Fresh ways to make the outdoors your classroom

As the days grow warmer, there are more and more opportunities to take your classroom into the outdoors or plan outdoor projects and activities. 

It’s more important than ever to get our students outside: children are spending on average only six minutes playing outside a day, as this eye-catching graphic from The David Suzuki Foundation shows. Meanwhile, they spend an average of six hours a day in front of a television or computer. 

The Outdoor Classroom Project shares that outdoor classrooms and activities improve physical development, promote an active lifestyle and let students release pent up energy. Not to mention, as little as one hour spent outside can make students happier, have higher self-esteem and develop an appreciation for nature.

This is especially important for students living in urban areas. For the first time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural communities.  Nestor Kelba, the general manager of Calgary-area Kamp Kiwanis, put it best when he told the Calgary Herald: “Touching, feeling and seeing nature helps students develop a fondness and a good feeling for the outdoors, which can’t be taught in a classroom.” When students have the opportunity to get out into nature, it concretizes curriculum material about the water cycle or food chains.

Resources and ideas for moving your classroom into the open air are abundant. When browsing on Pinterest, there are endless photos to provide inspiration. In our last newsletter, we included a list of outdoor activities from The Inspired Classroom to get ideas for activities, but the website also has a blog post all about teaching outdoors. It provides  outdoor activity ideas for teachers in all subjects. Lastly, posted an article listing 16 outdoor classroom activities, titled Outdoor Classroom 101! If your school has an outdoor classroom, even standard every day lessons can be moved into the fresh air.

There are over a dozen CLC Quebec schools with outdoor classrooms. If yours isn’t one of them, there are several programs to help you get started. The TD Friends of the Environment Foundation has teamed up with Focus On Forests, a  national forest education program, have created an outdoor classroom development guide to help teachers get started. The Friend of the Environment Foundation also offers a grant to schools and community organizations that need help funding the outdoor garden construction. The grant can be used for all different types of environmental projects, so it is definitely worth checking out.

Quebec City students teach seniors “Internet 101”

The Internet can be a great tool for learning in more ways than one – and not just for our students. At Quebec High School, the students are the ones doing the teaching: the teens’ technical savvy is being put to good use through a series of workshops offered to local seniors on how to navigate the online world. Throughout February and March, nearly 30 students at the Quebec City school have been teaching seniors how to use an iPad, watch videos on YouTube, use Facebook and shop online. The workshops are held within the framework of a leadership class taught by Fannie Marsh at the school, and are the result of a partnership between QHS, Voice of English-speaking Quebec and the Community Learning Centre at the school. Here’s how they work:

  •  The workshops take place (in English) in the high school’s library.
  • They are student-led: at every workshop, two to three students make a short presentation, then put what they are teaching into use.
  • The seniors (usually numbering between five and 10) practice on the school’s computers and iPads.
  • Heather McRae, from Voice of English-speaking Quebec, supervises the workshops.

Marsh told the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph that the initiative empowered the students, especially since they were teaching to people older than themselves. And, although the workshops initially were only planned for February, they were so well-received by both the students and seniors that they extended the series to March. The last workshop, called “Internet 101,” takes place on March 26. To read the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, click here (subscription required).

Centennial Regional High School creates thrift shop for students in need of clothing

Everyone has that one memory of being in school and dealing with the embarrassment of ruined clothes. Falling in mud, spilling food or ripping a hole in the seat of your pants are all situations no one wants to be put in, especially in a school environment where you’re surrounded by peers all day.

To help students get through unfortunate clothing mishaps, Elaine Roberge, who teaches English, History, and POP (Personal Orientation Project) at Centennial Regional High School in Longueuil, QC, put together a thrift shop for students.

The idea came to Elaine last year: “A student ripped her jeans while at school. She came to me looking for help,” she recalls. “I went over to our front office to ask if we had anything we could lend her and there was nothing. I was redirected to the counselling department, who gave me some old, ill-fitting gym shorts.”

Realizing the options weren’t appealing, Elaine lent the student a pair of workout pants she luckily had in her bag. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great of there was somewhere students could go to get clothing if something of this nature happens?’”

The thrift shop isn’t officially open for business yet, but donations are already pouring in. “We simply put an announcement in our school newsletter and on our school Facebook page,” explains Elaine. “People were donating so much that we temporarily had to put a stop to it because our space isn’t big enough!”

Already, the store has provided students with winter jackets, boots, and clothing items of need. “Everything in the thrift store will be for sale to any student in the building, at a reasonable or low cost. However, a student who is in need, due to an emergency or due to a particular home situation, will be given items for free.”

Elaine received a small grant to purchase equipment such as poles, hangers, and brackets. Also in the thrift shop space is a wall covered with pegboards, so hooks for handbags and shelving for shoes are coming in the near future. There are also plans to build a prom section filled with affordable prom attire, as that time of year quickly approaches.

Students and teachers alike are getting involved in many ways, from mural painting to advertising campaigns, store management to volunteer staff. “The response has been extremely positive!” says Elaine. “Both teachers and students love the idea, not to mention the students we are helping are pleased and feel more comfortable accepting help from familiar faces in a familiar environment.”

There are plans for the thrift shop’s grand opening event so be sure to check out the blog in the near future to see those pictures!

Teacher Feature: Erin Ross, Metis Beach School

When teacher Erin Ross began her genocide LES, over half of her Secondary 3-4-5 students didn’t know what “genocide” was. “When we were brainstorming at the beginning and I asked them a question about the holocaust, I had 9 out of 14 that had no idea what I was talking about,” she says.

Erin is an ELA/History/ERC teacher at Metis Beach School in Métis-sur-Mer, located on the Gaspé Peninsula. Through her genocide LES, her students have learned about the Holocaust and other major genocides such as Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia.

Erin is working with fellow teacher Stephen Kohner from Baie Comeau High School. One of the projects they are collaborating on is a literary magazine which will feature articles and other literary media created by their students. The magazine is set to be completed March 17, 2014.

“The reason I decided to speak about it [genocide] is that Stephen Kohner, the other teacher working on the project, and I, saw there’s nothing in our curriculum, even on the subject of the Holocaust. It isn’t mandatory in our curriculum,” Erin explained. They have also received assistance from school Principal Brett Mitchell, who recently attended the Freedom Writers Foundation in California.

With fewer survivors every year, Erin saw it as an opportunity to address an important issue that would have her students “sit up and think, and be challenged a little bit.” Her students have watched documentaries and films, read articles and even had a videoconference with Holocaust survivor Renée Firestone. Two additional videoconferences are scheduled: one with a Bosnian/Rwandan Canadian peacekeeper and the second with a survivor of the Bosnian genocide.

The response from students has been incredible. “I think I received the greatest compliment,” says Erin. “I had a student that said she thought it was the most important thing I had taught her. I’ve been teaching her since Sec 1 and she’s now in Sec 4.”

This same student went to Encounters Canada several weeks ago and met the peacekeeper that will be part of the future videoconference with the class. “She came to me and said, ‘I want to book this guy for our class.’ And I said, ‘of course!’”

Before starting the LES, Erin sent emails to parents and received great responses, saying they appreciated her covering genocide and her work with the students. Erin also said students are even teaching their parents a few things about genocide.

As for resources, Erin has been making use of the teacher’s guide materials from The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, movies such as Schindler’s List and The Killing Fields, kid-friendly websites and books from the Scholastic teacher store. “[The students] are a little bit amazed. I had one student say, “Whoa, I didn’t know you could watch a movie and actually learn something.”

Intergenerational project celebrates Heart Month and Valentine’s Day


The month of February lent itself to an opportunity to connect Valentine’s Day with Heart Month, the fundraising campaign organized by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.

To celebrate these two events, the Grosse-Ile and Entry Island CLC organized workshops where students crafted valentines and put messages inside promoting healthy hearts. The valentines were then delivered to local seniors, along with a heart-friendly cookie or muffin baked by the students. Each student-made valentine promoted the Heart and Stroke Foundation website, where seniors could find more healthy heart tips and recipes.

Grosse-Ile and Entry Island CLC coordinator Nancy Clark said someone approached her about hosting a card-making activity.

“I noticed the mini-grants–Heart Month in February and Valentine’s Day–so it was an idea to do the card making and healthy heart combined,” she said.

Participants included 15 students, plus their parents or grandparents. On Entry Island, the activity was a full day event. In Grosse-Ile, two sessions were held, along with a baking session. Participants also were involved in delivering the valentines and treats to seniors.

“Here, we are still a very traditional community,” said Nancy Clark. “We’re kind of stuck in the middle of modern and traditional life. For students to have a sense of belonging and understanding of who they are and their community, they have to have that connection with the elderly folk.”