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Last week I had the incredible opportunity to take my Adventure Co-op on a three day hike to the Elfin Lakes in the Garibaldi Provincial Park. We hiked eleven kilometers to a large BC Parks hut situated beside the two lakes seen in the picture above – it is surrounded by pristine alpine meadows, forest, and glaciated peaks as far as the eye can see. We woke up on the second day to cloudless blue skies as we prepared to hike further into the park. Half an hour from the hut the landscape changed dramatically from gentle alpine terrain to valleys scraped bare by the unrelenting power of a bygone glacier. After rock-hopping across two glacier fed streams, we climbed up and over a steep moraine to a landscape that more closely resembled something you might expect to see on the moon than anything on earth. Spirits and snowballs flew high as we crossed a large snowfield to get to an elevated point where we stopped to soak in the sun-drenched views before turning around and heading back to the hut. On the third day we started the journey back home.
Yesterday my students were blogging about their experiences on this three day adventure. At one point one of my students called me over because he was having difficulty finding a word that described the immensity of the all-encompassing views. I had the same difficulty. If a picture is worth a thousand words and even a picture can’t come close to capturing the beauty and vastness of the landscape, it’s no wonder he was having difficulty finding the right word to use in his blog!
After debriefing with my students about the trip I had the feeling that we had inadvertently entered onto sacred ground at some point in our journey – not in some weird, mystical sense – but because each of my students left the trip with new perspectives about themselves and the world around them. It was a very real and very deep experience – an experience that is (almost?) impossible to duplicate in the classroom. The mountains are a poignant classroom and the lessons learned therein are not easily forgotten.
My class spent what amounted to an entire period debriefing the experience and what they had learned during the three days on the mountain. I asked them to describe how they see hiking (the skills, knowledge, and understandings needed to hike safely and competently) connect to what they do in school. Here’s what they came up with:
- You have to know where you’re going
- Attitude really matters
- Learning happens when you reflect on your mistakes and what you would do differently next time
- Be serious (but have fun!)
- Understand your pace
- Understand your limits and where you need to improve
- Be respectful
- Knowledge is power
Each of these points deserves to be addressed individually because the implications of each are profound – and this reflects only a quarter of what my students learned! There were many powerful personal lessons learned about life and themselves. I can’t help but feel that these outdoor experiences bring out the best of what school (as an idea) has to offer. The beauty, solitude, and effort taken to enjoy the mountain environment works on the soul like a deep massage. And the best part about it is that learning happened in spite of me. All I did was provide an opportunity and opened up a door – the environment itself was the teacher. Although I would like to take credit for what my students learned and give myself a couple big pats on the back, I was merely a facilitator and a participant in their journey, which was also part of my journey.
I wish all teachers and students could enjoy this type of experience. Although the mountain environment is an unrealistic avenue for most teachers and classrooms, the idea is not. Authentic and engaging learning environments can be found in any classroom. The only criteria that’s needed is an authentic and engaged teacher.
Because youtube videos disappear all the time, I sometimes download the ones I want to keep onto my hard drive to ensure I can use it in the future. There are numerous different sites you can use to do this, but I use http://www.keepvid.com – it’s free!
I love using youtube in my English classes – there are a TON of amazing, high quality resources that are just waiting to be used! These videos are engaging, accessible to students of any ability level, and can be used in a variety of different ways for a variety of different purposes. However, it can be a lengthy and frustrating process sifting through the massive number of videos out there; as such, I’ve created an annotated list of some of the best poetry and short films I’ve found. I really like all three poetry videos and of all the short films I use “The Black Hole,” “Futurestates,” “Offside,” “Strangers,” and “Validation” the most. If you have any other suggestions of videos to add please send them my way so I can add them to the list! Enjoy!
- “Two Inches to the Right” http://vimeo.com/11693318
This is a powerful poem that I have found especially effective with boys and reluctant poets.
- “Slip of the Tongue” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1zpX4R33CA
An engaging, spoken word poem that deals with issues of cultural identity, gender stereotypes, and a host of other issues.
A simple, well animated poem that I often use to introduce students to poetry. Billy Collins was an American poet laureate and has a great voice. He has a number of animated poems online including “The Best Cigarette,” “Forgetfulness,” “Some Days,” “The Country,” “Now and Then,” “Man in Space,” and “Walking across the Atlantic.”
An awkward date turns surreal as a woman finds out that the man she’s dating is her first love – definitely ‘chick flick-ish!’
- A Thousand Words http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nms_pQxjycM
A film about a man’s pursuit of love and the power of potential love. No words are spoken (ironically) as the main character tries to find the owner of a camera he found on a train.
A humorous film that looks at the dangers of greed.
A young, thuggish kid getting his head around the idea of becoming a father. I haven’t fully digested this film yet – but I think I like it. I think it could really resonate with many of our learning centre boys.
Futurestates is a series of eleven short films that look at what the world will look like in the future – they’re thought provoking and poignant. These films would be great ways to get into some interesting ethical discussions about the world we live in.
This film examines the reality and confusion of schizophrenia – with a very unexpected twist at the end. Insightful and dramatic.
- The Life and Death of a Pumpkin
An awesome video that could help students think from a different perspective (in this case, the life story of a pumpkin). The idea is simple enough that students could attempt to film a similar idea without too much filming knowledge.
This is a suspenseful film about four soldiers who encounter each other while on a routine patrol. They are temporarily drawn together over a soccer match before one soldier accidentally fires his rifle and kills a soldier from the other side. This is a great way to explore short story or to explore issues of war, commonality, and the power of sports (among other things)
A short film on the dangers of trying to manipulate the future. Well filmed and scripted.
A short film about choices and consequences, stereotyping, friendship, and empathy – great for boys. A group of boys get caught breaking into an industrial building and one boy accidentally stabs his friend in an effort to escape from the security guard. The story mainly takes place between the stabbed boy and the security who gradually empathizes with the young man and then sacrifices himself so the boy will go free. The sound is quiet for this video – you’ll have to turn up the volume.
A short film about the importance of love and relationship in life.
- Strangers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpjHSiQLPmA
A brilliant short film that examines racism and the importance of looking beyond race and nationality.
A very suspenseful film with a surprise ending. Great for looking at suspense and starts to move into the horror genre.
- Still Life – Short Film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJmNosceZWg&feature=related
Another video with the same name – this one examines the story of a woman who is suffering from depression and also begins to bring in some elements of horror into the story. It contains a unique third person narration.
An animated, fun film – I use it more for engagement purposes than anything. I also use it to get students to find theme (which is explicitly stated).
- Validation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao
A great short film about the power of being kind to each other and the impact it can have on another person’s life.
- Where the Hell is Matt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY
I love this video (it’s powerful) and I’m not entirely sure why! Essentially, it’s about a man who travelled all over the world and short clips were taken from each country with people dancing (yes, dancing) with him. It shows how we are more unique than different – through dance. You have to watch it to understand what I mean.
- Anti-Bullying Ad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWJut7KQhI4&feature=related
A great anti-bullying ad that shows how the power of one person standing up against bullying can make a difference.
- Anti-Bullying PSA: The Price of Silence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY7Gvq0P4hc&feature=related
An anti-bullying at that could also be tied into other issues.
- Words Hurt – Bullying Commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1j6YA03hm4k&feature=related
Another anti-bullying commercial
There is something eerie about a silent classroom.
When I first started teaching, a silent classroom was like a pearl – rarely found and highly coveted. I thought that if I had this pearl I would be a good teacher. I thought that if all of my students were quiet, learning MUST be happening. I thought wrong.
Over time a subtle unease crept in. Were my students actually learning or were they playing the game? Were they engaged or simply afraid of being told to stop talking? When are teenagers ever quiet? When is passion and engagement ever quiet? And gradually, my idea of the ideal classroom began changing. My desire for silence was replaced with the hope that my students would talk excitedly about what they were learning. A silent classroom now makes me a little nervous – what is going on? Why is everyone quiet? What am I (or they) missing? Although there are certainly times when my classroom is so quiet a mummy would get nervous (and I know learning is happening) – it is no longer sought after. What I thought was a pearl was only a clump of dirt. I’ve washed my hands of it.