).  A small group of interested people met two summers ago to discuss these very questions.  The group was an amazing collection of educators, some retired and some just stepping into the field.  We came up with a start.  We decided (someone smarter than me suggested it, I just can't remember who) that we develop ideas and lessons based on the seasons.  We would have tubs assigned to fall, winter and spring with ideas and activities that fit the seasons.  That, I think is brilliant.  It is simple and it is easy.  The tough question remains, what is worthy of teaching?  What ideas and lessons do we allow into the tubs?  Our time is precious and we have to choose what is worthy and most valuable to teach our students.    

A gifted teacher and generous friend of mine, Marianne Houston, once told me, "You teach who you are Becky, so take care of yourself!"  That nugget of wisdom has rattled around in my head for most of twenty years.  I knew it was true, but I have often pondered what it meant.  I love teaching, or maybe it would be more honest to say, I loved teaching.  Over the past few years, as more and more testing and evaluating has invaded our classrooms, teaching has become more and more of a burden.  I've felt inadequate, even when I've seen students grow and learn.  I've felt as if I am never quite good enough and if all my students don't acquire at least a B or an A on the tests handed down to me, I have failed my job.  It's hard to put your heart and soul into a burden and a failure.  And it's hard to put your heart and soul into teaching a test.  I tell myself, I'm here for the kids and not for the tests, but it's still a burden and I still feel the failure.  "As with all education, its central purpose is to make the individual happy . . ."  When the joy of teaching is gone, we lose the joy of learning.  And when the joy of learning is gone, learning is diminished.  How could it be otherwise?  Those of us who love learning and love teaching, need to take care of ourselves, so that we can share the joy of education with the students in our classrooms.  My New Year's resolution is just that.  My goal is to renew my joy in teaching so that my students can find the joy in learning.   Marianne was so wise to teach me such a simple truth and I am forever grateful to her.

Russ Schipper, Bird Expert and Educator

I am reminded of the joy of learning when I am in the company of enthusiastic teachers.  One such educator is Russ Schipper.  Although he is not a "certified" teacher, he is one of the most gifted in terms of pure love of learning and the study of his favorite subject matter, birds.  Russ came and talked to a dozen classrooms at North Shore Elementary, one at a time.  He spread his love of birds and joy of learning to all the students (and teachers) who participated and we are thankful!  He will be coming back to North Shore to help us participate in the North American Backyard Bird Count on February 15th.  My class is excited to join in this exciting event with Russ.  I know that there is not a test that will ask my students if they can identify a chickadee from a nuthatch, but I do know that is not what is really important anyway.  I know that if the real lesson taught is the love of learning, then the sky is the limit for our students.  They will never stop learning or finding happiness in knowledge.

This brings me back to the question, what is it that we teach in our backyard?  As we form ideas and develop lessons, I hope that we remember the happiness and joy that is the root of education.  For this is why we are here.  Happy New Year!