There is a very interesting dynamic between two of the strongest trends for K-12 education — connecting to the earth and connecting to the digital world. Though these two ideas appear to run counter to one another, they can also coexist, and they do work together in the evolution of the education system.
I have covered digital connections on many occasions — from my presentation at TEDx, a post on Classrooms of the Near Future, and a reflection on How My Teaching has Changed. In West Vancouver, throughout British Columbia, and across the world, there have been fascinating examples of technology infused practice and the evolution of learning with technology to simply learn (with technology ever-present and creating these experiences for students).
I have also written about the intensification of inquiry and self-regulation — two other key theme areas we are seeing in our schools. However, there is another topic that is not receiving as much attention, but should, and that is the increase in curriculum and programs toward connecting to the earth. Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady growth of student-driven environmental clubs, school-wide efforts around sustainability, and the proliferation of school gardens. But, there is also much going on beyond these largely co-curricular or extra-curricular opportunities.
On Bowen Island, the Bowen Island Community School is launching Outside45 — a choice program for Grade 6 and 7 students. Principal Jennifer Pardee, and Vice-Principal Scott Slater, describe the program as a “new district academy that will complement our school’s vision in terms of environmental education and inquiry-based learning by blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in the community and natural environment.”
When the program was announced in the fall, there was always the question of enrollment, and it ended up being oversubscribed for its first year. While it stands alone in the best of current thinking around learning with meaningful connections to the outdoors, it is also part of a larger vision around sustainability at the school.
At the other end of the district, West Vancouver Secondary School has seen the growth of the Sustainable Resources / Urban Agriculture course. Led by Gordon Trousdell, the West Vancouver campus is now home to two bee hives. The course is also a draw because of its off-hour scheduling, and has attracted students from the other two secondary schools. Steve Rauh (here) blogged about the course earlier in the year and it was also featured in the North Shore News. The course takes concepts from the science classroom and brings them to life for students who pursue passions in real world experiences.
Photo credit: Gordon Trousdell
Of course, these programs are not unique to West Vancouver — there are several others we have looked at for guidance: Saturna Ecological Education Centre (Gulf Islands School district), Nature Kindergarten (Sooke School district), and the place-based Environmental School Project (Maple Ridge School district). All programs are unique — yet similar — including place-based learning, inquiry, imagination, and experiential learning.
But, returning to my theory; while the trends appear to run counter to one another — the programs exploring the digital landscape, and those connecting more deeply to the earth and ecology — are actually bouncing off some very similar themes. So, connected schools like the Calgary Science School have found ways to marry the commitment of both in the same environment.
I am often pressed about the future of schooling, and I always come back to the themes of digital literacy, inquiry, self-regulation and the strong belief that schools are key gathering places in the community and are not going away. I will also say, I see a new trend in education emerging as we connect to the digital space and to the earth. I am hopeful we will find thoughtful ways to link the two.