STEAM – Integrating Movement into Learning Professional Development

Location of STEAM Power teacher professional development, Seattle Museum Tourism Experience Music Project – Creative Commons

How can teachers use movement-based activities in the classroom?  This is one of the questions that came up as I attended this year’s STEAM Power (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) day long professional development event for educators.   I chose to attend the “Math Moves! Science Struts! Brain-based Strategies for Kinesthetic Leaners” session as I was interested in how I might incorporate movement into my teaching.  I primarily work with elementary age students which was the focus of this professional development session.  What were some of the takeaways?

Besides being a whole lot of fun, this session was a way for me to add some movement based activities to my tool belt.  We used stretch bands to come up with various geometric shapes, came together to make a machine (team-building aspect), and grouped up to make a dance about the journey of a water droplet.  As I have learned through this workshop and at IslandWood, arts integration can be an excellent summative assessment for your students.

Working as an outdoor educator I’ve seen how much more relaxed and focused students are after a team-building activity or other game that requires movement.   Understanding the energy fluctuations that students (and myself) go through– more focused and energetic in the morning, and more social and less energetic in the afternoon, I have been able to tailor my lessons accordingly.

See my blog (link) for how I’ve adapted my lesson plan to prepare my students for a more focused activity:


How to use Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

As an outdoor educator in IslandWood’s School Overnight Program, I have only four days to lead a group of students through an outdoor experiential field day. Before teaching in the School Overnight Program, we are given a list of the students in our group, how many chaperones we will have with us, dietary/medication information, and occasionally an Individualized Education Program statement or IEP.   These IEP statements are often ambiguous in their interpretation of a student, and are only so helpful in preparing you for your week ahead.

When on one particular week we were tasked with reflecting upon one student from a childhood development lens, I selected a student with an IEP statement.  It is not often that we are given IEP’s for our students, so I took this as an opportunity to take the information given to help me understand and perhaps modify my own behavior around said child (i.e. being patient if I saw him disengage). The boy’s IEP stated that his areas of possible improvement were in his “behavior, organization, writing, and social;” his challenges included: “motivation, self-starting, interacting with peers;” and lastly, suggested the following: “give him updates on agenda, modify his assignments (less quantity); check in with him to make sure he is on task.  I was not aware of how his daily school life is structured, whether perhaps, he spent the majority of his day in a special needs class working independently with one-on-one instruction, or if he spent most of his day with non-special needs students in a larger classroom setting.  

As I observed the student throughout the week I noticed the following things: he had a tendency to wander and retreat into reading a fantasy book he kept with him, he had trouble interacting with peers in a positive way (i.e. aggressive and also reclusive at times), and lastly, he seemed to want to learn independently.  In an effort to keep him motivated and on-task that week I attempted to highlight his achievements and used positive attribution to effectively show him what positive outcomes arise when he participates, socializes, or perhaps shares what’s on his mind with the group.  

It can be quite challenging to prepare in advance when you haven’t met your students, and even more challenging to meet the academic and behavioral needs of each student in a short amount of time. Furthermore, it is often the case that a students behavior changes when they join a smaller field group learning outdoors.   I have made it a practice to briefly reflect on each individual student at the close of the first field day.  The practice of following a particular student in depth can be challenging when given such a short amount of time. That said, I can reflect as I mentioned earlier in more manageable ways (i.e. taking a list of notes on the students in my field group) to adapt my instruction the next day.

The 2017 Islandwood Multicultural Environmental Education Conference


Our Garden Education class visiting “Green Plate Special” whose mission is to inspire and empower youth to experience food in new ways through gardening, cooking and eating together

This year my classmates and I were asked to speak at IslandWood’s 2017 Multicultural Environmental Education conference on the topic of gardens as sites of multicultural environmental learning.  Prior to the conference our class visited local garden education organizations that aim to make their programs culturally responsive and inclusive to youth in their area.  One such organization, “Green Plate Special,” partners with area classrooms to bring youth not only to the garden but also into the kitchen where they can share food together as a community.

Our goal for the Multicultural EE Conference was to discuss the many garden organizations involved in multicultural EE and to demonstrate the diversity of learning that can take place within a garden.  Gardens are places to bring youth together to learn about stewardship of the environment and their cultural communities.  Gardens act as a metaphor when we consider how important it is to take care of the plants that feed us and the people inhabit our communities.

Here’s a look at the lesson we adapted and brought to the conference: Communi-Tea (

Here I am demonstrating how to integrate community building into garden education at the 2017 Multi-Cultural EE Conference

When I demonstrated this lesson before our conference audience I asked the audience members to think of their individual strengths that they could add to the conference community.  What contributions are they perhaps making by showing up to the conference? What might their organization add to the discussion of multi-cultural education? The very act of adding herbs to the pitcher symbolized their contribution to the conference community.   As each participant added herbs to the pitcher of water, a few people spoke of how important gardens are to creating those connections to place for students.  Although the discussion was just beginning, I was felt very glad that I had been able to leave the audience with questions about community and how gardens are indeed places to have those conversations.

Mindfulness in the Outdoors – The Outdoor Teacher Journal

As an experiential outdoor educator I’ve made it a practice to incorporate reflective activities with my students.   This could be writing in their journals, reporting back on how they felt or what they learned during a particular activity, or in some cases sitting quietly for a mindfulness moment. Taking the time to reflect on a particular lesson or activity is a way for me to stretch my students thinking in new ways and deepen their experience of learning outdoors.

In May of 2017 I wrote an article for The Outdoor Teacher journal titled “Mindfulness and Experiential Outdoor Education.”  As someone who has a personally felt the benefits of yoga and meditation in my own reflections as an educator, I am interested in incorporating mindfulness and relaxation into student reflection as a way to compliment the process of learning. After I receive my 200hr Yoga Alliance Certification this summer, I would like to consider how I might integrate mindfulness and yoga into afterschool programs with children.

Below is a link to The Outdoor Teacher journal article:



Earth Day – Watercolor and Stories

Earth Day happened to follow the weekend just after a teaching week this April, so I took it as an opportunity to further explore the topic of stewardship of my student’s natural and cultural communities.  I set up a lesson that involved having students generate their own stories, a read-aloud of the book “Brother Eagle Sister Sky,” and a water-colored post-card written to themselves for Earth Day.  I had my students participate in the act of story-telling with a silly “Yes And..” improvisational game, and then debriefed with a discussion on stories and the message or moral story that they often tell.

After reading the book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, a story about Chief Seattle’s message to congress about the “worth” of the environment through a indigenous perspective, I invited the students to close their eyes and picture a place that you want to protect and share for future generations.   My main objective in doing so, was to have the students connect the concept of stewardship to their own special place that they care about.  During this reflective activity I had the students write a post-card to their future selves about what they could personally do to protect their special place  and then on the other side use watercolor and sharpies to paint a picture of the place.

Here is a picture of a student reflecting on his favorite beach in the Phillipines.

Stewardship can be a very nebulous topic if students aren’t able to make the connections to how stewardship can look in their own lives. This was one of my most memorable lessons on stewardship all year — primarily because I incorporated why stories are so important before the actual reading of a story. Having students play around with story-telling at the beginning, and then discussing the role that stories have in sending a message, prepared my students for the powerful metaphors that Chief Seattle made in Brother Eagle, Sister Sky.   What resulted was a series of lovely watercolor paintings — some depicting neighborhoods, a beach in the Phillipines, and some images of the land and water that should be kept healthy.    I will continue to consider how to build on the idea of stewardship where students have the opportunity to reflect and plan ways in which they can protect places that are near and dear to them.


Theme of the Week: Living Environments and Communities

Why Themes?

Each week I consider what my learning objectives are for my students, and also what theme might best describe what I have planned.  My themes have ranged from “Living Environments and Communities” to “Listening to Nature.” Shaping curriculum around a theme is way for me to make the four day IslandWood learning experience cohesive as well as more memorable.  Integrating my lessons and activities into a theme is way for me to assess what students have learned at the end of the week. How are your cultural and natural communities dynamic and alive? What can we learn when we listen to nature?  When having a reflective discussion, students can draw from past activities, lessons, and experiences they had at IslandWood.

I have felt very fortunate to be teaching in an environment not only rich in biodiversity but also history!  During my themed week of “Living Environments and Communities,” I can explore a wide range of interconnections between natural communities and cultural communities.  Take for example the “History Mystery Lesson” — see link below — where my students can explore who was living in the PNW before IslandWood was built and how a diversity of people lived and worked on the island when Bainbridge Island had the worlds largest lumber mill, Blakely Harbor. In what ways were these cultural communities dependent on the natural environment?

One of my student’s artistic depiction of the historic Blakely Harbor, Bainbridge Island.

Beyond IslandWood

I like to make themes that are broad enough that they can encompass a wide range of lessons and activities.  With the theme of “Living Environments and Communities,” my hope is that students can leave with a new perspective on their natural communities and cultural communities close to home.  This can bring in some interesting discussions when students begin sharing their own stories — where they are from or perhaps what communities matter the most to them.  In summation, themed weeks have been a great way for me to stay focused on my learning objectives and also delve deeper into a topic having scaffolded the subject with other activities under the same theme.

History Mystery Wiki Lesson:



Our Garden, Our Watershed

During my Formal Classroom Teaching course this spring, I focused on integrative learning and differentiated instruction in the public/private school systems using school gardens as the context. Project Based Learning is an important aspect of this work, as are social justice and equity issues.  

I was tasked with creating a garden lesson that included overarching goals, scope and sequence of work/activities that tie to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. The lesson need to be replicable, and usable by teachers and garden educators to link classroom lessons and content areas.

The resulting lesson “Our Garden, Our Watershed,” was written for a 7th-8th grade Natural Resources Career Technical Education class at Chinook Middle School in SeaTac, WA.   After having interviewed and observed the class prior to delivering the lesson, the design for this work allowed me to best incorporate identified student outcomes by their grade level and identified teacher needs.   The full lesson is an adaptation of the Nature Conservancy’s lesson “Gardens Filter Rainwater” and can be found below.

It was through this experience of teaching at Chinook Middle that I could see first hand the 1) challenges in transferring experiential garden education into formal classrooms, and 2) the importance of building trust through pre-visits.  I was able to learn more about the students and the classroom climate by observing the 7th-8th grade Natural Resource CTE class beforehand.  It was much easier for me to visualize the lesson’s run of show when I knew what types of classroom management were being used and whether the teacher did or did not engage with her students through discussion or other forms of assessment.

As someone who is new to garden education, I’m looking forward to building relationships with schools and bringing experiential education lessons into the formal classroom.

See the full “Our Garden, Our Watershed” lesson here: