Here is a blog post that highlights some simple activities you can do with your students to get outside in the beautiful spring weather and have them investigating the natural world. These activities can be done in your school yard or in a nearby natural area.
Since our early days the Calgary Science School has provided outdoor and environmental education experiences at Camp Sweet which is near Olds, Alberta. The camp, developed by former Calgary Science School principal Ron Sweet, has been used for the past 10 years to provide highly successful learning experiences for all CSS students in grades 4 to 9.
Each grade has two overnight camps per year where at least one of them is held at Camp Sweet. Our grade 7 students attended the 3-day and 2-night camp on their second week of school this year!
While there, students participate in a variety of curricular and team building activities. Staff attended Camp Sweet on a PD day to share and participate in some outdoor activities. Many teachers, including our grade 7 teacher have incorporated some of these activities into their fall camps. Below is a reflection from a grade 7 teacher on a handful of these activities.
Magic Spots and Earth Walks at Camp Sweet:
Before introducing the activities, we had a short ‘magic spots’ moment, where students sat individually and silently, and simply observed their surroundings. We discussed how as ‘fast-paced city dwellers’, we often stop paying attention to our surroundings and don’t take time to truly experience them. Often, we play hectic games at camp, which take our attention away from using our senses to experience the forest. The following activities are designed to help us enjoy the treasures of the forest, while using all of our senses to our benefit.
The students got the most out of these activities when they bought into the premise of quietly and respectfully enjoying their outdoor surroundings. These activities were taken/adapted from the resource EarthWalks by The Institute for Earth Education.
Rainbow chips: The EarthWalks book introduces this activity with a ‘myth’-type story. My Grade 7 students found it somewhat contrived, and simply preferred the instructions of the activity. Using a variety of colorful paint or counter samples (from a hardware store), students are challenged to find items in the forest that closely match these colors. Most students started by taking green and brown chips, which they quickly found were actually the hardest colors to match. We were surprised when some keen students were able to match the unique colors which we initially thought would not be found in the forest (e.g. bright reds, oranges, dark blues). Students were highly motivated to find items for each paint chip and they really enjoyed seeing what their peers had found to match the ‘tough’ colors. This activity forced them to look at small details, rather than the ‘whole picture’ of the forest.
Touch boxes: This is a secretive group challenge. Teams of 2 or 3 students are given an empty egg carton with 2 opposite ‘touch’ words written on the bottom. Some examples include: rough and smooth, prickly and tickly, wet and dry. Without alerting other teams to their secret words, they have to gather as many samples of natural items that can be described by their words. It is a good idea to preface this activity with a discussion on being respectful to nature, and only taking small samples of living items. Choosing an area with lots of variety is key to a successful activity. Once each team has completed their touch box (which is more difficult than it initially seems), they trade with another group. Each group explores a new touch box and has to guess the ‘opposite touch words’. A well constructed box will be easily guessed by another group. Students enjoyed this activity because they not only had to observe, but they got to touch and feel various natural items, which is infrequently experienced.
Microparks activity: This activity allows students to observe a small section of the forest floor, while using their imagination to create a ‘micro national park’. Ron introduced this activity by talking about Canadian National parks and their purpose and influence in our country. He also showed an example of his own micro park. Each group will be creating their own ‘micro national park’ using a kit of supplies: a loop of string (which can encompass about 1 square meter), a name tag, a pencil, and 10 small nails with tape (place mark flags). Groups will choose an interesting area on the forest floor to encompass with their string loop. This is the boundary of their micro park. They will name their park, and place their placemark flags to mark attractions within their park. Visitors will be attending a tour of their micro park, so each group must devise a tour of their attractions. This allowed great creativity within groups, as some groups took a more traditional and factual approach to their park, while other groups created mythical, imaginative parks. Students created attractions that were important to them, which ranged from the “Worlds Largest Volcano” and the “Best Natural Bike Jump”, to a “Mermaid Pond” and the “Deepest Meteor Crater”. Each member of the group had an opportunity to lead the tour, while others visited neighbouring parks. Students enjoyed displaying their parks to visitors, using their imaginations to create their own vision and focusing on a small section of the immense forest.