North Vancouver School District
the natural place to learn©
Dec 04
Outdoor School at the Cheakamus Centre Photo Essay

By Dr. David Overgaard, Principal, Canyon Heights Elementary

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Leaving school, technology and the internet behind, students at Canyon Heights and Queen Mary schools spend four days disconnected, and yet by the end of four days more deeply connected to each other, the environment, to their teachers; all through deep experiential learning. Whether through assigned chores, setting tables, feeding the pigs, evening campfires, cabin sketches and sing alongs, or through more formalized curriculum, Outdoor School builds resilience, provides opportunities for problem solving, chances for students to challenge themselves, express themselves and stretch themselves

Salmon Exploration

Capturing salmon in a salmon trap is not as easy as it looks. Salmon move fast, even in a confined space!

Knee deep, running the net along the bottom of the trap into the white water while trying to follow the vague outline of Chum salmon, takes practice.

Thank goodness for hip waders!

Once the salmon are captured they are transferred to a secure box, then run up to the hatchery and placed in secure tanks.
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Salmon Exploration

Once the salmon are in the hatchery students explore downstream of the fish trap.

Knee deep, walking like wrestlers, students wade past salmon who have spawned and have come to the end of their four-year life cycle.

Students have learned that the salmon sustains the eagles and that they are an integral and linked part of the cycle of life for both creatures.


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Eagle Quest

Along the banks of the Cheakamus river the eagles gather to feast on the spawning salmon.

Students armed with binoculars explore the opportunity to witness first-hand the intertwined life cycle of the salmon and the eagle.
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Ripped Art Project

Inside the art studio students bring their observations of eagles to life. Using ripped pieces of paper, they create their perspective of the eagles they observed.
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Forest Walk

Hugh Le Cain’s Dripsody, a composition based on a recording of a water droplet, endlessly plays out across the forest as students embark on a morning forest walk through a twisted pathway past gnarly, luminescent, moss laden trees. Stopping at points of interest students explore a local history of logging, storm damaged trees, cross a meandering rill.

In a forest glade a game of Hug a tree is played out. One student leads another blindfolded student to a tree, only to see if that student can find the same tree again with the blindfold off. The care and gentleness of the guiding students was heart-warming to see. Collaborative, co-operative play- based learning.

What does a living 750 years old look like? Towering, imposing, gnarled beautiful and 11 metres 23 cm in circumference. Up close, using tactile and visual senses students explore what it means to be ancient.



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Found Art

An afternoon of exploration culminating in found objects art. It quiets the mind and body; the only sounds are of shrill eagle calls, the softness of dew-like rain falling and the muted white noise of the river. Within this environment students find their creative sides making two-D and three-D sculptures of materials lying on the forest floor. Inspiration is gleaned from the surrounding environment and contemplation from within.​
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Predator and Prey


Running to hide from predators, heart beating faster, looking for a safe habitat the herbivores scatter, seeking solace in wood thickets.

The prey prowl, hunting out the herbivores and other natural prey. Scanning the landscape looking for movement out of place, senses heightened heart pounding as they chase their target.

Avoiding natural disasters where possible, students focus on survival, but all ultimately coming to terms with the most dangerous predator of all…. Humans

Play-based environmental learning that touches the mind, heart and soul. Predator and Prey is a game where students take on the roles of either a carnivore, omnivore or an herbivore on the final day at Outdoor school.

Through the hour-long simulation students engage in physical activity while activating a deep learning of the connection between the environment, natural habitat, the food chain and the impact of human activity on the environment. Students debrief the game making impactful connections.
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