Ken Robinson: A Demonstration of Ecological Literacy

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Four of the five educators of the Maples Met School at Big Bang 2016 in Orlando. (Will, Michelle, Sara, & Matt. Sopear was holding down the fort in Winnipeg.)

In recent months, I have been tasked, along with four highly skilled educators, to open a second Big Picture Learning school within the Seven Oaks School Division. The Maples Met School housed within Maples Collegiate and has been heavily supported by colleagues at both Maples Collegiate and the original 7Oaks Met School.

Given the newness of our school, we were invited to travel to Orlando and participate in the annual Big Picture Learning conference commonly referred to as Big Bang. The conference offers critical sessions on the components which make Big Picture schools unique, namely sessions related to exhibitions, advisories, internships and the education of one student at a time. All these sessions occur within the foundation of the Big Picture: Relationships, relevance, and rigour.

Not only did Big Bang afford us with outstanding opportunities to make sense of our roles within the life of a student, but it also allowed our small staff to bond and connect with itself. Similarly, we were also able to make powerful connections with the other Met School just down the street. We had tremendous discussions in between sessions, at meals, and in long layovers at dreary airports about experience design, assessment, and how to ensure that our learning environment was both rigorous and vigorous. many of us are also heavily invested in sustainability and ecological literacy, and began discussing how our school might champion these notions.

As part of Big Bang 2016, we were also treated to a talk from Sir Ken Robinson. As most educators are aware, Robinson is famous for a couple of brilliant TED talks and equally compelling books related to learning, schools, and creativity. His most recent book might be one on all of our reading lists. I had seen Robinson a few years ago in Winnipeg and so I was really excited to hear what he had to say.

Robinson was clearly a fan of of Big Picture Learning schools as they focus on the passion of the learner and allow time and space for learners to take control of their own learning. Robinson received the annual Disruptor award from the founders of Big Picture, Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor, with grace and humour.

What was most interesting regarding Sir Ken’s remarks was his focus on the state of the planet and how high the stakes are for our learners. He spoke of the carrying capacity of Earth, how critical soil is in agriculture and how we have essentially destroyed much of it, and he paid special attention to the fact that we need to properly equip young people for the current and impending ecological crisis. Robinson spoke in systems and clearly understood how nature sustains all life on Earth.

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Ken Robinson’s aims for education.

I had never heard Ken Robinson speak this way. Granted, he was his usually charming and hilarious self, but there was a more serious and forceful tone to his message. In most contexts, the audience can be turned off by those who speak truth to power when it comes to our role in the destruction of our planet, but while Robinson didn’t seem to care, he also was sensitive enough to not alienate those who might be annoyed of offended by the truth.

Matt Henderson

This is my criteria of experience for an ecological literacy. It might help us create learning experiences which lead to sustainable communities.

For me, Ken Robinson spoke to our role as educators in terms of equipping our learners with the knowledge and learning experiences that will help them to gain an ecological literacy. It is incumbent on us to help them understand the world around them, to think in systems, to anticipate the consequences of human activity, and to take meaningful action in order to create sustainable communities. I believe this is our role as individual educators, and also as schools.

As we creep towards the beginning of a new academic year, how might we cultivate this ecological literacy within our learners? How can we design learning experiences which help give our learners a fighting chance?

Criteria of Experience for an Ecological Literacy

Over the paMatt Hendersonst few years, I have been in the process of creating a Criteria of Experience for an Ecological Literacy to help guide my design process. I have borrowed from the Centre for Ecoliteracy, Dewey, and Freire to help me reflect on how I design educative experiences for learners. Please feel free to share, modify, or disregard altogether.

As educators, how do we equip our learners with the skills, abilities, and literacy necessary to close these two gaps? My inquiry has led me to two hypotheses. First, learners need to be immersed in educative experiences which reveal how they are interconnected and interrelated with all systems on Earth. Second, These experiences need to lead towards learner-driven action, transformation, and a new ecological literacy. 

By ecological literacy, I offer this definition: To understand one’s connectedness to all systems, to appreciate the finite carrying capacity of the Earth, to predict consequences of human activity, and to ultimately create sustainable communities through action. Literacy refers to the skills and abilities to create new knowledge and ecological literacy relies on not only knowledge of the natural world, but also the drive to take meaningful and informed action — namely the notion of praxis.

Given the need to foster this ecological literacy in order to close the knowledge and the knowledge-action gaps, I set out on a journey to try and design experiences which might lead to this goal. With my hypothesis in mind about closing these gaps, I needed to seek out other people, schools, and programmes which had already traveled down this path. Some of the schools I visited, some people I have connected with on Twitter, and others I have simply known about through the literature. Some of the schools are public, some are independent, and some are charter schools. But all have a commitment to learning and fostering this sense of ecological literacy through the design of educative experiences. Here is a sampling of some of the schools I explored:

The Met

Eagle Rock

Soundings

Forest Schools

Hobsonville Point

Riverpoint Academy

High Tech High

Northwest Passage School

Punahou School

 

Ecological Literacy: Reflections

In January, our Global Issues class looked heavily at the concept of ecological literacy. Here are some refections from our collective and individual experiences. These reflections consisted of “mini” PechaKucha presentations, whereby learners created 10 slides which moved every 20 seconds (10×20) in order to present their arguments.

Ecological Literacy from nic calen on Vimeo.

Eco Lit from Riley Chard on Vimeo.

MIni PechaKucha from Adeyemi Fatoye on Vimeo.

Ecological Literacy R from Riley Chard on Vimeo.

Eco Lit (C) from Riley Chard on Vimeo.

Experimental Lakes Area 2016

The 2016 Experimental Lakes Area Student Experience (ELSE) applications are now open. If you are a high school student entering Grade 11 or 12 this fall, check out the application form here. The dates for this year’s experience are July 18th-29th, 2016.

ELSE is a joint project between the IISD and St. John’s-Ravenscourt School. Students from all schools in Manitoba are invited to apply.

Check out this slide show to see what happens at ELSE!

Experimental_Lakes_Area_by_Matt_Henderson_-_Storehouse

For more information, contact me at hendem at learners dot sjr dot mb dot ca

Sustainability & the Environment

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Image taken from Eco-Labs.org

For those folks in the Post Baccalaureate programme at the University of Winnipeg or for those teachers thinking of heading back, here is a preview of a course I will be facilitating in the Winter term.

The course is officially titled Sustainability and the Environment and it is a requisite for the Sustainability stream in the Post Bac programme. The course can also be used as an elective in other courses.

The course is a hybrid course, meaning that much our interaction will be online using Edmodo while we will also meet on three Saturdays between January and March. We will meet on the following days:

January 16th – 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

February 20th – 8:30 AM  – 4:30 PM

March 19 – 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

If you wish to join the Edmodo group now, simply enter this code: nxmw6d.

Here is the official description of the course: This course is designed to expose educators to the concepts of sustainability, ecological literacy, and systems thinking within the context of teaching and learning. As such, our learning community will explore the ecological crisis that confronts our age, the reasons why we are often paralyzed to engage in meaningful solutions, and how education, be it in its present form or other, may act as a catalyst for changes in our individual and collective attitudes and behaviour.

Course participants will be asked to engage in scholarly research and writing, virtual discussions, curriculum design, resource review and creation, and application of learning pertaining to how we help develop an ecologically literate society.

This is an intensive course and will require full engagement from all participants within the learning community.

Here are the texts we will be using:

Denton, P. (2012). Gift ecology: Reimagining a sustainable world. Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC (Those who took the Global Citizenship course with me will already have a copy of this.)

Orr, D. (1992). Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.

Callenbach, E. (1975). Ecotopia. Bantam Books, New York.

I would also heavily recommend the following texts for the course and for our teaching and learning in general:

http://www.amazon.ca/Beyond-Learning-Doing-Theoretical-Experiential/dp/0415882087

http://www.amazon.ca/Beyond-Learning-Doing-Theoretical-Experiential/dp/0415882087

To advance our thinking within our learning community, there will be weekly assignments, tasks, and subsequent readings to help us focus on how and why we teach and learn and how, as educators, we might play a massive role in creating sustainable communities.

As a learning community, we will be creating two ebooks in our time together. The first will be a review of resources currently “out there” which focus on systems thinking and ecological literacy. The second ebook will be a collection of learning experiences we have created and applied in our teaching.

You can check out the rest of the assignments and University policies on the official course outline. Please note, if you take the course, you will need to be active on Twitter, Edmodo, Google Hangout and other platforms which will enable us to connect and share ideas. The course, ultimately, is what you make of it. I am looking forward to it, as I love learning from master teachers.

If you have any questions, please email me at mhenderson at sjr.mb.ca