This past week we had the EARTH RANGERS come into my school to present to all the grade 1-6 classes.
The program began with a full school assembly featuring live Animal Ambassadors demonstrating their amazing natural behaviours. The assembly focused on natural science and the challenges facing Canadian biodiversity today. With the presenters telling the stories of four unique Canadian species, the program inspired students to want to learn more about animals and their habitats and work to help protect biodiversity.
The presentation was really exciting as we got to meet Fantom the Pine snake, Blue the peregrine falcon, as well as an adorable martin and a songbird. The animals really kept the students captivated. The entire school learned a lot during the hour long assembly, including the fact that I cannot play Pictionary to save my life. What I was thinking when they asked for a "brave" teacher volunteer I don't know. I think I just really hoped I would get to be up close to the animals. NOPE! I had to "draw" the words "migration" and "burrow" on an ipad and hope the students in the audience would guess what I had drawn. They didn't do too bad a job, considering EVERYONE knows that Ms. McKay does NOT draw!
In the afternoon, my class was lucky to receive an "in-class" presentation (which still happened in the gym as the presenters do not want to disturb the animals by moving them around a lot). The program is designed in collaboration with leading institutions including the Toronto Zoo, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Vancouver Aquarium. These visits are a follow-up to the school assembly program and delve deeper into specific subjects like invasive species, captive breeding programs and water conservation. My class of grade sixes assembled in the gym for a great presentation on bats and how they help preserve biodiversity.
The students each got to make their own bat! The presenters took the class step by through the paper folding process and then had the students draw on the skeletons. The connections they made to flight and adaptations were excellent!
I have to admit that I was really impressed with how the presenters took a topic that could be hard to teach in an engaging and meaningful way, and made it fun and educational. I LOVE when the students can learn by doing. Although they didn't actually get to see a real, live bat they did get to make one and connect to it's physical adaptations by examining the bone structure and discussing how it has evolved to be the type of mammal it is. This was an exellent connection to the unit we are studying right now on Biodiveristy. I had been trying to come up with an interesting and hands-on way to teach some of the concepts in this unit. These presenters inspired me to think more creatively than I had been about this topic. It was great! I was reminded why I had returned to the classroom in the first place, student engagement and learning are something I am very passionate about. I am going into my twenty-third year as an educator, and I was almost giddy to realize how excited I could be learning a new technique to use with students! I needed to feel this excitement again. Do you know what I mean? It has been a long year, a tough year for many of us in education in Ontario. I was almost relieved to feel so excited about something new!
This was heady stuff for a teacher with only a handful of years of experience. The stars aligned the year I won the award and the wonderful person who had been the program leader for science in my board retired after a long tenure in his position. I had just completed my three part specialist in Science and Technology in the Primary and Junior division and received the award. The timing was good I have to admit. It didn't hurt that there were not many female role models in elementary science at that point either. I applied for the newly opened position, interviewed, and was thrilled when they promoted me. Little did I know that I spend more than a decade teaching adults and creating curriculum materials and hands on kits. I just knew I was PASSIONATE about teaching science in a hands-on way.
Eventually my time in the instruction department came to an end. I really missed interacting with students. I wanted to actually DO the things I was teaching other teachers to do in their classrooms. Again, fate came knocking and a position teaching gifted students opened up at my former school. I jumped (almost literally) at the chance, packed up my office and headed back into classroom teaching. I have been teaching grade 6 gifted for over six years now. I brought my love of hands-on science with me. I love to teach my students to question, to explore and to make connections with the world around them. The presentation this week from the Earth Ranger's really revitalized that feeling I had when I first came into teaching, make it fun, make it engaging, make it hands-on AND minds-on. This will make it stick!
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