Feature

Going Outside to Create Tomorrow's Engaged Citizen

Todd McIntosh

For many of my students, a trip to Sheldon is not only their first time away from home but also their first time outside the city. Some are so excited that they begin right away taking pictures to capture every minute of the trip, using up all their film by the time we get to Sheldon. Many are shocked to find they’ll be spending three days without  access to  telephones, television, video games or the Internet!

Upon arrival at Sheldon the immediate surroundings  and  the  displays  of  wildlife  and artifacts quickly awaken students’ interest and awareness of  the  environment. Students  learn about responsibility, sharing, management, and civics. Individual responsibilities include making beds and cleaning the main building. Group responsibilities include setting and clearing the table. After a meal students carefully measure the compost, recycling, and garbage: their challenge is  to create less garbage than groups that have come before.

 

Hands-on learning

The farm and its animals are an integral part of the learning at Sheldon. Students learn to clean stalls and tend to livestock. They are often aghast that farm life involves shovelling animal waste but they get over the smells before long and really enjoy the physical work. Direct engagement with  the  environment and hands-on activities help students develop informed opinions, which in turn shape their attitudes and values.

An example of this is an activity called “Web of Life.” Students take on the role of an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore. They must locate food and water sources, while at the same time avoid- ing natural enemies, disease, and disaster. (See the curriculum insert for a description of  the game.) This activity provides students with an increased understanding of the food chain and of the interdependency of all living creatures.

Outdoor  learning  is  not  just  for  students; teachers also benefit. Tom Puk, a professor at Lakehead  University,  conducted  a  study  that showed 71 percent of Ontario elementary school teachers believed their students were ecologically illiterate. About one third of teachers said they themselves did not know enough  about  ecology and almost all wanted more professional development in the area.5

Because onsite experts lead most of the programs at the Sheldon Centre, classroom teachers get the time to step back and observe. I’ve observed my students at length while learning what they learn. I’ve also participated in such activities as crossing a cable bridge with them. It’s been my experience that students are thrilled to see their teacher outside the regular classroom, learning and doing the same things they are.

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