Teachers had a chance to spend a day outdoors with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve staff during a special training day called “Encountering Nature: Taking Your Class Outside” on March 30 at Muskoka Woods Camp in Rosseau.
Outdoor teaching in and about The Biosphere.
Teachers learn about life in The Biosphere and how to teach it to their students.
Cody Storm Cooper photo
The goal was to involve teachers who are environmental leaders in their schools, giving them greater skills, confidence and knowledge to deliver prepared "Lessons-in-a-Backpack". Each lesson is a unit linked to the Ontario curriculum and related to the local UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Themes include aquatic ecology, forest ecology, and species at risk.
Since 2009, 15 different units have been developed and are available free to teachers from the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve website.
“The Lessons-in-a-Backpack take children outside, encourage them to discover the fascinations of nature and are designed to fit into the curriculum for grades one to ten,” says Martha Martens, program coordinator. “That’s why teachers can easily build the units into their related subjects. I offered some of the lessons myself and had great fun doing them! We want to encourage teachers to carry on themselves by using the various educational materials we developed.”
The workshop on March 30 used a "train the trainer" model allowing teachers to take part in lesson plans that they can use for their classes later. The units included: wetland study, biodiversity, geology, and animal tracks, all adaptable topics for different grade levels. During the day, three experts presented related topics. Steve Munro, from Westwind Forest Stewardship Inc., gave an overview of forest ecology and key issues, such as how climate change is increasing pest outbreaks in the industry. Glenda Clayton, from GBBR, updated teachers on the 35 species at risk here, and Rebecca Willison from the Muskoka Watershed Council gave an overview of water quality monitoring techniques for children to use.
Other organizations invited to share what resources they offer included Killbear Park and “Sciensational Sssnakes.” With contacts such as these, teachers are given the opportunity to expand their outdoor teaching.
Carrie Nolan, also staff of Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, is working on her Ph.D. thesis related to leadership.
“Outdoor education can be an important link to nature, which is society’s very basis,” she explains. “Children learning not only in classrooms but also directly in the outdoors reap academic benefits as well as increased appreciation and knowledge of nature. Studies have shown that learning in nature can help students improve attention, academic performance and attitudes as well as foster creativity. We hope to make the benefits of outdoor education accessible for local teachers and we want to encourage them to integrate the natural world into their lessons.”
“The Board supports environmental education and wants students to learn about local issues and to feel proud of their UNESCO designation,” said Glen Hodgson from the Near North District School Board.
The “Lessons-in-a-Backpack” program has also attracted the attention of teachers outside the Board.
“We have been contacted by teachers in Midland and Oakville,” says Becky Pollock, of the GBBR. “A Montessori school in southern Ontario takes all their field trips in the Parry Sound area and are interested in using our lesson plans.”
The training event was made possible by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Lake Huron-Georgian Bay Framework for Community Action. The day ended with a planning session to secure commitment from teachers, linking them into the Biosphere Educators Network, and creating a wider community of practice for environmental education.
The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve stretches from Port Severn to the French River and is meant to be a model of sustainable development through conservation, community development, education and research. For information visit: www.gbbr.ca.