Grand Prize Winner
Ryan Andersen is an elementary classroom teacher at Sprucecourt Public School in downtown Toronto who has been on a journey with his students to connect with the land they live and learn on. Ryan and his students spend time every day building community, making discoveries, and finding joy in both local parks and in the forest of the Don Valley. These green spaces are located near the Wonscotonach trail, documented as the Anishnaabemowin place name for the Lower Don River. The area is covered by Treaty 13, and is the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. Ryan uses stories and books by Indigenous authors and illustrators to help students develop an awareness of, and appreciation for, the Seven Grandfather Teachings. He uses an inquiry-based approach to nurture students’ understanding of their responsibilities and accountabilities as stewards of the land they live, learn and work on.
Mara and Shannon
Mara and Shannon are primary school teachers in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They have been running an outdoor school program since attending the Manitoba Nature Summit in 2014. They started by challenging themselves to teach two weeks outdoors rain or shine. The program has since evolved to at least six weeks outdoors in the Spring, two weeks of Conquer the Cold in the Winter, and daily outdoor play. The innovative award winning (Eco-Globe school distinction 2019 and EECOM.Org School of excellence 2021) outdoor school program now runs annually and school wide where the students are engaged in meeting curricular outcomes through discovery, inquiry, land based teaching, and play.
Shannon has over 25 years of teaching experience and has received awards acknowledging her passion and work in early childhood literacy. She is a certified field leader with the Outdoor Council of Canada. Shannon infuses her passion for nature, the outdoors, inquiry and play into her daily teaching. Mara brings over 20 years of teaching experience, is a play therapist, and has a post baccalaureate degree in Indigenous Perspectives in Education. Mara brings a land based perspective and infusion of Indigenous culture.
Together they have inspired an entire staff and over 200 students to engage in new outdoor learning experiences that connects them to the land, the environment, and the community. They have had the opportunity to share their outdoor school program, and provide educators with time to trouble shoot challenges, experience hands on ideas, and share stories and anecdotes of their successes and failures. They have presented to school staff made up of educational assistants, teachers, and principals alike. More formally they have presented at SAGE (Manitoba’s provincial education conference), The Manitoba Nature Summit 2022, Educating for ACTion Conference 2019, and Ulead Conference (Banff) 2023. Their passion for outdoor school, land based learning, and simply being outdoors meets all the needs of the developing child. As they nourish their student’s connection to nature and the land they are helping students develop a sense of oneness with the world. Teaching them that the land connects us all.
John Hannah is a middle school science teacher at Hillfield Strathallan College, a pre-K to grade 12 school in Hamilton, Ontario. John grew up exploring the rich biodiversity of the Hamilton area within the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Neutral, and Huron-Wendat people. As an avid outdoor environmental educator, he has spent his career committed to creating opportunities for students to fall in love with nature, engage in authentic learning that deepens this connection, and develop skills that empower them to offer reciprocity with the land throughout their lives. He is working on a larger plan to optimize the biodiversity values of his school’s campus, creating acres of nearby-nature readily accessible for outdoor learning for every student, in every grade and subject, every day of the year.
Student-led projects shape what he calls the school’s “Learning Landscape”. Projects have begun to reconnect local ecosystems within the school’s watershed. Students have planted ecological corridors, a Miyawaki forest, oak savanna, a tallgrass prairie seed orchard, vegetable gardens, a food forest, a new apple orchard and more. Students have been growing and building the Learning Landscape over time, and they are the agents of change as place-builders who are making a difference year after year. At the end of the day, under John’s enthusiastic guidance, they are increasing biodiversity and building climate change resilience on their 50-acre campus. John has been motivating students and faculty to deeply engage the school in reciprocity with the land by getting to know and enhance their place and learning what it means and how it feels to cherish it.
Grand Prize Winner
Chris Dube is an educator at Lake Superior High School in Terrace Bay ON who is passionate about creating experiential programming and authentic learning experiences for students. Chris developed a locally-focused yet globally relevant multi-credit Outdoor Environmental Science (OES) program based on the Ontario Curriculum documents Healthy Living and Outdoor Activities and Environmental Science. The OES program consists entirely of hands-on project-based learning activities, employing authentic and alternative assessment methods and Indigenous ways of teaching and learning. The program naturally incorporates four areas of priority: Indigenous Education, Community Development, Mental Health and Well-being, and Experiential Learning.
Linda Ryan and Carmelina (Carm) Figliomeni-Crupi
Linda Ryan and Carmelina (Carm) Figliomeni-Crupi have provided instrumental leadership and a model of teamwork to the students and community to broaden and deepen Indigenous environmental education and stewardship throughout their careers. They are co-supervisors, and inseparable partners, of the EcoSquad club at Louise Arbour Secondary School of the Peel District School Board in Brampton, Ontario.
Joanne Dunn, Meera Bandechha, Aleesha Bird, Isabelle Tang, Sarah Wallace, Rhonda Stark, James Taylor
Glenlyon Norfolk School educators Joanne Dunn and Meera Bandechha (Junior Kindergarten), Aleesha Bird and Isabelle Tang (Kindergarten), Sarah Wallace and Rhonda Stark (Grade 5) and Indigenous Educator/ Knowledge Keeper James Taylor have utilized the IB Primary Years Programme to draw on the experience of Nature School.
Their outdoor classroom provides every opportunity for all students to succeed and thrive. In previous years, they have all passionately incorporated different aspects of inquiry-based teachings outdoors. However, this year they decided to unite their passion to build an excellent curriculum together. With this new collaboration, they brought the students to also work together to build butterfly gardens, teach inquiry through beekeeping, develop school gardens, explore food sustainability, dig into the wonders of composting, and stewardship of the land.
Grand Prize Winner
Matt Arsenault teaches grade 7 science, math, and health at Redcliff Middle School. His environmental focus is on Nova Scotia, a province which occupies only a small fraction of time in the ongoing history of Mi’kma’ki, the land that has made life and learning possible in the unceced territory of the Mi’kmaw people since time immemorial. He is grateful for the relationships that fill environmental learning with action, hope, and inquiry. He would like to acknowledge that without the Mi’kmaw language, which is shaped-by-and-is-sacred-to the land of Mi’kma’ki and the people whom are Indigenous to it, his students and colleagues would not be able to explore Netukulimk by engaging in Etuaptmumk, and most importantly there is no environmental education without M’sit No’kmaq (All my relations).
Carmela has been teaching Outdoor Education with Hillside Outdoor Education School for 20 years. Hillside is hosted on Indigenous Lands in the beautiful and wild Rouge Urban National Park. Hillside is part of The Toronto Outdoor Education Schools (TOES) with the Toronto District School Board.
Amanda Paakkunainen and Lana Desjardins
Amanda (right) and Lana (left) are the Kindergarten team at George O’Neill Public School in Nipigon Ontario and work collaboratively to bring inquiry-based learning to their students. Amanda is an elementary teacher and Lana is an ECE. Both Ladies work and live in the Nipigon area and enjoy their time living on the shores of Lake Superior.
Grand Prize Winner
Velvet Lacasse lives and teaches on the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Wendat. As a non-Indigenous ally, Velvet is committed to actively disrupting colonial pedagogies and supporting Indigenous sovereignty. As one of the founding teachers at The Grove Community School, Velvet is learning about the critical importance of teaching through relationships and centering Indigenous voices, perspectives, knowledge, and stories of resistance through land-based education.
Alberta Robinet & Adrienne Rinne
Adrienne Rinne and Alberta Robinet both completed the Masters of Arts in Child Study and Education program through OISE at the University of Toronto. They are co-teachers of an Outdoor Kindergarten program at Tawingo College in Muskoka, Ontario.
Sybille Parry has been an elementary school teacher for 31 years, most recently at the Island Public/Natural Science school in Toronto (TDSB). Sometimes she paddles to work!
Miriam Snell has been a teacher at Tamarack West Outdoor School since its inception in 2015. Tamarack is a unique forest school in Toronto’s West End which is suited for spirited children who thrive in the outdoors. As a founding teacher, Miriam has been an integral part of Tamarack’s development.
Kaitlin Beard, Avneet Singh, Olga Rossovska, Michael Carlucci, Jennifer Casale, Walter Garcia, Alessandra Silvestro
Registered Early Childhood Educators, Humber Child Development Centre
Support Staff, Aboriginal Resource Centre/Environmental Stewardship Coordinator, Humber Arboretum
Professor, Early Childhood Education, Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellness
Grand Prize Winners
Towering crack willow trees surrounded by 250 acres of Carolinian forest, one of Canada’s most biologically diverse ecosystems are the heart of The Willows, a forest nature program for children at the Humber College Child Development Centre in Toronto. Located in Adoobiigok, known as "Place of the Black Alders" in the Ojibwe language, nature affords opportunities for children to walk with the land, climb trees, watch blue herons, embrace rain, learn the Ojibwe name for robin/opichi, feed chickadees, track deer prints, include beetles and frogs in their stories and watch turtles in the pond.
Building on Humber’s health and wellness and Indigenous mandates, The Willows promotes land-based, emergent and inquiry-based learning, age-appropriate risk-taking through opportunities for physical challenge and adventure and strategies for developing mental health and wellness, social, emotional, communication and storytelling skills. Through traditional Indigenous teachings—the Four Directions (kindness, sharing, honesty and strength) and the gifts from the Seven Grandfathers (courage, wisdom, honesty, truth, love, respect and humility)— children, families and educators increase their knowledge about local forests, ponds, the Humber river, creatures and animals. In tasting sumac/makeebug tea made from an August harvest, we offer tobacco and inform all of creation what we are doing: we let the plants know who we are, what it is we are asking for, how we are going to use the plants, share what we take and say thank you/Miigwetch.
Our practice considers how learning from and with the traditional territories of Indigenous community whose traditional lands we are walking on might contribute to re-imagining nature-based early childhood programs. Continued collective efforts to support and advocate for land-based programs in the early years, is key to enabling a transformative shift in pedagogy and practice.
We are delighted and extremely honored to receive this as a team – thank you to Natural Curiosity. We are continuously grateful for being able to connect, learn and grow together in nature, with children, families and our community.
With many thanks to the Humber Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellness, the broader team at the Child Development Centre, the Humber Arboretum and Centre for Urban Ecology and the Aboriginal Resource Centre.
Anne Corkery has taught grade 6/7 (French Immersion) with PVNCCDSB for four years now. She has always felt most at home in nature. She grew up playing games and building forts in the woodlot behind her house, and would spend hours in a nearby creek turning over rocks to find critters to look at. Today, much of her spare time is spent running the trails which surround her city.
Before becoming a teacher, she worked as an ecologist, studying the predicted impacts of climate change on migratory species in the sub-Arctic. This experience ignited within her a desire to connect with younger generations to instill within them a deep love for the natural word, as she believes this is our best chance at protecting it from the many threats it is currently facing. She has made environmental inquiry a priority in all of her classrooms up until this point, each year gaining momentum and inspiration for new projects with her students. These projects have resulted in the revitalization of recycling programs at her school, gardening projects, sustainable transportation initiatives, growing of traditional medicines in our classroom for our school’s medicine wheel garden, and most recently, the making of their very own urban maple syrup. These projects have all been a result of her students’ personal interests, the end products of which are largely determined by them.
Diana is a physical education and classroom teacher at Beaverlodge School in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She has a passion for nature and for helping others. She started her teaching career in 1980 and was fortunate to see David Suzuki speak at a division event. This experience stirred in her a passion to share environmental education with her students. Beaverlodge School is currently the first and only Earth 11 School in Canada with the SEEDS Green School program. This means her school has completed 11,000 environmental projects. Some examples of the projects include composting, planting new gardens, planting more trees, bio blitzes, Earth Day celebrations, tomato sphere, involvement in the Blue Dot movement, Indigenous perspectives, the Blanket exercise, Yellow Fish Road, place based education of our school yard and forest, building a beautiful outdoor classroom and daily eco projects.
Every year she has an Earth Council, which is a group of 30 students, who are the environmental ambassadors at her school and lead many of the whole school events. Earth Council has raised over 18,000 for their village in Kenya to help them to become more sustainable. In her classroom, she is grateful to have found the Natural Curiosity books, which have formed the basis of inquiry-based learning in her class. She tries whenever possible to teach outside in nature.
Her personal commitment to environmental education is at the heart of all she does. David Suzuki says we protect what we love and the way for children to learn to love nature is to spend time in it; to experience the wonder of it; to experience the connection we have to everything. Diana has shared this belief with students for 39 years. As she retires this year, her wish is that her students will continue to share this passion to protect nature.
Grand Prize Winner
Jen is a Grade 2 Teacher at Lakeside P.S., YRDSB, in Keswick, Ontario. Her Principal, Kim Smith, nominated her this spring, when Jen lead the Primary Division in a “Water Inquiry with an Indigenous Perspective”. Jen used Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition as a mentor text and sought guidance from YRDSBs First Nations, Metis and Inuit Curriculum and Student Advisors throughout this project. On March 22, 2018 – coincidentally the beginning of UN’s Decade for Action for Water Sustainability – FNMI Curriculum Advisor, Towana Brooks, and FNMI Student Advisor, Hayley Williamson, shared their stories and songs about the reciprocal connection we all share with water; taught Primary staff how to make beaded copper-pot necklaces inspired by Water Walker Josephine Mandamin; and how to sing “The Nibi/Water Song” Song in Ojibwe. Over two hundred students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 inquired about Lake Simcoe – their source of drinking water – walked to the lake, and investigated social justice issues and ways to protect Lake Simcoe. At our celebration with families, the children sang “The Nibi Song” in Ojibwe wearing their copper-pot inspired necklaces, did hands-on investigations about water and took pledges to conserve water. Jen has worked at Vivian Outdoor Centre, and was instrumental in facilitating the partnership between Ontario Parks, MNR and YRDSB to open Sibbald Point Outdoor Education Centre in Sibbald Point Provincial Park, where she also taught. She published “The Water Game” in Green Teacher Magazine and “Teaching Green” book. Jen has built capacity for Ontario Educators by writing and teaching Environmental and Outdoor Education courses for Nipissing University, York University and currently the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Jen has an Honours BA double major in Environmental Studies and Indigenous Studies from Trent University.
Ms. Myers is in her 17th year of teaching and learning with the TDSB. She has always been curious about the natural world and the consequences of our actions on the world around us. She believes in teaching students from a young age about their responsibility and role in respecting and caring for others and their natural environment. A lifelong curiosity about the world around her and the value of all living things following the teachings of Indigenous Peoples have shaped both her life pursuits and teaching practice. Volunteering around the world and working with organizations such as the ROM have helped her bring experiences to the students to broaden their understanding and peak their curiosity. Her class is involved in the school Eco club which she helped implement as part of the TDSB Eco schools initiative; growing it to platinum status. The students are involved in environmental initiatives throughout the school and through outside organizations and these initiatives are intertwined with the curriculum. Her class has been involved for several years with the Energy Diet Challenge and Tomatosphere which connect to areas such as Science and Technology. Prize money won as part of the Classroom Energy Diet this year was shared between the Foodshare organization as a way of giving back to the community and other ongoing environmental projects in the school like a vertical garden to green the school’s internal space. Through announcements, hands on activities, and field trips, students take ownership of the learning thereby impacting their peers and others through educating them about the environment. Barb believes it is important to expand the students’ ideas about the influence that they have and changes they can make. This will empower them and give them the confidence to alter their behaviour and practices for the betterment of the Earth and its inhabitants.
Kindra Harris is currently teaching grade one in Bancroft, Ontario. She has committed herself to re-engaging students to the natural environment through education outdoors. Through repeated and regular exposure to a small piece of forest, she has helped children develop their own relationship with the land, who clearly feel a new-found sense of responsibility and appreciation for this humble and previously overlooked area next to the ball diamond.
She graduated from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where an inquiry based approach to learning is the norm, and she is applying this knowledge in her current teachings in Canada. She feels that this child-led approach is an essential part of engaging students in a meaningful and memorable learning journey which is why she has recently completed her Forest School Practitioner course. Previously, she has worked as an experiential environmental educator teaching parts of the science and social studies curriculum in the forest for multiple school groups. She has worked as an outdoor educator for Alive Outdoors as well as at various camps. She is passionate about nature and shares that passion with her students. Kindra has served as a role model for other educators who are interested in moving their teaching outdoors and hopes to continue inspiring her colleagues, her future students and their families to get outside.
Grand Prize Winner
Alicia Belvedere has been teaching for the Toronto District School Board since 2007. She believes that igniting environmental stewardship in students begins with providing opportunities to explore, get excited about and ultimately fall in love with nature. Her journey to live a happier and healthier life by deepening her connection to nature inspired Alicia to encourage her students to foster their own love of the earth. At High Park Alternative School, there is a community of amazing staff and parents that work together to create exciting learning experiences. Without the support of her community, Alicia would not be able to bring her class’s inquiries to the heights to which her students aim to take them. These projects include sewing a quilt that celebrates our natural resources, dedicating half a day each week to exploring Toronto’s biggest urban park, setting up a woodworking station in the classroom, growing food in and outside the classroom, surveying a number of Toronto parks for their data management unit, visiting conservation areas, and participating in an ecological restoration program. Alicia looks forward to continuing her own environmental education to better foster her students’ curiosity in our natural world.
Tanya is passionate about the natural world and supports building nature connections for all ages. Currently the Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Learning K-12 Consultant for the York Region District School Board, Tanya has been in the public system for more than 13 years.
While posted at Sibbald Point Outdoor Education Centre, Tanya began adopting an environmental inquiry stance and with her teaching partner, began looking at ways to increase student engagement and shifting how they delivered programs. This also led to a Forest School Inspired Ministry Pilot where Tanya worked with community partners to deliver environmental inquiry programs at two different school sites. Partnering with Natural Curiosity, Learning For a Sustainable Future, Outdoor Council of Canada, Child and Nature Alliance Canada and Forest School Canada has generated momentum and provided rich professional development opportunities. Drawn to inquiry, placed-based education, and the pedagogy of Forest School, all represented collaborative, transformative, responsive environments that honoured student voice. Listening and letting students guide the learning created powerful, positive experiences and fostered deep connections to nature. Over the past five years, Tanya has focused on these passions to meet educators where they are in order to shift mindsets and inspire learning – outside.
Tanya’s love of the environment has moved to Robert Munsch this year where she regularly takes classes outdoors to a local forest. With an Outdoor Learning Committee, a supportive School Council, as well as providing students a voice in shaping their outdoor spaces, the excitement in the community is growing and has led to a new loose parts program. To have students connecting to place in and around our schools is a dream for Tanya and she is honoured to be taking on a new role as of September to support Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Learning at a system level. As Richard Louv said: “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.”
Rebecca Purvis is a Grade four teacher at Clairlea Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. She feels incredibly privileged to have grown up with the freedom to explore the natural world around her and those experiences have shaped the woman and educator she has become. Rebecca works hard to share those experiences with her students. Many of the students at Clairlea Public School are new to Toronto and sometimes they’re unaware of the natural beauty that exists in our city. Rebecca takes her class on multiple free field trips and ensures they know how to access these places with their families in the hopes that they will return and share their experiences.
This year, the grade four students embarked on an incredible environmental stewardship inquiry. After plenty of student-led research, they chose a series of environmental issues in Canada and contacted various stakeholders involved. The students asked important and difficult questions. They proposed and created models of solutions. They took on the roles of various stakeholders and presented their positions at an environmental stewardship showcase for the community. The students in Rebecca’s class know that they have the power to affect change in the logging industry, the fishing industry, the tar sands, water privatization, and alternative energy. They are bold and confident innovators who will undoubtedly leave the world better than they found it.
Grand Prize Winner
Ellie Clin is an environmentally-inspired classroom educator at The Grove Community School in Toronto, the first public alternative elementary school with a commitment to teaching the curriculum through the lenses of social justice, community activism, and environmentalism.
Ellie and her students have learned through a variety of place-based and global environmental inquiries over the years. From partnering with organizations such as the StopGap Foundation or the Toronto Region Conservation Authority; to engaging in long-term artistic studies of the life in their school yard; to planting vegetables for community meals in the garden, they strive to learn more about and become stewards for the local environment. And, by investigating Antarctic wildlife through Ellie’s expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow; tagging and tracking monarch butterfly migration; and creating environmental short films for the Planet In Focus student film festival, they also engage in making connections with the wider global community.
Rebecca Birtzu has been a classroom teacher for 8 years. She currently teaches grade 1/2 at Christian Island Elementary School located in Beausoleil First Nation. Rebecca loves connecting with nature and she has always felt an inherent responsibility to care for the environment. The responsibility to care for the environment is an important focus for Rebecca as she tries to infuse this into her teaching.
Rebecca has taught in many First Nation communities located throughout northern Canada. Living and working in such northern locations has helped her understand how Indigenous culture, language, lifestyle practices and traditions are intertwined with the environment. The experience working with and learning from local elders, healers, teachers, hunters, artisans, parents, and students has taught her to embrace the environment as part of the classroom. This experience has also inspired her to make the obvious connection in her lesson planning where she takes her students outdoors to learn in their natural and celebrated environment.
Rebecca began working with Natural Curiosity as a teaching resource two years ago. She instantly connected with the philosophy of environmental-inquiry education. She felt supported within the inquiry-based learning framework that inspired learning through the environment guided by students’ questions and theories. Rebecca and her students have explored local environments and learned about traditional knowledge and practices and how language and culture are connected to the environment. They also developed a deeper understanding of concepts connected to trees, plant life, animal life, water and habitats. Rebecca’s inquiry-based learning units have inspired local action and global citizenship.
Indigenous students have taught Rebecca that our environment is our classroom. Natural Curiosity has supported her by providing her the confidence as a teacher to find a pathway to bring learning outside where curriculum, cultures, and language are naturally connected to the environment.
Woodland Heights Public School
Woodland Heights is pleased to accept the 2016 Edward Burtynsky Runner-Up Award. Integrated eco-school club activities make it a green school. Green leaders are everywhere and Woodland Heights has earned 8 consecutive gold medals from Ontario EcoSchools.
This year, environmental inquiry was visible throughout the entire school and it was clearly evident with an initiative started by the Grade 7/8 class. It all started when they registered in a national contest called Student Action on Canadian Water Attitudes. Knowledge building circles quickly opened up many inquiries into the topic of water. “I Wonder” questions flowed from the students. One inquiry that the students had many questions about was the First Nation Metis and Inuit (FNMI) water advisories across our country. They became so passionate about the topic that they went to City Hall in London to ask questions and learn more about safe drinking water. The students learned that care for water is a shared global concern. They had a Google hangout with Severn Cullis-Suzuki! Also, Professor Taylor from the University of Western and three fourth-year biology students helped the Grade 7 and 8 students creatively design, build, and test STEAM maker projects like their innovative homemade safe drinking water filters. The result: student engagement.
What had started as an action project on how to reduce water consumption became more and more focused on the student’s questions and concerns about why the FNMI communities in Canada have water advisories. “Why are their taps off?” This is how the Taps OFF initiative was born. Natural curiosity led to action. The students increased local awareness about water advisories and conservation by creating and sharing hundreds of handmade Taps OFF! posters. The students created Taps OFF to remind Canadians that close to 20 per cent of First Nations communities are under a drinking water advisory, a stat that has remained remarkably consistent for the past 25 years.
It started as a successful initiative in the school but it soon gained momentum. The students asked for and were offered the support of Ontario EcoSchools to make Taps OFF a province wide program. The students then contacted the Safe Drinking Water Foundation and now Taps OFF will become a national program. The students at Woodland Heights Public School are excited to see how their initiative will continue to build more awareness about water conservation and the lack of safe drinking water in many FNMI communities. The “Taps Off” initiative has truly begun to build the student’s understanding of the world through environmental inquiry.
Grand Prize Winner
Two years ago, Cathy Dykstra made a dramatic switch to her grade 6 classroom. It became the home of the “Water Rockers”. Thanks to a Y.S.A./State Farm of America grant to help get things off the ground, she and her students began to learn about water.
Their class motto is “ERIN: OUR LOCAL WATER ROCKS!” They learn about the water cycle and about world water issues and what countries are doing about them. They research about oceans and the impact that humans are having on ocean life. They investigate their local water supply. They learn about how much water it takes to make our food, clothing, and other items around us. They read facts about plastic water bottles and reusable bottles. They estimate how much water they use every day and they discover how to conserve water at school, at home, and in the community. The students have been so enthusiastic and engaged that water has taken over their reading, writing, math, science, and art activities. They also have local water “experts” come into their classroom, work with them in the school yard, and conduct experiments with them down by the local river.
In the school, they make daily morning announcements, put on presentations for other classrooms, post their research on bulletin boards and throughout the school, organize school assemblies, and write articles for the school online newsletter. Every student is assigned a leadership role. After two years, they have persuaded 90% of the staff and students at Erin P.S. to use reusable bottles every day.
Cathy has also partnered with the local BIA, with a group of parents from the school, and with the environmental leaders from “Transition Erin”. Once a month, with their bright blue Water Rocker t-shirts and reusable bottles, she takes her class downtown to talk to the local store owners about their ongoing research, about water conservation, and about the importance of valuing customers who carry reusable bottles into their stores. Her students have persuaded 100% of the downtown stores to join the “Blue W” program.
In the community, her Water Rocker students write weekly newspaper articles for the local paper, and they make presentations at local Town Council meetings, at Transition Erin meetings, at church services, and at community events like Celebrate Erin. They have even been on the local radio. This has noticeably strengthened the school and community relationship and has given her students amazing experiences. Her class even organized a $5000 community fundraiser to help the Town Council install water bottle refilling stations in two of the local arenas.
Cathy just recently completed co-writing a Water Rockers curriculum document with Marc Mailhot to share with other schools and school boards. Her Water Rockers initiative has already spread to two other schools in the Orangeville area. She has helped to train other teachers in her board and in the States with a Y.S.A. Webinar about teaching through inquiry, across subjects, and organizing school/community initiatives. Last year, her Water Rockers program won $25,000 for her school in a Staples/Earth Day Canada contest.
Having a real life, student-directed, inquiry-based program full of leadership opportunities has thoroughly engaged her students and helped them to thrive as learners. The students have gained self-confidence and social skills such as public speaking, shaking hands, and making eye contact. They feel knowledgeable, capable, and valued by both the school and community.
As Cathy has discovered in her 23 years of teaching, it really is vital for all students of all ages to feel that they can have a positive impact on the world. By becoming compassionate, knowledgeable global citizens, her Water Rockers really are making a difference…one drop of water at a time!
Jennifer Venalainen is an elementary teacher currently teaching Grade 3/4 in the Toronto District School Board. She is passionate about place-based, environmental inquiry and believes that children can form strong relationships with nature even in a dense urban setting. Jennifer’s 8 years of teaching experience has demonstrated how learning outdoors stimulates a unique agency in young learners to pursue their own inquiry, and can make the curriculum more accessible for students with special needs or those learning English as a Second Language. These hands-on explorations are a continual source of inspiration for herself and her students, and have led to deep learning and profound stewardship opportunities. When students in her classroom adopted a tree in a local park, they learned about plants, habitats and communities, and extended their learning into measurement, poetry, and drawing. These formative experiences motivated a group of students to create a Leaf Club – to investigate and protect plants – and a Film Club, that created a documentary about trees for the UN World Environment Day Short Film Festival.
Jennifer is proud to be part of the vibrant school community at Charles G. Fraser P.S., which is a Gold-level Eco School in downtown Toronto. She enjoys working with the parents, students, and staff on a variety of school projects, including certifying their gardens as a Monarch Waystation. Her favourite things to do include: listening to birds, searching for butterfly eggs on milkweed, and talking to people about trees.
My name is Joanne Arcand and I am very lucky to be teaching Grade 4 and 5 with the Halton District School Board. I graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in Environmental Science and have used this multidisciplinary training to bring inquiry and science to most of the subjects I have taught over the past fifteen years. My teachers, administrators, and mentors at the Peel District School Board’s SciTech program and at Chris Hadfield School in Milton have given me the power to experiment with inquiry and student choice. Through their support, I have learned alongside the students. We have learned how to build robots from Lego, hovercrafts from leaf blowers, spaghetti bridges, basswood towers, and greeting cards, which light up. We have inflated drycleaner bags to create biodomes to live inside, raced six person boats made out of cardboard boxes, set geocaches out in the school grounds, published a hard cover fairy tale book, put on Shakespearian plays, and built aquaponic systems to keep the class fish alive and mazes for rescued rats. My students and I have trained mealworms, harvested silkworms, and created a community insect festival which brought together scientists from three universities, insect farmers, chefs, parents, and students in the celebration of our hexapodic friends. I don’t know where my students will take me every year, but it’s always a great story.
My school is close to three woodlots which gives my students many opportunities to go outside and get closer to nature. We have had the opportunity to visit outdoor spaces on a weekly basis to write, conduct experiments, discuss the experiences of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples, and adopt a “sacred tree” to revisit during the seasons. The time to sit amongst the trees and listen to the life around them fosters their creativity and eases their daily stress. They notice more details, think more creatively and take more risks in their writing. I also try to bring natural spaces indoors through the use of small animals, plants, and terrariums with temporary guests found outside. Combined with the staff at the school and their commitment to maintaining platinum EcoSchool status, I hope the enduring understanding of respect for our natural world will grow in my students.
I don’t know what careers my students will find for themselves, but inquiry gives them the skills to adapt to the speed of change already observed in the world. We use one hour a week, called Genius Hour, to give the students the ability to follow their own inquiries. We call it “the power of ‘yet'” a saying which refers to the switch from “I don’t know how to do it” to “I don’t know how to do it YET.” We mentor each other and use iPads, books, Skype calls with experts, or just giving ourselves contemplative time in the woodlot and the space to conduct experiments to follow our inquiries. Whether it is performing a magic show, setting up pen pals with a senior’s home, coding a video game, caring for birds, or learning how to play an instrument I have been inspired alongside the students with the confidence “the power of yet” has given them.
Grand Prize Winner
In the Spring of 2012, Petra Eperjesi watched a video about an Outdoor Kindergarten in Norway. She watched it again. It so stuck with her that in the Spring of 2012, when the Kindergarten program at her school, Tawingo College, in Huntsville, Ontario, was in flux, she pitched the idea that they should start an Outdoor Kindergarten program, and that she should dream it, design it, breathe life into it.
Now, in the Spring of 2014, Petra has led that program to the end of its second successful year. Her students have traipsed all over Tawingo’s 270 acres in rain, shine, sleet, and snow (and blackflies). They’ve mapped the shoreline, built a teepee, been stuck in bogs, climbed to the top of Eagle Mountain, shared stories in their tree house, jumped creeks, made nests… They are confident, resilient, compassionate, and deeply inquisitive, all because of the extensive time they spend outdoors in play and exploration. Petra models curiosity and stewardship for her young students, and is constantly seeking to improve her inquiry-based and child-centered teaching practice through reflection, collaboration, and voracious reading.
My name is Ann Butterworth. I have been a teacher with the Near North District School Board for 8 years. My interest in the environment comes from an honest place. I believe that when we are connected to the natural environment, we are happier and healthier. We gain perspective on the world around us and develop a deeper understanding of our roles and responsibilities. My passion for environmental stewardship has offered me many opportunities. In 2013 I was asked to be a Champion for my board in partnership with Nipissing University as a member of the Education for the Environment (E4E) pilot program, which is now wrapping up its second successful year. In addition, this year I have been a Lead Facilitator for an Outdoor Environmental Inquiry Initiative aimed at empowering NNDSB teachers to engage in environmental inquiry alongside their students. I believe that by fostering environmental inquiry through mentor/mentee relationships in our schools, more teachers will feel comfortable taking students outside. In my instructional practice, environmental inquiry has allowed me to reach students that struggle to shine in a traditional classroom environment. I have always been a person that would rather spend time outside than in. Through environmental inquiry I have found a way to inspire a younger generation to go outside with me! I embraced the opportunity to learn from, in and about the natural environment along side my students. Everyday, they amaze me with something new, different or exciting that they have discovered in our natural environment.
Olivier St-Hilaire & Kimberly Clark
Grand Prize Winner
Teachers at Herb Campbell Public School in Caledon, Olivier St-Hilaire and Kimberly Clark, are exceptional teachers who infuse their practice with environmental and sustainability education – integrating nature and inquiry into their daily teaching. Co-founding the Herb Campbell Environmental Council, their goal was to share what they were doing and highlight all of the opportunities that could be found right in their own schoolyard. They strive, continually, to instill a deep respect and care for the environment and to expose students to the learning that happens in a classroom without walls. Their environmental initiatives now include waste minimization, energy conservation, and ecological literacy. The largest focus is the school ground greening projects designed specifically for learning through direct contact with nature.
In her fifteenth year of teaching, Marcia McVean has been integrating the natural world into her practice since her first experience teaching Anishinaabe students in the north. After a wonderful time teaching outdoors and through the arts, Marcia then spent many years in an inner-city school in Scarborough. Marcia believes in the importance of working with children as though we are a part of nature, not studying it as something separate from us, and strives to cultivate a deep, life-long, compassionate relationship with our planet, developing and balancing intuition and intellect. For the past five years, Marcia has been part of Equinox Holistic Alternative School in the Toronto District School Board, a school designed to be a harbor for best innovative practices in environmental and outdoor education with a holistic approach. Marcia seeks to balance and integrate engagement, research, empowerment, and compassion when approaching topics of inquiry, ensuring that students have space for a wide range of responses. A dynamic and responsive teacher, Marcia incorporates mindfulness into her pedagogy, fostering compassion and gratitude in her students’ connection to nature and a sense of belonging in our natural world. From trips to the Rouge Valley, to planting trees in Taylor Creek Park for species inventory, and exploring Ashbridges Bay Marcia is committed to connecting her students with the community and celebrating local environments. As she describes, “learning to love and connect to nature is the foundation to protecting it.”
Michele is a Grade 1 teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. Originally from Scotland, Michele has taught at Sacred Heart for over eighteen years and models a reflective and responsive teaching practice. Michele teaches in a way that begins with students’ questions and allows freedom to explore and research a topic. One example: after a student asked about the sounds coming from the frogs in a nearby habitat, Michele led her students to investigate the type of frog, encouraged them to listen carefully to the frog’s sounds, and connected this topic to strands in language, math, social studies, and science. Committed to providing experiential learning experiences for her students, Michele is often outside with her class, visiting the nearby Beaver Pond to study ecosystems, or checking on bird feeders outside the classroom. Michele infuses her teaching with how to care for the earth, and the value and power of efforts to conserve and be responsible citizens; this foundation of care leads to students’ natural drive towards stewardship. By modeling active and critical thinking, Michele empowers her students to ask questions and explore solutions, linking their personal connection to nature with what they can do to better care for the earth.
Grand Prize Winner
With a range of diverse teaching experience spanning twenty years, Stephen is an exemplary teacher who integrates inquiry-based learning and environmental issues with passion and insight. Stephen studied under David Sobel, focusing on using the outdoors as a resource to engage students, and also taught in international programs involving the integration of ecosystem study with curriculum areas. Stephen has also worked to integrate literacy programs with advocacy, supporting students’ understanding that reading and writing are powerful tools and encouraging involvement in issues and debates. Combined with a deep commitment to environmental issues, Stephen is an outstanding role model for students in caring for our environment.
A teacher at Devonshire Community Public School in Ottawa, Ontario, Stephen is an active participant in their school ground greening project, which includes an organic garden and outdoor classroom and is now integrated with learning about local food sources and healthy eating. After Mr. Skoutajan’s students built an herb spiral in their outdoor garden and established a composting and recycling program, they became interested in local food options and municipal waste and recycling programs. His students also explored issues of biodiversity along the Trans-Canada trail, investigating nearby marshes and interviewing locals (activists, farmers, educators) and provincial candidates, and connected this to their understanding of electoral issues.
Mike Bibby is an Outdoor and Environmental Education Special Assignment Teacher for the Algonquin Lakes Catholic District School Board, developing and teaching the outdoor experiential education program at the Msgr. J.S. Ryan Centre Outdoor Education Centre on Wolfe Island, and also oversees programs at the H.R. Frink Outdoor Education Centre. Mike is a passionate outdoor enthusiast who strives to connect his students with issues that impact them and their environment. His students participate in the annual Sustainability Fair at their school, and have explored topics such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and organic farming, water systems and conservation, and First Nations’ way of life. Mike is dedicated to integrated learning experiences, and strongly believes that all staff and students should be connected to the natural spaces around them. Supporting fellow teachers, and in collaboration with many schools, he is a passionate and stewardship-minded person who aspires to share his passion with others.
Grand Prize Winner
Monique is a true champion of Environmental Education, and has worked tirelessly to establish and promote an eco-friendly culture within her school community – part of the Lakehead District School Board. Monique felt the need to connect students, their parents, and the broader community to a sustainable environmental project that would expose everyone to experiential learning. This community project was fulfilled through the building, growing and maintaining of a school garden that became a community undertaking. Every year, Monique uses the garden as a focal point to encourage inquiry-based learning from her Grade 5/6 class. They integrated the garden into their studies of math, science, and health.
Ms. Menard’s class actively participates in many garden initiatives in the community, including preparing and cooking fresh rhubarb cake (made with rhubarb from the garden) for the school’s family picnic. Monique inspires to develop in her students a deep understanding of food and food productions systems. On top of introducing her students to cooking with locally grown food, she also gave them the opportunity to explore local businesses and food production when she took them to a local flour mill and egg farm to obtain the ingredients they would need for their recipe.
Gail Blackman is an inspirational Teacher and Librarian in the York Region District School Board. Her passion for Environmental Education is apparent, as she has applied for, and received, countless grants to support her schools environmental education needs. She was a key player in encouraging student involvement in helping design and create an outdoor classroom. Students were actively involved in all aspects of the project. They considered multiple design elements such as shade options, ground cover, and seating arrangement to make the classroom conducive to learning. The students specifically looked at how to make the outdoor classroom accessible for all students. Gail supports learning in the natural environment by supplying teachers with the materials they need to make teaching outside fun and easy! She is a fundamental part of promoting environmental initiatives in her school and is constantly generating enthusiasm in students and teachers to improve their own community and to participate in national and international efforts to improve the world we live in.
Jeanette understands the importance of Environmental Education and has been working with students in her school, and other members of the York Region District School Board, to spread an environmentally conscious message to everyone. One of her main goals is to inspire students, through experiential learning and stewardship opportunities, to become responsible, environmentally conscious world citizens. Jeanette empowers students to make good environmental choices by supplying them with opportunities to participate in recycling and composting initiatives within the school and facilitates programs to lead and support the school’s Zero Waste Initiative. Her determined efforts helped to facilitate the purchase of an OKIE machine for the school, which turns food scraps into compost overnight. With student help, Jeanette is planning to grow a sensor and herb garden with the compost they create.
Belfountain Public School
Grand Prize Winner
Written by: Bryan Bibby-Smith, Janice Haines, & Lynn Bibby-Smith – How does vermi-composting, invasive insect species, and the scientific method become a meaningful learning experience for a class? It all began with a bin full of worms. Three years ago, the students and staff at the Belfountain Public School, nestled away in the hills of Caledon, Ontario, initiated a vermi-composting program. It was just another slice that makes up the whole of their E.C.O. school program (Environmental, Conservation and Outdoor Education). The worm castings, or worm poop produced was great for the school’s gardens, but could it translate into a grade on a report card? That question lead the teachers to look at their curriculum not in terms of units, with clearly defined beginnings and ends, but rather from an inquiry-based approach. It all starts with a question. The school gardens are thriving and the worms are happily composting, now what do we do with all of this worm poo? The grade four class took the lead. They researched its benefits, problem-solved how best to prepare and package it, corroborated with the School Community Council to promote it and finally used marketing skills to sell it as a school fund-raiser, collecting money for a schoolyard greening project. And all of their hard work was assessed and recorded by their teacher. Wanting to include members of this close-knit community in the decision-making process for the schoolyard planning, partnerships were struck with the school community council, the CVC (Credit Valley Conservation), the Ontario Stream Organization, and the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“It all began one spring morning when my grade two teacher decided it was time to go outside for a walk around the schoolyard. We trudged outside all the way to the middle of the field and then sat in a circle around our teacher. Mr. Barnes smiled at us and said, “I’ve got a very important task for all of you this morning. Your job is to find as many different kinds of living things as you can. Search everywhere, on tree trunks, under stones, on leaves, in the grass and underground. The most important thing to remember is to always be gentle with what you catch. All living things are to stay living and all will be set free at the end of the day. I hope no one is afraid of getting their hands dirty!” – Excerpt from My School is Alive! (Barnes, 2001) Based on my personal experience, My School is Alive! is a children’s book that tells the true story of how the creation of a garden changed a fundamental way of thinking throughout one elementary school. Narrated by Sara, a grade two student, the story follows a school’s journey of cross-curricular explorations and discoveries using the garden’s living elements. I authored and illustrated this book as a tool to help teachers create learning experiences that lead to student growth in eco-literacy. Just how well prepared will our children be? The term “eco-literate” is often used to describe people who understand and care about the environment. My School is Alive! presents a practical example of eco-literate teaching and learning at work, and is based on a specific criteria that I have created to build and assess eco-literacy in my students called KAFA.
In my present school I am known as the “creature teacher” because of my love of animals and the fact that we have live creatures in our classroom. I have always tried to ensure that the students in my class learn in an inquisitive, hands-on way, and I love to do learning outside as much as possible. Five years ago I joined the Monarch Teacher Network where I gained the skills to bring the environment into my classroom in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is where my specific work in Environmental Education really took off. Every year, on the first day of school, I have monarch caterpillars and chrysalides placed around the classroom. When the children walk in they are quick to start asking questions about what they see. They are fascinated with which end of the caterpillar is the head and which is the tail, and how I put the “glitter” on the chrysalis. The best part of that first day is when a Monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. You could hear a pin drop as the students stare in rapt excitement watching this new life begin! We also have different kinds of milkweed, magnifying glasses and microscopes accessible to allow students to make detailed observations. Everyone has a journal that they can record their observations, measurements and questions, and I model using this journal myself. The first week of school my students are also introduced to the school’s butterfly garden, which our class cares for throughout the year. As the boys and girls smell, touch and study the plants that are growing, they get to ask more questions and work together to try and find the answers. Once the students recognize the features of milkweed plants, we spend some time at the back of the schoolyard identifying and checking milkweed for eggs and caterpillars. This helps students to have the skills to recognize and hopefully preserve milkweed at their own homes and in the community.