On Tuesday, New Brunswick Environment Minister Rick Miles was in the village of Cambridge-Narrows to present Robena Weatherley and the Canaan-Washademoak Watershed Association (CWWA) with Environmental Leadership Awards.
Robena's Lifetime Achievement award reflects both her work as a founding member of CWWA as well as her commitment to environmental advocacy throughout her life. As a member of CWWA, Robena has been instrumental in contributing to environmental education in the watershed and beyond through print and audio-visual publications, volunteering with schools, and other community activities.
CWWA received recognition in the Communities, Groups and Organizations category for their continuing work in monitoring water quality, fish populations, forest diversity, and stream ecology in the watershed.
Award recipients were presented with a framed pewter medal and a certificate for a tree to be planted to commemorate their achievements.
Back in Fredericton, two of our summer projects reached significant milestones.
At Devon Middle School, the interpretive sign for the outdoor classroom has been installed at the constructed wetland. Educators from both the school and the Fredericton Chapter of Ducks Unlimited have been teaching students with the wetland resource throughout the fall, and vegetables from the organic garden were recently harvested and enjoyed throughout the school. It's immensely satisfying to see these resources being used, and we hope that they will continue to develop and provide benefit to the school and local community for years to come.
Finally, Thursday saw the official opening of the nature trail at Garden Creek School. Attended by representatives from the School District and funding agencies, trail volunteers, educators, parents, and school staff and students, the day's events were an opportunity thank all those involved in the project and to celebrate what we had achieved together.
The next step in the trail project will be to develop cross-curricular lessons and activities that utilize the trail and the habitats through which it passes (forest, creek, grassland, and wetland) to teach a number of New Brunswick Elementary School outcomes. This we hope to complete in early 2010.
Jane Hart maintains a Top Ten Tools List contributed to by learning professionals from all over the world. These are my essential utilities:
1. Twitter: While I much prefer the functionality of the open source Identica, Twitter remains a vital point of contact for me with those in the science and education communities. Given Twitter's 140 character limit, I often make use of a tool such as LinkBunch to enable sharing of a number of related links in one short URL. [Online, free]
2. Google Reader: I recently made the shift from NetNewsWire to Google Reader as my RSS feed reader of choice and am very impressed with its stability and options for connectivity with other Google applications and users. Active script communities help contribute further functionality to Google Reader's web interface. [Online, free]
3. Socialite (née EventBox): There is so much to be learned from our social networks and RSS feeds that I need an effective tool to filter and categorize all of this information while also enabling me to contribute easily to it. I use Socialite for this purpose, combined with OmniGrowl for on-screen notifications of replies and new posts featuring keywords of interest. [Socialite: Mac, commercial; OmniGrowl: Mac, commercial]
4. Keynote: For presentations that look great and are a joy to design. Al Gore uses it. [Mac, commercial]
5. Tags: While I still maintain a folder structure on my laptop, Tags enables me to add an additional layer of information to files, folders, and, wonderfully, email messages. I think of it as an off-line Delicious (see below) for all the data on my hard drive. [Mac, commercial]
6. Weebly: The free website builder that I use to create and maintain this site. Easy to use, stable, downloadable archives, and excellent support and development. The Weebly team has just announced support for educators and classrooms. [Online, free/commercial]
7. Delicious: The venerable online bookmark sharing service. Browsing the network is a wonderful experience of serendipitous learning and can become quite addictive. [Online, free]
8. Adium: An instant messaging client that supports a multitude of services, including Twitter and Facebook chat. Stable and infinitely customizable, with an active developer community. [Mac, free]
9. iGTD (discontinued but still available for download): Essential for keeping track of all my projects and related activities, iGTD applies David Allen's (not Daevid Allen's) Getting Things Done approach to task management and connects with my PDA and calendar and email software. Bartek Bargiel, the software's creator, has since moved on to work on Things, a similar GTD application. [iGTD: Mac, donation; Things: Mac, commercial]
10. iTunes: My tool of choice for subscribing to podcasts and for maintaining daily sanity. [Mac/Windows, free]
The use of analogies in language can often act as scaffolding to a better understanding of other new ideas. Biological analogies, in particular, have often proven useful to convey ideas in other disciplines. For example: Lokta-Volterra equations of predator-prey and population dynamics applied to economic growth; Alan AtKisson's "amoeba of culture" model of social change; and the "state as living organism" in Plato's "Republic".
Recently, my attention was drawn to an article by Stan Stalnaker in the Harvard Business Review. In it, Stalnaker outlines a model for sustainable economies using cells as a biological analogy. It's a wonderful and inspiring piece that calls for a much-needed shift in our economic thinking, akin to a reframing of Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful".
As a wake-up call and economic model, I applaud it: we desperately need more thinking (and application of such thinking) like this. However, from an environmental science perspective, the analogy doesn't quite work for me, which is unfortunate as it, arguably, undermines somewhat the scaffolding Stalnaker has constructed on which to hang his ideas, while presenting a strained application of biological principles — something I assume the author of an environmental economic model would wish to avoid.
For example, do the "cells" represent individual businesses and the "body" the larger economy, or is the body a business and each cell a surrogate for one of the various desirable qualities pursued by a business — "sustainable" growth, skills development, product or service diversity? The terminology here is unclear to me.
The analogy falls apart when cycles and waste reduction are brought into the picture.
At the ecosystem or community scale, this is fine — wastes get recycled by decomposer organisms into the building blocks for a new generation of plants and animals. But Stalnaker's cellular analogy is at the wrong scale: the operation of cells and organisms is essentially linear: food in, waste out. The materials loop is not closed until one considers the larger scale of the biological community or ecosystem — these are the scales at which sustainability starts to become possible, and why the cellular analogy is such an awkward one. An ecosystem analogy for economics is more appropriate in this instance and has already proven both popular and useful.
So, are analogical flaws a concern? Seung Sahn would go as far as to say, "Open mouth, already big mistake!" Certainly the message is what is ultimately important — agreed; but, from an education perspective, how we get there — the process of constructing understanding, the language we use — is vitally important, too.
If we are to communicate, we should do so in a way in which understanding is furthered, but not at the expense of understanding elsewhere.
At a time when biological imagery and principles are (mis)appropriated to sell any number of goods and services, when poor scientific understanding leads to the perpetuation of dangerous myths, and when levels of ecological literacy are considered inadequate, then yes, how we deliver messages is important.
Analogies are useful tools, but we have to make sure they are sound. To not do so undermines their usefulness and risks unnecessary misunderstanding. They may get stretched a little to make a point, but their author should be aware of their limits. In Stalnaker's model, a change of scale is all that is needed: the same welcome economic blueprint he presents is left intact, the biological analogy is not distorted, and a teachable moment on the principles of ecology — and sound business — is provided: the purpose of the insightful model all along.
Our signs arrived this week for our projects at Devon Middle and Garden Creek schools. The team at Jack Rabbit Signs did a great job! We plan to install these at the schools over the coming weeks.
Click on each sign to see a high-resolution version:
Nobody has a clue […] what the world will look like in five years time, and yet we're meant to be educating [people] for it.
Dan Pink thinks he has the answer and, in his book "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future", speaks of the increasing need to complement "left-brain" reasoning with "right-brain" skills for success in the approaching worlds of work and education. Not groundbreaking, perhaps, but his identification of six critical right-brain aptitudes is interesting:
1. Not just function but also DESIGN. It's no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that's merely functional. Today it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.
As educators — as people — how many of these qualities can we identify in ourselves, and in what ways can we foster more holistic ways of thinking, learning, and being in our lives and in our classrooms?
Both yesterday and today I had the good fortune to connect with Fredericton's Landless Gardeners, a group of individuals developing yard sharing and food growing opportunities within the community.
It's exciting and inspiring to see initiatives like this take root — literally! — in the city, not only as occasions for education and skills development associated with methods of local food production, but also as catalysts for deeper community connection and discussions concerning food security and land stewardship.
As Jay Griffiths commented in her wonderful recent essay in Orion Magazine:
How big am I? As an individual, five foot two and whistling. At a government level, I find I've shrunk, smaller than the X on my ballot paper. But at a community level, I can breathe in five river-sources and breathe out three miles of green valleys.
The Landless Gardeners are an energetic and dynamic group and it is always refreshing to encounter manners of problem solving that are not prescriptive, where alternative pathways to a solution are encouraged — a vital approach even in small scale food production where 'simple' gardens remain complex ecosystems, albeit in miniature. As David Holmgren, the co-orginator of the permaculture concept, states:
The map is not the territory.
— meaning that, in a systems approach, the creative application of basic principles is to be welcomed, not discouraged. Further:
Complex systems that work tend to evolve from simple ones that work, so finding the appropriate pattern for that design is more important than understanding all of the details of the elements of the system.
Again, from Jay Griffiths:
The process is "so creative and so chaotic," says Giangrande. "Let it unfold—allow it—the key is not to direct it but to encourage it. We've developed the A to C of transition. The D to Z is still to come." Brave, this, and very attractive. It is catalytic, emergent, and dynamic, facing forward with a vivid vitality but backlit with another kind of ancient sunlight: human, social energy.
There have been a number of exciting developments since I last wrote about activity at the Devon Middle School outdoor classroom a month ago.
First, thanks to the mix of sun and showers over the preceding few weeks, the wetland landscape is much more lush and green — good news for berm soil stability as well as rich habitat for many insects.
All kinds of critters have started to make the wetland their home, including frogs and at least three species of dragonfly. The first photo below shows a female dragonfly ovipositing (laying eggs) on the underside of a water lily leaf:
The vegetable garden, too, is making good progress, particularly given our late start and planting all vegetables from seed.
Earlier this week, I was joined at the wetland by representatives of the Giant Tiger store here in Devon. Thanks to the strong community focus of manager Wayne Gallant and his team, the store successfully raised over $1,000 in customer donations over just three weeks.
Left to right: Wayne Gallant, myself, Irene Jewett, Kim Babineau, Stephanie Dugan.
These funds will help provide much needed interpretive signage at the site as well as purchase marginal and water plant species for the wetland, such as arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), spearwort (Ranunculus lingua grandiflora), pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata), and water lily (Nymphaea albatros).
Work has also continued on the Garden Creek School nature trail, with the laying of mulch and gravel successfully completed last week.
Although we initially began transporting material down to the trail using wheelbarrows, this quickly became tiring and difficult to manoeuvre, and was replaced by filling backpacks with mulch and gravel and walking them along the trail to where the material was needed.
Over the coming weeks we hope to install a number of interpretive signs, an observation platform along the creek, and a second platform under a large tree in the grassland habitat to function as a gathering space for storytelling circles.
All of this work has been made possible thanks to funding from Evergreen and the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund, the City of Fredericton's Adopt-A-Lot program, the generous donations of materials from local businesses, and volunteer time and muscle power. Many thanks to everyone for their help and support thus far!
Hana Kucera, Meghann Bruce, Bridgette Clarkston
Justin Ancheta (with Hana Kucera)
Many thanks, also, to Valerie Hillier of the Daily Gleaner for her "Green Matters" article on our school greening projects which appeared in today's edition:
Spent most of the morning at the Devon Middle School vegetable garden, weeding and building trellises for the rapidly growing beans. Some reflections:
Thanks to the generosity of our local school district, the outdoor classroom at Devon Middle School now features a set of benches (with more to be added by the school at a later date), to enable students to gather and work around the wetland. A neighbour also contributed a table as an outdoor work space.
While we work to raise more funds for our summer projects — such as an interpretive sign and more wetland plants at Devon Middle School — it is also time to begin work on our next project: establishing a nature trail at Garden Creek School.
Work began last week on clearing a narrow path through the vegetation...
...using hand tools as much as possible to limit potential impacts from noise and pollution.
Once a path had been cleared, a class of Grade 4 students from the school helped plant out a variety of seedlings of native New Brunswick tree species, donated by the Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management at the University of New Brunswick.
These seedlings were planted along the sides of gullies to help protect them from further erosion caused by run-off water from the school grounds.
Due to shading from the tree canopy, a number of these gullies remain wet throughout the year, necessitating the installation of boardwalks where the trail crosses these areas.
Now that these boardwalks are in place, the next step is the formal establishment of the trail itself, using mulch and gravel generously donated by local businesses.
If you're in Fredericton and have some time during the day (9am–4pm) over the next 2–3 weeks, we'd love to have you join us and contribute to building the trail. If interested, please drop me a line — we have tools for up to 8 people at any time.
It's a beautiful spot in which to work, and you never know what you might find...
Some thoughts on teaching, learning, and the process of communication. Posts on these pages are collected under the following categories:
Ambience: a grab-bag of words, sounds, and pictures.
Projects: completed works and works-in-progress.
School: items of educational interest.