#1130 Forest School

Learner Led Learning

Forests – amazing classroom potential

It seems wherever we go in life we keep circling back to similar themes. I started teaching in the outdoors with Outward Bound in the mid 1990s and am returning to a taste of different outdoor teaching with Chelsea Forest School. The path to now has been an interesting one as my teaching philosophy continues to develop…

At school I excelled within the arts – physics and engineering were far from my core interests… until I needed them for an arts-based application.

About four years ago I wanted to buy a very large format camera to pursue a new part of my Watershed project. The negative from this camera is eight inches by ten inches. It’s a big camera. It wasn’t long before I realized the easiest way to acquire one (they’re expensive and scarce) was to build one myself. All of a sudden, I had a new passion for the physics of light applicable to designing and building a camera…. It made learning easy.

large format camera

Learning math and science through art…

This experience helped shape my philosophy of education.

During Teacher’s College I discovered  Forest School. I started learning about Forest School’s Learner Led Learning philosophy and fell in love with the idea. Why? At Forest School students are the driving force in their learning. Their teachers’ role is to build the curriculum around the students’ interests. Learners learn because they direct the learning… I wangled a way to visit a Forest School as part of my practicum and enjoyed what I saw.

Last year I had a great year. I led a traditional, but active, classroom. For me that meant as little sitting at desks as possible, more spirited debates, less worksheets, more hands-on learning. It wasn’t Forest School but I brought influences from many philosophies to the classroom.

Grade 4 classroom

Traditional Classroom Teaching

I saw the benefits of an active class. One of my students last year had had a tough year the year before. Initially he didn’t want to go to school. By the end of the year all that changed. I received a letter from his home that described the boy as thriving – his desire to skip school had vanished. Active learning has its benefits. Stories like this made me smile (more.)

This year I’m exploring my passions in teaching and enjoying some different contracts / opportunities…

I feel fortunate to be working a contract at Chelsea Forest School. The Learner Led Learning model is central to the teaching at the school. My job is to provide an environment that supports their interests and to build the curriculum around their passions. We spend almost all the time outside, in or near a forest.

child led learning

Chelsea Forest School learning

As a teacher it’s challenging – we need to support environments conducive to learning and be a catalyst as children discover and become engrossed in animal tracks, snow sculptures, bugs, imaginary space ships.

As a teacher it’s also lovely – watching students discovering, wandering, counting, building. I’ve never had to urge a Forest School student to get on with their work. Ever. Children always find something interesting and their work becomes play. And they learn!

… My 8×10 plywood camera still works well. It was designed and built with the zeal of true  intrigue – the essence of positive learning. That’s what learning looks like for me.

Home-made large format camera.

Home-made large format camera.

#1127 Curiosity, Passion and Learning.

I have vivid memories of my early schooling days.

I worked hard to get on the school honour role…  but never achieved it. I took courses because they were a “good idea,” not because they interested me. My first university degree was in finance and economics – a good career path – but not for me. Every day was un-inspiring. I obtained my first degree in a lack-lustre way.

The schools I attended and the courses I took were well respected. The problem, I now realize, was the approach I took to education. I did not look to my passions for guidance.

passionate learning

Passion leads to learning – if you enjoy what you’re doing,  it’s easy!

Passion
Once I started pursuing what actually interested me I performed at a much higher level. A trend emerged when I pursued my passions:

Arts/photography. I didn’t go to school for arts / photo but as far back as I remember I loved drawing, photographing, creating. I started a business.
I worked crazy hours producing commercial art. It didn’t feel like work. Before technology transformed the industry success developed through enthusiastic hard work. My best photo sale? A car driving up a city street in a Go-Pro style (before Go-Pro existed) licensed for $32,000 – and that was almost 20 years ago. Not bad for a self taught career based on passion.

• Creative/Innovation. I got excited about two interesting photo processes that required acquiring a big camera that I could not afford. I built the camera instead and needed to learn math/physics of focusing to make it work. Math and physics never excited me before but I loved the whole camera design/building process including the math. Math became important to my art! Watershed / Sunstreaks continue to flourish.

large format camera

Learning math and science through art – building a large format camera.

• Teaching. I went back to school in recent years for a Bachelor of Education. Taking a year to go back to school in my forties with a young family was an expensive luxury. I focused on learning as much about learning/teaching/development as my head could hold. I told myself I didn’t care about marks. That didn’t seem to matter. My passion led to Magna Cum Laude (high marks.)

I recognized a correlation. For me, success depended more on passion than blind perseverance. Passion led to knowledge that led to success in some form.

Learner-Led Learning
I’ve been investigating different ideas in education. One that speaks strongly to me (and supports passion in education) is “Emergent Education” or the idea of leader-led learning.

In traditional schools, students are presented what to learn. Current practices urge teachers to develop engaging ways to teach so that all students will consume the knowledge. Engaging all in direct or deductive learning can be hard to do with a large group.

In one of my elementary English classes students wrote a standardized exam. One of my very capable (and spunky) students had no interest in the creative writing component of the exam. What she did write earned her a failing mark on that part of the exam… despite her capabilities. If she had been allowed to produce a language assignment that interested her for the evaluation, her marks would have been better!

inquiry based learning

It’s easier when it’s interesting! Intrigue and inquiry based learning make learning easier…

In an inductive (learner-led) learning scenario students are supported, guided and evaluated based on their passions. Music? Computer coding/web development? Horses? The curriculum is built around student’s interests.

Criticism
Some opponents to inductive learning suggest that the students using this approach will miss important aspects of a well-rounded education. Remember my mention (above) of building a camera while I pursued my arts passion? To succeed I had to design and build the box camera using physics (focusing) and math (geometry.) When my goal was an arts project the math learning became more successful because it was interesting for me.

All-encompassing
• Music involves math.
• Learning about coding and web incorporates syntax and language skills.
• Horses can pull students into reading, writing, science, math, physical education.

In my classroom, when facilitating a lesson that draws on more than one core subject (cross-curricular teaching), I sometimes abruptly stop the class and ask “Is this math… or art?”

Deductive vs Inductive Learning – Summarized.
The traditional school approach is often based on a deductive or direct approach to teaching. Material is presented and students are expected to learn through different activities and platforms. This approach works for many students and can produce excellent results.

A new (but very old) approach is growing and supports people in different ways. The “emergent” or inductive approach to education differs in that students lead the learning and the curriculum is built around their passions.

More organizations are using this learner-led model to teach. The theory is old. Historically, people learned by pursuing what interested them. People are naturally curious and naturally seek the appropriate skills to succeed. This usually involves concepts of math, language, science and arts that fit their passions. With the right steps and support, that leads to a satisfying life.

Learner Led Learning

Positive Mentors

Time with Positive Mentors
Another factor that is important to successful learning is time with strong mentors. Interpersonal connections can make or break learning opportunities. We’ve all had teachers or mentors with whom we’ve connected. Spending time with them is fun and easy!

One boy in a class I was teaching came from a tough place. He had challenges and his academics suffered. At the beginning of the school year he was reluctant to come to school and reluctant to share his work. He asked “What happens if I make a mistake?…” I looked at him and, with a smile, announced “… It shows me you’re learning.”

By the end of the year his family sent a lovely letter saying how the boy had thrived during the year. He was also closer to meeting expectations. His biggest success was that he was coming to school and learning. That happened because he enjoyed it. Positive mentors make a pivotal difference.

Options for Different Students
I’m curious about learning. I’ve explored different options for teaching/learning and realize there are so many good options – it’s heartwarming!  Many students thrive in traditional schools. Some students perform better with different models of learning. Below are a few alternate options I’ve explored:

Forest School
Forest School caters to younger audiences and builds learning around children’s natural curiosity. They follow the Emergent Education Theory of Leader-Led Learning. Math, arts, language and science are all built around student’s discoveries as they explore the forest and nature around them.

Compass Centre for Self-Directed Learning
Compass supports youth’s learning passions through Leader-Led Learning by first investigating student’s passions and collaborating with community experts / organizations to access relevant learning for the individual’s goals.

Astolot Educational Centre
Astolot places emphasis on connecting teachers to students. Classes are very small and I saw a strong connection between the learners and teachers as they navigated the individual’s learning.

My life path has not been a traditional one but it has been exciting and (mostly) enjoyable. Looking back helps me navigate moving forward in positive ways. Seeing more options and ideas available for all learners makes me excited about the future of learning.

#1124 Laurentians / Tremblant Photo Safari and Adventure

Early mornings and a deliberate, casual pace marked this week’s photo adventure in the Tremblant area with long-time photo student Margaret.

photo adventure

Tremblant photo safari

I’ve been travelling to the region that many associate solely with the mega ski hill and village run by Intrawest. The ski hill is impressive but the surrounding hills, rivers, forests and lakes are what keep me coming back.

Like the slow food movement, I prefer observing and shooting with purpose rather than the speed of a fast trigger finger. Margaret finished the day with a manageable number of quality photos that made editing easier.

Tremblant photo safari

© Margaret A. – Laurentian’s water – learning about flow

We shot throughout the day. Yes, there are two magic hours per days. J David Andrews once told me “It’s always perfect weather to shoot something.” Likewise, there’s always something to shoot, no matter the time of day.

Tremblant region photo workshop

© Margaret A. –  Early morning calmness – a perfect time to observe and learn.

Days flew by. One day we visited a segment of waterfalls and rapids. We arrived at 11am and after what felt like an hour Margaret approached excitedly “It’s five o’clock!” When you’re excited and engaged time vanishes.

Margaret’s photos improved and her confidence grew. We both smiled, a lot! We spent evenings reviewing concepts, ideas and photos. See some of her work… Well done Margaret!

Laurentians photography adventure

© Maragret A. – We explored possibilities when shooting a scene – motion, composition, depth-of-field.

#1123 Directions

Many of you know that I transitioned from full time photography and teaching workshops to traditional elementary school teaching in the last couple of years – I still teach one-on-one / small group photo workshops and have kept my art practice.

This week I finished teaching Grade 4 for the year.

Teacher

Teaching
Elementary School

The year flew by – full of adventures helping students navigate through academic and life challenges.

I received many cards of thanks – some were really touching:
“I will never, ever forget as (my friend) and I watched you do a cartwheel. You inspired me to reach for our dreams…”

My cartwheels are, erm, terrible but I believe in encouraging students to TRY. The best way I can do this is by example… I’d forgotten about my cartwheels. It’s nice to know they made an impact. 🙂

I’m grateful to many people who have supported my path. Thank-you!!

#1120 A winding Path with Grit

It is always nice to look back and reflect on the path traveled.

I’m 47. I’ve worked for about 20 years as a photographer / arts educator. Before that I worked as an outdoor educator with aspirations to become an elementary teacher. I couldn’t get into Teacher’s College in the 90s. But I’ve come back full circle to where I wanted to be.

After disappointments I gave up on traditional teaching and pursued commercial art through stock photography – it was lovely work – one of the most traditionally creative times of my life. I produced commercially viable photographs that were marketed through stock agents. My best sale for one grand use of a photo was ~$32,000 split three ways between two agencies and myself. Alas, the industry crashed (digital cameras and websites caused flooding of the stock photo market.) Time to move on!

Assignment Photography

Stock Photography

Someone suggested I teach photography. I built a broad base of photo workshops – live and online that culminated in opening our own studio / classroom on Preston St, below. Alas, workshop sales dropped off significantly. Why? Who knows, but I think it was tech, again – YouTube offered free learning and smartphones reduced people’s desire for traditional photography. Sigh. I was left scrambling again to re-invent myself.

Photo classes in Ottawa

Photo Workshops at our studio.

A couple of years ago I was very low and a friend inadvertently replanted a seed stored in a drawer of my memory. Teacher’s College… I was accepted, thrived and succeeded. I worked hard and was offered a contract teaching a Grade 4 class until Christmas. It has been extended until June, 2016. I love it.

My photo business has been reborn. Although the new business has shrunk enormously, I am only doing work I love – teaching a few clients and working on two innovative and exciting (to me) art projects.

Cyanotype large format photography

Sunstreaks – tracking the sun’s path across the sky.

It’s been a long road… with many bumps and bruises. But it’s been exciting and I am grateful for where my winding path has taken me.

One of my favourite TED talks rings true as I look back… Angela Lee Duckworth talks about GRIT:

It’s worth a view.
Keep pursuing your passions.

#1119 – 2015 Christmas Photo Sale

I’ve had a great year.
I have many people to thank who helped…
Details about my “thank-you” photo sale are below.

Teaching
I took a leap of faith and went back to school in 2014 to become licensed as a traditional elementary teacher. Teaching has always been part of what I do. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from UOttawa and started supply teaching right away in West Quebec.

elementary school teacher

A “very stern(!)” Mr. Nowell in grade 4.

In August, I was offered a four month replacement contract at our local elementary school. I bring different personas to the classroom: “stern teacher,” voyageur, inspector, newspaper reporter, pirate and others to liven up the teaching. I’m happy to say my contract has been extended until the end of June. I am grateful to those that supported my passion and always-growing skills as a teacher. Thank-you! I love it!

Photography

Watershed one-of-a-kind art photography

Watershed one-of-a-kind art photography

Christmas Photo Sale
My Watershed collection of artwork continues to develop. I continue to shoot and explore 25km of our local watershed in Gatineau Park and Chelsea. I am capturring a creek from Camp Fortune to the Gatineau River with my large format cameras and a process that allows me to create positive prints straight from the camera. The photo paper is loaded directly in the camera… the end result is a one-of-a-kind photograph.

Large Format Camera capturing the sunrise

Large Format Camera capturing a sunstroke (see Sunstreak link below)  at St. Stephen’s Church – a SunStreak original.

As a thank-you to all that have supported my vision and passions I am offering 10% off available photos with an additional 10% going to the Ottawa RiverkeeperContact me to see some Watershed or other work. There are traditional photos from years of shooting music, Sunstreaks, and Watershed. There’s a wide range of prices from $20 for posters to $thousands for large, limited run photographs.

The sale lasts until January 3rd, 2016. Viewings are by appointment only in Old Chelsea, Quebec.

Watershed art work

Watershed art work – a 4×5, one-of-a-kind photograph from the Watershed Collection.

Our Photo Studio
Our Ottawa studio on Preston St. is now the home of Style Zone – a boutique of men’s fashion. Teaching photography will be offered more in the summer is available as time permits.

 

#1118 Grateful in Grade 4

I feel fortunate and am grateful.

Word Wall - Grade 4

Word Wall – Grade 4

Towards the end of August I got a call from a principal at an elementary school offering me a replacement contract to cover a Grade 4 class while the permanent teacher recovers from knee replacement surgery. I said “Yes.”

Helping elementary students develop and learn made me happy I changed career gears.

Special Guests
I bring “special guests” to the class to help teach Social Studies, Math, Language Arts. Chief Inspector George, Jacques Noir and a caped superhero, among others have all replaced me to illustrate a concept we are learning.

education Ottawa

Chief Inspector George visited our class looking for the missing 5 Ws.

These characters always bring the students to life and make the learning more fun. The students seem to suspect the guests are me in disguise.

Preposterous.

#1117 Fall Photo Custom Course

Last weekend I spent some time with a long-time photo student exploring fall in Gatineau Park in a Custom Photo Course. I enjoy seeing the creative progress of students who invest in their skills. Margaret has done well!

Custom Photo Course

© Maragret A. – Early morning Gatineau Park.

We started early and explored a small part of the park along the escarpment. By the end of the morning she had a handful of stunning photos: “Move slowly and make each photo count!”

Ottawa Custom Photo Course

© Margaret A. – Maple Sapplings; Gatineau Park.

Margaret shared the photos above and note, below:

I loved yesterday’s outing… I really appreciate the thought you put into what I was to learn and work on.  All of the exercises were very relevant for me at this particular time so I know I’ll be applying the learnings as I move forward in the next few weeks.

Read Margaret’s blog for more of her photo adventures.
Well done Margaret!

#1116 Free Online Photo Program

A while ago I started our Online Photo Program. Every month we offered a new challenge with support and critique. Members loved it…
We’re looking for more members for the new, free format!

Online photo challenge

Portraits
© Sara Hendrix

With some changes in direction over the last couple of years, (read past blog posts ) I’ve turned the program into a small, community managed, friendly, free, monthly photo challenge based on a private group on Facebook’s platform.

Online photo program

Online Photo Program
Portrait and Photojournalism Challenges – “Cooling off on a hot day behind the arena…”

Senior members of the group take turns developing the monthly challenge and posting links and information pertaining to the month’s photo adventure. Members offer real critique and questions that guide the discussions. I offer support, critique and tips to the group.

The group wants more members! We’re looking to attract supportive photo people of all levels willing to participate, contribute and support the community as we all try to interpret the month’s challenges. It’s not a competition. And members are looking for genuine feedback rather than praise.

Online photo challenge

Night Time Shooting
© Christine Payant

What members have said:
• ” I really enjoy the positive and constructive feedback. I know when posting that those who participate are likely just like me, wanting to learn and grow. The group has typically been diverse, with people of varying levels of experience which has been great to push me to try different things. I realize that I have some ¨Harryisms¨ that come to mind: ¨get closer¨, ¨what are you exposing for?¨, ¨triangles¨, etc.

Motion in Landscapes © Al Garner

Motion in Landscapes
© Al Garner

• “The program challenges me to get out there and photograph improving my skills as a photographer. It provides some focus. Without it, I would probably not photograph as much and I would not learn and grow as a photographer. It has helped me tremendously and gets me out there shooting and enjoying life!

Landscapes and Sunsets © Maisie Ismail

Landscapes and Sunsets © Maisie Ismail

• “… having the close group to help out and provide critique in a “safe” environment really makes a difference. It helps get over the shyness of… ‘maybe this is not good enough to post.’ What a great group to belong to and get great feedback! Thanks Harry and everyone!

To join the group you need to request to join the group and befriend me on Facebook so I can add you to the Facebook group.

Hope to see you on the other side!

#1115 Photo Studio Transforms into the “Little Big Learning Centre” – Montessori Influenced Home Schooling Centre

The photo studio that many of you know and visited over the last half decade has a new direction.

… We are excited to welcome Amy of the Little Big Learning Centre into the classroom we developed in 2010 to support my photo and arts workshops. Amy started Little Big in 2014. It blossomed so quickly that she needed a bigger space in Ottawa for her Little Big Learners to develop.

Montessori inspired, home school friendly learning space

Amy of The Little Big Learning Centre!

How did the learning centre take off? Amy drew on the influences of Maria MontessoriHoward Gardner, the Reggio Emilia approach and outdoor and experiential education.

The students blossomed and word spread… all the way to their new learning centre at 160 Preston St.

I asked Amy what inspired her to open “Little Big.” Her answer was three-fold:
• “I had a good public school experience due to my small cottage town. I grew up in Apsley, Ont. and our school had only 5 teachers. There was lots of one-on-one time, small classes, enriched learning. It was a great way to learn.

Kindergarten to Grade 4 alternatives to school in Ottawa Gatineau Chelsea

One of the smaller learning areas of the Little Big Learning Centre

• “I earned my Bachelor of Education and was shocked. There were so many kids in a class. There was too much going on. Kids were falling through cracks. Everything was so tied to the curriculum in the wrong way and geared towards practice tests for EQAO (standardized testing). I wanted to give younger students a voice – school is not just book learning.

• ” ‘Hmmm,’ I thought aloud to my husband. ‘What if we opened our own learning centre?’  And I started looking for like-minded teachers, parents, students. I wanted to be creative with teaching so that all students could fit…”There is currently only one other learning centre like Amy’s in Ottawa based out of Barrhaven.

Curious to see and hear more?
Amy is opening the doors of her Little Big Learning Centre to welcome curious minds soon. An open house is in the plans. Stay tuned…

Visit their Facebook page, too!

Ottawa Montessori inspired learning centre

New Learning Centre for students aged 4-10.