Inside Birding: How Birds Ignite Student Curiosity

“Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”

-David Attenborough, The Life of Birds

This is the story of how an adult with a passion for birds and a dedicated teacher can get kids hooked on learning about the world around them, giving them the chance to follow their natural curiosity in and outside of the classroom.

Over the last three years, Maureen Caissy, a teacher at Cedar Street School in the town of Beloeil (Riverside School Board) partnered with Sheldon Harvey, a member of Bird Protection Quebec (BPQ), capturing the imagination and engagement of her split grade 4 and 5 students through the simple pleasure of bird watching, linking habitat conservation, biology and art with the joy of getting outside and exploring.

It all started when Brian Peddar,  the Community Development Agent for the Richelieu Valley Community Learning Centre connected the school with Sheldon Harvey, a local member of Bird Protection Quebec, a provincial charity dedicated to bird conservation and education.  Sheldon is a passionate bird watcher and a natural storyteller; he is one of those people whose passion is contagious.  When Maureen’s students listened to Sheldon talk about the many birds that lived in their community and how they could identify them, the students were hooked.

Maureen knew that observing birds in their natural environment would be a natural next step and an essential part of keeping the students engaged. So after applying for, and receiving, a small grant from BPQ, the class bought and installed a well-constructed bird feeder outside their window and started watching visiting birds with the help of binoculars and a digital camera to quickly snap a photo, allowing the class to zoom in and study the bird once it had flown away.

Once the initial spark of curiosity was there, the students continued learning about birds using educational resources developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Cornell has a great app called Merlin Bird ID that helps identify birds. The app asks questions and narrows down the possibilities to a few choices based upon the season and location of the bird sighting.

“I’d be teaching and then all of a sudden a kid would yell out ‘Bird!’ and all the kids would flock to the window”.  Maureen, being one of those teachers who could recognize a learning opportunity, was not thrown off by the brief rush of excitement and enthusiasm of a bird visitor to the class feeder.

From there Maureen set up learning stations which allowed students to learn more about bird identification, peruse books about bird species, how to use binoculars, how to use a camera and how to identify birds using the Merlin app. Students also worked with bird journals which they used to collect data and record the birds that they were observing.

Maureen also engaged parents and families by sending home a list of local birds, including rare birds that could be found in the region.  Students were provided with bird journals which they were able to take home. She wanted to keep the observation of birds “old school”, consciously keeping the students off smartphones while they were outside. She showed them how to use the journal to record the location of the sighting, the exact time of day, the habitat, size of the bird and what the bird was doing.

Over time, most kids used binoculars at home and had bird feeders installed in their backyards.  Using the journal wasn’t seen as a homework assignment, but something fun they could do. “They all started to draw these amazing pictures and keeping track of the birds they were seeing.  They were so naturally curious, they started learning all the bird names on their own”.

“We did a backyard bird count, [an activity promoted by BPQ], and when we went around the school we saw about 20 different types of birds. The kids knew all their names and this all just happened because they were genuinely curious and interested, it was really fun”.

Another highlight was the field trips to a local park.  Sheldon brought one or two guides with him, and clear expectations were given to the students about bird watching etiquette, like “you can’t be loud or you will scare the birds away.”

Brian Peddar who helped tie the partnership together explained that he saw students “out in the environment in nature, looking through scopes, being little scientists”.  He also added that many parents join students on field trips, which “is kind of special and inspires bird feeders [at home]”!

According to Maureen, during the bird watching trip, Sheldon was able to keep the students attention, they were really curious as he talked about the birds that could be found around the park.  “Some kids were furiously writing down notes!”

During the field trip, students saw flocks of birds landing in water. They also got the chance to use a powerful  spotting scope and learned how to position it.

Maureen points out that since the birds are always there, it is a great topic to focus on throughout the school year, providing numerous opportunities to engage students while addressing multiple curricular goals.  Listen to Maureen talk about what she did with her students and how it connected to the curriculum.

Curriculum links
Build a parabolic dish To explore the world of science and technology

Experiments with sound, listening to birds (science experiments)

Study of bird beaks simple machines
Learning about habitats research projects, theme of animals and classification system.
Bird counts and other citizen science projects observing something in nature, collecting data.
where the birds are coming from and aware of the long distance birds are coming from

Geography – migration, – maps and scaling…it’s endless!


About Bird Protection Quebec (BPQ)

Bird Protection Quebec (BPQ) was founded in 1917 and is one of the oldest bird conservation oriented charities in Canada.  Part of their mission is to educate the public about bird and habitat conservation. As a way to fulfill their mission, they offer modest grants to help schools and community organizations get involved and participate in bird watching.

Here at LEARN, we are thankful that BPQ and people like Sheldon are available to work with teachers to help expose young people to real-world learning opportunities that can’t be found in a text book.

In fact, the whole family can join in on the fun by attending one of BPQ’s free weekly birding field trips, hosted in and around the Montreal area.

To learn more about BPQ and it’s services, visit their website.

This bird has flown

So, that’s it!  I wanted to share this story of how a teacher and a community partner got their students really jazzed up about learning through real-world experiences.

I’m telling you this, because I’m inspired by the image of young people across the province really getting engaged in bird watching.  As a teacher interested in the environment, bird watching is a natural and positive entry point to begin observing nature, experiencing the intrinsic importance of habitat preservation and observing biodiversity.

How can I learn more?

Join us for a ZOOM webinar on Wednesday, March 13th from 3:45-4:45 pm. Cedar Street teachers, Maureen and Nadine, along with Sheldon will share more stories and there will be time for questions. Click here to register.

If you would like to hear more about great projects that engage students in their local community, I invite you to join our new LEARN Community Service Learning group.  It is a space to learn, share and be inspired by engaging projects that see students addressing authentic community needs.





Singing the Grade School Blues

When I was about twelve years old I was flipping through my parents record collection and came across B.B. King ‎– Live In Cook County Jail, an album cover faded and textured like prison denim.

From the moment I put the needle to the record I was transported by the sounds of inmates laughing and booing in response to introductions of the prison director and chief justice of the criminal court.   Then comes the introduction of B.B. King who immediately kicks off with “Every day I have the blues”. It was at that moment that I understood how the blues easily communicates loneliness, sadness and hardships of life to an audience.

As B.B. King says “Blues don’t necessarily have to be sung by a person that came from Mississippi as I did, because there are people having problems all over the world”.

There is power in playing blues music to a group of people that seemed to have lots to be blue about. There is power in teaching students how to express their emotions through lyrics and music.

This post is not meant to be a total downer, but rather a chance to introduce Rob LuteMeaford photo-Rob_Lutess, an accomplished singer songwriter who has been providing a blues songwriting workshops for students in Quebec, across Canada and in Europe. What he does is work with students to learn about the intersections of history and music. The workshop shows how the blues was a vehicle to comment on important societal issues, personal feelings and emotions.

Rob starts his workshops with the story of the blues as rooted in the history of slavery in North America and extending through the African-American experience of racism, segregation and discrimination. Reflecting on the history of music in North America, he talks about “the blues as the roots, the rest is the fruits” crediting the blues as the basis for much of the modern music that we enjoy today.

The second part of the workshop is where the real fun and learning begins. Students engage in writing and performing a blues song in 20 minutes. Rob works with students to brainstorm subjects, vote on a single topic and then facilitates the writing of a collective song using the Delta Blues style following the traditional AAB rhyme scheme. This style and the songwriting portion of the workshop as a whole is successful because “creativity flourishes within constraints”.

Some might say it’s impossible to write a song that fast!  Let me try one real quick.

Writer’s Block Blues

I don’t know what to write

I don’t know what to write

I’m begging please, don’t let it take all night

During my conversation with Rob, he tells me that he is pleasantly surprised to see students typically disengaged throw out lines that get the whole class enthused, building off each other. Encouraging students in this way has potential to provide valuable opportunity for student voice. Opening a space for students to write about issues in society or realities in their community.

Last year Rob brought his workshop to three schools in the Gaspe. Talking about important community realities (or at least the reality of 16 year-olds), the secondary 5 students collectively came up with a song called the “The Lifted Truck Blues”.

Last summer, grade 4 students at Clearpoint Elementary School wrote The Bad Dream Blues as part of the Montreal Folk Festival’s inaugural Artists in the Schools program. You can hear  their song here.

The Bad Dream Blues

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

The shadow had eight arms, it was flying on a broom

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

They showed up right away with a big duster

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

It was my Mom saying it’s time to go to school

I got The Bad Dream Blues 

If you are interested in organizing a workshop or talking about education and the blues you can contact Rob at


Rob Lutes Blues Playlist
Diddie Wa Diddie – Blind Blake
No Love Today– Chris Smither
It’s Tight Like That – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom
Fishin’ Blues – Taj Mahal
Tight Money – Bobby Rush




Authentic Writing and Manga

I’ve been pretty quiet on the Bloomer Report front.  This is not to say that amazing Community Based Learning and Service Learning projects have not been developing in the CLC School network.  Quite the contrary – Stay tuned for some year end stories that will knock your socks off.

I do want to share two blog posts I’ve written for LEARN Quebec.

Authentic experience: Students writing for real audiences

The Story of Manga- Do Something Like This, But Better


Online Opportunity to Think Global, Act Local

At the CLC Teacher Institute we asked teachers “with students in mind, what 3 things do you absolutely want to consider when designing a Community Based Service Learning (CBSL) project”?

The top 3 responses were:

1) Relevance

2) Student Voice/Ownership

3) Student Interest

Knowing that teachers know their students crave opportunities to engage in real world situations and share their opinions and knowledge, comes at an interesting time.  Two really interesting opportunities have recently landed on my desk that can tap into the engagement of an Elementary or Secondary class, or even a few keen students interested in global issues.8444928575

Last week I received an email from Terry Godwalt, executive director of the Centre for Global Education.  He is leading an online collaborative project with schools across Canada, asking students “what true Global Citizenship education should look like in schools”?  But up to this point, there is no representation from Quebec!

We’re looking for Secondary Cycle 2 students to participate in a virtual town hall that will culminate in a position paper to be presented to UNESCO in Paris this summer.  It would be great to get students from the English Speaking Community of Quebec adding their voice to this consultation.  Youth of the English Speaking Community represent a linguistic-minority perspective, living in a rural and urban context.

Be in touch with Ben if you have students interested in this opportunity.


Opportunity for Elementary Students to Raise Awareness of Deforestation and Orangutan Habitat

Think Global, Act Local.

TakingITGlobal and The Centre for Global Education are inviting your class to participate in one of the world’s largest student-driven environmental campaigns: DeforestACTION!

DeforestACTION is a global movement of youth and schools taking action to stop deforestation and create a permanent habitat for orangutans and other species that depend on forest ecosystems. Through collaborative learning and action related to deforestation and environmental sustainability, students will become DeforestACTION agents who are shaping a more sustainable world.  To learn more, visit

8456990036TiG will be kicking off a 2-month campaign in March, starting with a webinar to invite classrooms across the world to develop and launch campaigns that raise awareness of the detrimental eff6077865677ects of deforestation. Classrooms will then undertake their environmental campaigns and have the opportunity to partner with another classroom to share ideas, brainstorm, and compare local ecosystems as they develop their deforestaction projects.

As a part of Earth Day celebrations on April 22, participating schools will come together, through video conference technology, to showcase their amazing work.

Unearth our Past- Learning from Local Cemetaries

Three CLCs are participating in a project called “Unearth our Past”,  supported by Blue Metropolis.

Students from Quebec High CLC, New Carlisle CLC and Laurentian Regional CLC are visiting a local cemetery in search of buried local heroes or role models and turn the stories of these lives into short dramatic works, to be presented at local schools and in the community.4831280135

Listen to an interview on CBC about the QHS Students visit to Mount Hermon Cemetery.

Read more about the project here.

Check out some photos from Monique Dykstra – A Montreal based photographer working with the students as they work on the project.

This project is ongoing.  Next steps include writing a play based upon a grave site they visited.  Follow the progress of the project on twitter at #unearthourpast



CLC Teacher Institute – 2015

On January 20-21,  over 75 teachers from CLC Schools spanning the Western edge of Quebec all the way to the Eastern border participated in the CLC Teacher Institute.

View a Map of CLC Schools

The two days were a great success.  Feedback forms tell us that teachers benefited from networking, hearing examples of Community Based Service Learning (CBSL) projects and spending focused time planning their own projects which will integrate School-Community partnerships.

  1. Download the planning templates
  2. View the powerpoint from Day 1
  3. Read more about CBSL best practices and resources

A big thank you to everyone who participated, presented and generally brought an open and reflective attitude.  It truly was a wonderful showcase of the talented teachers in the Community Learning Centre network.






Feed your Body, Feed your Heart, Feed your Soul

When Marguerite Cox started her latest Community Based Service Learning project (CBSL) with Primary Cycles 1, 2 and 3 at Netagamiou School the idea was to create a cookbook which would present the history of food in the community of Chevery, Quebec. However, her project quickly grew into so much more, due to the enthusiasm of her students and their desire to give back to their community, and even, communities abroad.


Called Feed Your Body, Feed Your Heart, Feed Your Soul, Marguerite’s CBSL project integrated Social Studies and Language Arts. It took place after school for students interested in participating. The students were asked to find old-fashioned recipes from their community to include in a cookbook. Marguerite and her 18 students then decided to bake some of the goodies and occasionally open a small bakery.

During the process, the students shared stories about the friends and loved ones who had provided them the cookbook recipes, which led to the idea to transform the cookbook into a memory book. The book would include photos, stories, and of course, the recipes.

From there, the student’s wanted to do something good with the money they had made from selling the treats and book. They sent money to the victims of Philippines Typhoon Haiyan (2014) and helped fund a student through the Hilde Back scholarship in Kenya. Their final funding project will be helping endangered elephants in Kenya. The students also gave back to their own community by spending time with seniors, sharing their baked goods and telling stories.

Marguerite describes the project as a great success. “The students learned so much, I am having trouble putting it into words,” she writes, “Leadership, mentoring, cooking, safety in the kitchen, compassion, writing, storytelling, listening skills and most of all, they learned that it takes a team to make it all happen.”

Chick Hatching

When it comes to Community Based Service Learning (CBSL) projects, often times, members of the community are more than willing to contribute. That was one of the discoveries Belle Anse Elementary School teacher Marissa McCallum had during her CBSL project, Chick Hatching.

She received chicken eggs from a local farm, which her Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Primary Cycle One and Two students were able to see hatch right in their classroom. The students witnessed the process starting from 48 hours before hatching up until the baby chicks were ready to go back to the farm. Along the way, students learned about the life cycle of the chicks and how to take care of them.

Through the celebration and education of the students’ local heritage, environment and community, Ms. McCallum witnessed a great deal of engagement and learning from her 14 students. “They learned about an aspect of our town they are not fully aware of,” comments Ms. McCallum. She also says with the help of the nearby farm, students were about to see what can be done, and is available, locally. “They also learned about the life cycle of an animal that they are not familiar with on a daily basis and how this animal is used.”

2014-05-20 10.58.24There are a lot of resources and lesson plans to help teachers bring this unique experience into their school.  You might want to start with a document from Nova Scotia entitled Egg-ricultural Egg-periences.

Student produce film based on shipwrecks and traditional ghost stories

Things got spooky this year at Grosse-Ile School/CLC on the Magdalen Islands, as Secondary Cycle 2 Students researched and produced a short film about a haunted shipwreck.

The story was inspired by traditional tales from local history and culture. In preparation, students sought out traditional ghosts stories from community members, and researched sites of historical shipwrecks around the Magdalen Islands. The story they tell in their movie is fictional but inspired by the stories they were told.

The teacher at the helm of this interesting learning project, Julie Boisvert admitted there were several challenges along the way including scheduling with a professional from the Cégep des Îles who helped teach specific movie making techniques. Despite some difficulty in arranging schedules, it was an extremely important factor in the project being steered to success, “Through this partnership they were able to learn about the rigorous work involved in movie making”.

Mme Boisvert said  “Despite any difficulties, students remained dedicated to the project. Students felt great pride in their achievement!”  She notes that with a dynamic project like this one, it is more possible to create and organize projects where each student’s strength and talent can be used and brought to light.

The movie project was integrated into their Media class, but included cross curriculum links with Geography, History and Citizenship Education, Français and Arts Education. The students were given a grade for their work and involvement through the various steps and stages of the production of the short film.  Beyond academic outcomes,  Mme Boisvert added that participating in the film project helped students to better appreciate their small and isolated community, that “It is a rich and interesting [place] which is worth sharing with the rest of the world.”