Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Dose of Vitamin N

After a few years of seeing advertisements and being curious, I decided to spend my most recent professional development day at an event hosted by Grouse Mountain.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I did know was that there was a possible field trip opportunity and I thought I would explore it in depth.  What I ended up was a much greater lesson.

The event, free to registered teachers, started off with a Skyride to the top of the mountain, and the best views I could imagine.  Despite being a local, I had never been up to the top of Grouse Mountain, and now I feel like I've been missing out my whole life.  Starting off in the cold, foggy, damp base, we quickly rose through the clouds and above them, to a world were the trees are green an the sun is shining.  British Columbia truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I was then greeted by the crisp, fresh, mountain air, a muffin, and some information on the field trip opportunities.

We entered the theatre and listened to three different guest speakers, one from Grouse Mountain about the educational opportunities, one from the Veterinarian, talking about the wildlife in the area, and of course, the grizzly bears, and one from a lady from Metro Vancouver.  Her message was clear - kids need more vitamin "N" - NATURE!  She went on to talk about the benefits of getting outside - how kids who play outside are healthier, happier, more intelligent, have better self-esteem, are more creative and the list goes on.  There is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by spending more time in the outdoors.  She was able to give a list of tools to how this could be done on your school property and in your neighbourhood.  Learning, observing, hearing, watching, smelling - engaging your senses and you walk, sit, stand or lie on the earth is so important for our students.  Somehow I think I forgot this.  How many of us spend the entire day inside?  Every day?  All Year?  As a high school science teacher there is so much to explore outside my classroom walls, and yet I rarely leave the room.  I think I forgot how amazing it is to be in nature.  I never thought that maybe I had a responsibility to help my students discover how much nature has to offer.  Teaching science, we have every opportunity to make connections to nature - but seeing it and experiencing it are two totally different things, and I was reminded of this very important point.  I left excited to find ways to get my students outside in the weeks and year to come.  Not just through a field trip to Grouse Mountain (though I do hope to bring students up in the spring), but just by getting outside in general. More vitamin "N"!

The keynote was followed by a guided tour of the different aspects of nature and culture that could be explored by students on a field trip.  We had a carte-blanche day pass - getting us anywhere we wanted to go on the mountain - which was really nice (thank you Grouse!)  We (that is me, along with two of my colleagues) followed along with the tour until I was mesmerized by the grizzly bears!  I have to believe at some point in my life I must have seen a live one before, but if I have, I couldn't recall.  I literally gasped when I saw how large they were.  And then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes circling their 5 acre living space, observing their movements and taking their photos.  They are so beautiful!  And fascinating.  The way they move, the size of their claws, the sounds they make - each piece was equally mesmerizing.  Towards the end, the bears curled up under a tree, and looked just like little puppy dogs.  Except for their razor sharp claws and ability to kill you in an instant that is.  I got home and was already thinking about what I could go back and watch them some more.  Just me, a cup of tea, my camera, and a handful of memory cards.

Of course while watching the bears I got distracted by the owl.  Owls are fascinating!  They so incredibly beautiful (I know - I said that of the bears too - but it's true!) and I couldn't stop watching her look around and stretch her wings.  Owls may be one of my favourite animals to observe.  The stillness, the grace, the beauty....sigh....this world really is full of so many amazing creatures!

Once I was able to tear myself away from the bears, we took that 14 minute chairlift to the top, so that we could take the 21 story elevator to the top of the Eye of the Wind - the Wind turbine that generates energy used directly by the mountain.  First off, the view from the top is outstanding, as long as you can handle the fact that you are standing right next to the 200 foot blades spinning around and shaking the tower.  Completely surrounded by glass, this is a chance not only to look at the pretty surroundings but to learn about sustainable energy sources.  The TV inside shows the temperature, wind speed, and daily/monthly/yearly/lifetime energy creation statistics, showing how energy can be produced sustainably.  All the programs at Grouse mountain are focused on respecting and protecting the beautiful place in which we live - and this is such a relevant lesson for us as adults, and our students going forward, who will feel the impacts of our poor choices and disregard for the environment even more so in their futures, and the futures of their children.  Watching energy be produced and learning about what role they have to play in caring for the earth is so important - and even more impacting to hear while standing among the trees, opposed to in a classroom.

On the ride back down, we literally watched the fog roll in, as the sunny day disappeared, and temperatures dropped to 4 degrees.  I was glad to have settled on a scarf and toque when heading up, and it is evident that winter is just around the bend.  Bears will be in hibernation shortly, and not seen again until spring, and soon the skiers and snowboarders will take to the mountains, and the hikers will put away their boots for the season.  The reindeer will come out to play, and Grouse will transform into a winter wonderland.  And the magic of nature will continue.

I am looking forward to getting my kids outside to explore all seasons!  Snowfall will be ice and lessons in friction, spring will bring rising water levels and watersheds, and at the edge of summer, Grouse will be green again, the bears will be out, and hopefully my students will be there to see it.

So I am grateful for a wonderful day out with my amazing colleagues, to share the experience, to dialogue and learn together, and to be along side me when I fell in love with nature all over again.

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