Week 7: 4/16- 4/20
This week proved to be exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, educating and extremely fun as I was able to take part in a three day camping trip at NatureBridge in the Olympic National Park temperate rain-forest as the teacher. While, I have been on over nights like this as a parent chaperone, going as a teacher is a wholly new experience that affords a completely different view. First, the logistics of getting a trip like this to run smoothly is a mountainous job. Second, this type of “classroom” learning experience forces students and teachers to adapt and be flexible to different styles of learning and teaching as the NatureBridge staff educators take over. Students learning outside the “regular” classroom through hands on activities support a “real-life” experience rather than just mimic real-life. Each day offered many occasion to strengthen their social bonds and unify as a group. Additionally, I understand the importance of timing, when it comes to field–trip planning, as the rest of the week became very hard to motivate and focus the students. Each day on this trip I was encouraged and my convictions that I am entering the right profession were reaffirmed.
Leading up to this week there was an enormous amount of planning. Filed trip communications with parents was comprehensive! Information including; important notices, monetary obligations, transportation, chaperone notification, scholarships, fund raisings, medical release forms, logistical information, chaperone requests, constant emails, etc., began at the start of the year and continued until the day we left. Needless to say, this type of learning experience takes careful planning and organization of epic proportions.
The week started as the students loaded onto the bus early Monday morning. Once seated and secure, which in and of itself is no small feat, all 29 students and nine chaperones were off on an adventure that I am sure will not soon be forgotten. The bus ride was, well, a bus ride… for two hours. The kids were very well behaved and although one student got sick there was little to no incidents to report. Upon our arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff. They shared their expectations for and of us while we were there and got us sorted into our field study groups. Once completely suited up for the continual rainfall, students broke into their groups and headed into the forest for a day of exploring and learning. The beauty of this awesome program is that not only did the children get to learn from different teachers, the staff, but they were able to experience learning from an even more important teacher, the rain-forest itself. The tall native elder trees, covered in moss and ferns, every shade of green, dripping in a wet mist and filled with natures beautiful song, became the most powerful educator and the classroom for the next few days. It was wonderful to see many of the students become immersed in science, nature, and the awe of what the forest had to teach them. As we hiked throughout the forest and the park the kids learned about temperate rain-forest ecology in a very real way, one that they could never have experienced in the regular classroom.
Just as important as the lesson of forest ecology was the lesson of interdependence within our small learning community. Social learning opportunities within our small group, between our group as a whole and throughout the NatureBridge facility was established as we shared the space with not only each other but other schools, too. We had our community meals in a large dining and shared stories of the day, personal family-life, and individual experiences as relationships were strengthened and emotional well-being of the students was supported. These shared times encouraged the building of relationships and supporting the character for all students. If you ask the students they would tell you that these were some of their favorite times; just good camp fun! As important as the educational aspects of this type of environmental learning are, the social opportunities to grow as a member of a group hold equal value.
Lastly, Thursday and Friday of this week were difficult for motivating and gaining student attention. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the excitement to share and chat about individual experiences, but I think, if given a choice when planning, I would schedule a trip like this to end on a Friday. Even my mentor teacher and I felt the toll of the awesome adventure. I, admittedly, was just as tired as the students on Thursday but was able to refocus by Friday. I think the kids could have used a weekend to recover before getting back to regular work.
I would have never traded this experience for staying behind in the classroom. I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in an outdoor educational program with the kids under the guidance of my mentor. I know that I will be better prepared for any future classroom’s outdoor educational experiences. I now more fully understand the value of this experience for both academic and social learning.