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  • Clint Maltais and Alex Chan

Grade 4/5 Forest Class: Where our Learning Grows Through our Relationships with Nature

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

We are Clint Maltais and Alex Chan and we are teaching partners at Peter Greer Elementary School. We are both deeply dedicated to nature based learning and our grade four/five learning community is called The Forest Class.

The Okanagan-Syilx peoples use the term nʕawqnwixʷ to describe "the idea that everyone in the community has different viewpoints, ideas, concerns, knowledge, and passions...[nʕawqnwixʷ] highlights the power of group thinking as opposed to the idea that only one person is smart or strong enough to solve the problem." ~ Cohen & Chambers

We draw on the nʕawqnwixʷ process, and as a community we:

  • Rethink our relationship with nature - how we work with the land rather than on the land

  • Support each other to think critically about food security, resource extraction, and green technologies

  • Develop our personal and social competencies around the seasonal nature of life

  • Share our passion for land-based learning with educators across the district

  • Learn from Indigenous worldview and perspectives

  • Harness our community and family connections in a post-COVID age

What Stories of our Learning Live in the Language of a Snowball?

The story we share here offers more insight into how learning in nature has taught us to be more flexible than we thought was possible and to hold our ideas loosely in favour of honouring the perspectives of others.

We draw on a piece of student documentation of a collaborative snowball roll to frame our story.

Our snowball roll documentation from January 29th 2021

The snow that day had appeared on its own accord, and offered us an abundance of possibilities to learn, explore, collaborate, tinker and try.

Moving the snow, shaping it, took time and effort because as easily as the snow formed together, it came apart.

Watching the students roll the snowball up the hill with great muster and enthusiasm, we found a language to share some reflections on our own learning journey over the past few years.

We name our teaching stance as one that is held up by responsivity, reciprocity, and resiliency.

Click here to see more of our student documentation and for our reflection in relationship to our snowball experience.

We have watched the video of the snowball many times and this trace of student documentation continues to provoke our thinking about who we are as educators and what we hope for our students.

It stands as a reminder that the process of inquiry that we engage with daily involves the efforts of all of us - together we form, reform, pack, witness crumbling, reimagine and celebrate.

"The snowball experience reminds me of just having fun as a class and all of the teamwork and effort and how it is still fun even when it gets destroyed. It took a lot of teamwork. We knew that it would break, but we were not expecting it to be so fun when it did." ~Zion, grade 5 student in the forest class

We interpret this moment of letting go, running alongside, and seeing what happens as an act of trust, courage, and tenacity. As educators and learners alongside our students, we try to embrace all of the snowball moments we encounter as we follow our students' curiosities, try together, make mistakes, and continue to explore and learn with and from each other.

We remember how we experienced the amazement and a dazzling sense of defeat alongside our students as the humongous snowball tumbled down the hill leaving us with our reflections and opportunities to build something new or try again.

Sometimes, it is during these unexpected snowball moments that we learn the most about our students and about ourselves.

With gratitude for the land, mountains, waterways, and climate that offer us the materials and relationships for our learning,

by Alex Chan and Clint Maltais


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