Inquiry based learning is the process of having your students learn through their own research questions. My favourite “type” would be guided inquiry because it allows for teachers to give a topic to the students to work in. However, there are other types of inquiry based learning that are more strict, giving narrower options for choice, and more broad.
In my first semester of education school, I went to a professional development discussion hosted by the Education Student’s Society. The discussion was titled, “Become a Superhero Middle School Teacher”, and the lecturer was an “award” winning middle school teaching in Regina, Saskatchewan. He had been given the title of the city’s best teacher a few years before, published by the Prairie Dog magazine. The most important thing I took away from his talk was the concept of “genius hour”.
When I started to do more research for this blog post and reflection, I found more and more information on this concept of “genius hour”. Essentially, it’s an hour a week where students can explore, learn, and research whatever they like, and then they present on it at the end of the term. Teachers can make it as guided as they’d like, and the length is also option. What teachers seem to love about this project idea is that it hits a bunch of outcomes appropriately and “naturally” by the end of the year— not to mention, students love it.
Genius Hour would look like this: at the beginning of the term, students will be explained that they get an hour in the afternoon every Wednesday to explore something that they are interested in. They must, for the rest of the term, research it and document their research. They then can perform experiments, practice their skill, or learn more about their topic in their own style. Some students would prefer to document their learnings and milestones in writing, while others would prefer to document them on video or online. Technology could be a huge part of this project, and a website like Twitter could be used to keep the project up to date.
The last “task” would be performing what they’ve done throughout the term to their class. Teacher’s have said that this is the most amazing part because it brings students out of their shell. Some students show their talents of singing, playing instruments, rapping, taking pictures, or even doing complicated math! The options are endless.
For environmental education, inquiry based learning offers the freedom for students to explore areas that they are really interested in, and as a result get more out of the class. This also allows for the students to learn from themselves, and trust their knowledge on how they learn best as students. Teachers can use interdisciplinary inquiry based projects in their class while also requiring that their is an environmental aspect achieved. This could be as simple as, “all written journals and reflections must be written outdoors”. For this purpose, students could use the outdoors as a meditative and calming ground, and explain why they felt this was asked of them in their presentation.
The inquiry cycles I have used have been fairly unique, and possibly more simple than the traditional ones. My cycle is generally like the following:
Assess what’s asked of me –> reflect on how I feel about what’s asked of me —> ask questions if needed —> find an interest in the topic (if guided) —> reflect on my topic and why it’s interesting to me —-> research my topic —-> ask questions that have come up since research —-> perform experiments/interviews/deeper understanding exercises related to topic —–> put work together into a presentation —-> reflect on work done —-> present
This process has worked for me, since I’m both an inquisitive and reflective person. I’ve used this process in ESCI 302 through our guided inquiry assignment, as well as during our poem assignment. In conclusion I feel like these types of assignments and projects make people grow, because they teach us to push ourselves and trust ourselves. This is why I took dried leaves from a bouquet and glued them to the sheet that says “genius hour” for this blog post. I wanted to demonstrate that projects like genius hour will help our students grow into better and smarter people.
Newbery’s article, the Canoe Pedagogy, explores the dilemma of environmental education from a Euro-Western point of view. Newberry feels that the opportunities to learn about the land, understand Indigenous history, and teach Treaty Education is missed when teachers leave out these stories when exploring nature. This is a huge problem in environmental education because this creates the idea of “wilderness” vs. “habitable”. Wilderness, with the root word “wild” is often used to describe the nature, and is perceived as a place that is untouched, without footprints, without stories.
Is this true? When you take your class up to Northern Saskatchewan to teach them how to camp with only what’s on your back, are you the first to do so? It certainly feels this way, but there is a lesson missed there. This is the opportunity to teach students, and teach yourself, that humans have lived on this land before settlers. There are stories about the land and perspectives of the land that we (as settlers) are exempt from—but they’re still real, important, and part of our history.
As we learnt this week through a traditional Blanket Exercise, historical stories of the land have been often forgotten because the storytellers have been displaced, have died, or have been killed. By seeing the Northern areas of Canada as untouched and un-wandered, we further erase the events that have occurred there. This has been a fundamental aspect of this class as a whole for me. I have realized that when settlersspeak of history, we often speak of our land as if it was created for us the day we stepped foot on it. We forget that we have only been a part of the story.
When I was in high school, I was in first and only outdoor education class. Our large assignment at the end of the term was a camping trip near Waskesiu. In my mind the trip was designed to teach us about how to survive in “the wild” onour own. Not until now am I reconsidering what a trip like this should have taught our class. We should not have considered this area of land to be ours to wander and make memories out of. We should have been considering the 100-year-old trees, and the hands that have laid upon them like ours. We should have considered the name of the area we were walking in and the reason that someone might call it that. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waskesiu_Lake:
“The lake’s name is Waskesiu , meaning “red deer,” or elk, in the Cree language”
To me these teachings would have disrupted the common sense idea of Canadian wilderness. Learning about the people who walked these lands before colonization would have allowed for students to consider themselves part of a larger and more important story. The story of how we can take action for those who lost their rights.
For my physical piece this week that I’ve created to represent this way of knowing is a map with the Numbered Treaties of Canada. I’ve added the map here, acquired from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbered_Treaties.
My creative piece for this blog post is my creation of the Canadian map, and whereI’ve been on it. Instead of saying that I’ve been to Northern Saskatchewan, I should say that I’ve been to Treaty 6. Changing my language about our land to respect the work of Indigenous peoples is a way that I can fight for something that matters to me in my country.
On Thursday we visited the Water Treatment plant. We were given a tour by a kind man named Ray, and he showed us how the water goes from undrinkable, swimmable, or usable, to clean. It was actually an amazing process to visit, and it made me consider how much power a water treatment plant has. The power to make dirty water clean is like having the power to make 5,000 loaves of bread out of only one: you can feed so many (the reader should note that I’m not religious – this is just a good story to compare).
However, this also made me think about the cost of water usage. When we use water, it comes from the plant. The plant then takes the water that we use and cleans it. Every time I run my tap, wash my dishes, or flush my toilet it goes to the plant. Not to mention washing my laundry or showering. This has me thinking about the costs of my consumption. How much energy is used to make the water clean? How much water could I conserve by being more aware?
In my apartment we don’t actually pay for our water usage. This has made me personally make some non-water friendly decisions, not thinking about the environmental costs at all. This has included letting the tap run longer than needed, draining a whole bath tub unused, or leaving a leaky tap unfixed for months.
In Kimmerer’s chapter, Witness to the Rain, I found that this quote spoke to me about the unseen and unheard needs of clean water,”This is the water that moves under the stream, in cobble beds and old sandbars. It edges up the toe slope to the forest, wide unseen river that flows beneath the eddies and the splash” (Kimmerer, 294). To me, this quote is saying that even though we don’t see or hear it… Someone/something values and needs it. This could mean that when I leave my tap running, even if I don’t see the environmental impacts directly, a plant or animal is suffering from the chemicals and pollution that a water treatment plant uses and causes.
This way of thinking had me reflect on other consumptions that I have indulged in that are environmentally unfriendly. After watching the documentary (available on Netflix) Minimalism, I became more aware of how consuming cheap and meaningless goods is not only harmful to our planet, but it’s harmful to our happiness. More things actually means more mental health issues, statistically.
To make change, we need to be active. As Kimmerer writes, “Here in the rainforest, I don’t want to be just a bystander to the rain, passive and protected; I want to be part of the downpour, to be soaked, along with the dark humus that squishes underfoot” (Kimmerer, 295). I feel that here in the world, I do not want to let my small apartment fill with useless junk that will end up in a landfill one day. For that reason, my partner and I have decided to get rid of (and not replace) one thing a day in our house for a year. It can be small, but it has to be something.
Below are some of the photos of the things we’ve gotten rid of. Nothing useful, however, is ending up in a land fill. That’s part of the challenge. We will either give it away, sell it, or donate it to someone in need (or recycle it in the case of the many magazines…). This is our way of taking action against something we consider to be an underlying environmental problem. And we pledge to resist the urge to re-buy these items as well, and instead borrow items from our friends when we need them.
We’ve been doing this since March 1st, do you think we can do it for the whole year?! Is this a good way to reduce waste in our world? Even though our class discovered the workings of the water treatment plant, I’m applying this to a topic that I feel disrupt our lifestyle a little more — that’s how you save the world.
Question: What does embodiment mean to you, in the context of climate change and ecoliteracy? What do you notice about your ways of knowing (and being)?
To me, embodiment means physically changing habits and perspective in order to benefit the environment. This could be using organic products, choosing to buy morally made products, or buying items that will decompose within your lifetime. This is a huge part of reducing the effects of climate change. People need to realize that it starts with us, and then the larger corporations making big decisions will change, not the other way around.
In the beginning of this semester, we discussed the importance and significance of creating an environmental journal. This idea stuck with me, and it’s something that I’d absolutely encourage my future students to do. What I liked about the idea of having an environmental journal is that it would allow for individuals to connect with their experiences in a new way, by documenting and reflecting. The article we read highlighted creative ways to take the experiences “home” with you, like painting a watercolour picture with water from a local stream, etc.
This last week that I was in Hawaii, I was overwhelmed with how much the culture valued the environment and the land that we were travelling on. The people who lived there spent so much time outside that they usually felt a spiritual connection to the land. As well, Hawaii is so isolated that past generations relied on the small land for their food, water, and garments.
After reflectingon my experience there, I decided that I wanted to showcase how I feel about embodiment by creating an environmental journal to appreciate the natural world more. My theory is that the more you love something, the more you want the best for it (simple and sweet). I hope that as I connect with my experiences in the environment more, I’ll become more aware of the ways that I can stand up for it.
The picture I decided to draw was of our view outside our condo in Maui. What is amazing about Hawaii is that they have had a diverse history of major economic sources. The major sources have been sugar cane and whales. Whaling has been now outlawed, and as a result more whales can be seen in the ocean during the mating and birthing seasons. While we were looking out our window, and on the deck, we saw whales jumping, playing, and stretching often! This made me think about what humans do to the animals and land, selfishly, and how major decisions cans ave species and whole communities!
When I wrote my poem I was considering what it meant to be an Eco-literate person, based on the people I know who I’d consider Eco-literate and the experiences I’ve had with them. The content in this class overall has made me reflect on my experiences in the outdoors while I was growing up. To be specific, I often think about the memories I have on my dad’s property in Vermont, where things seem so much more connected with the natural environment than they do in Regina, Saskatchewan (where I live now).
This is why I wrote, “You have raised me, what can I say?” in my poem above. Ultimately, I feel as if the natural environment and my experiences with it as a child have shaped me to be who I am. I am a gentle person with a love for animals and swimming. These loves have been formed out of me involvements on my dad’s property, swimming in the creek and following animals through the woods for hours.
My obsession with my father’s land in Vermont is not to say, however, that I do not enjoy the prairie geography, as well. There is just something grabbing about a land that has raised a person, while at the same time absolutely flourishing. In Braiding Sweetgrass, a book by Robin Kimmerer, the author describes her beloved land in the following way: “We haven’t even mentioned how they create habitat for songbirds and wildlife cover, golden leaves to shuffle through, tree forts and branches for swings. Centuries of their falling leaves have built this soil” (Kimmerer, 169).
Kimmerer describes the trees she vows to protect in the same way that I feel about the land that my family has walked on out East. The above excerpt reminds me so much of the tree filled mountains and clean hillside air that I thought of when I was writing my poem. This to me says that by appreciating what it is that a land brings to us, we will be more inclined to protect it.
In Rickie’s, poem, she describes this very well. She explains that her grandmother taught her how to love and live with the natural environment. In particular, she says, “When I was little you taught me how the world should be, how we should treat Mother Nature with respect”. This to me correlates with what I said in my poem when I wrote, “You have braved me, prepared me for today. You have supplied me, with the food I need to be, you have taught me that within you I can be just me”. By this I meant that the earth, like Rickie said, is all we need and supplies us with the fundamentals to survive—and it asks almost nothing in return, just our love and respect.
My father lives on the land that I talk so dearly of, and he is the most Eco-literate person I can think of. My father is the type of person to farm his land only to cover his garden, drink the water from the stream, and walk barefoot on his dirt floor bathroom. When I wrote, “Earth you have showed me, that I need you when I don’t want to. Earth you have fought me, and for that I do so dearly love you” in my poem, I was referring to the times that I was asked to come out to my dad’s property, but resisted it. Now, as an adult, I crave to be within the trees and the tall grass. Therefor, I feel the need to thank the earth and the land I grew up on for being there for me through my resistance, and through times I was not appreciative. Camryn’s speaks about this type of “taking for granted” behaviour in her poem about Eco-literacy. Camryn states that Eco-literacy itself is being taken for granted, and I would agree. I feel that the life my dad lives, trying to be connected with nature, is slowly becoming more uncommon.
In conclusion, to me Eco-literacy is living with nature and appreciating the beauty it holds, and respecting the natural resources. An Eco-literate person would most likely live amongst nature and love their environment for what it brings to them. I believe that I can work towards being an Eco-literate person by sharing my love for the environment with those around me and giving back to the land.
You have raised me, what can I say?
You have braved me, prepared me for today.
You have supplied me, with the food I need to be,
You have taught me that within you I can be just me.
Earth you have showed me, that I need you when I don’t want to.
Earth you have fought me, and for that I do so dearly love you