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: