Virtual Learning with a Nature School Twist!

Virtual Learning with a Nature School Twist!
February 3, 2021 David Todd

January 2021
Posted by Molly and Ken

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown that started after the holiday break has required us to adapt our teaching methods with new and creative approaches.

In developing “Virtual Nature School”, our objective was to focus on the important connections that our students had come to expect from a typical day at The Nature School at Kortright: connections with teachers, with other students, with the land, or with the natural world in general.

Thankfully, we had made and strengthened these connections in the first few months of the school year. Drawing from these past experiences and our knowledge of the students’ interests, we created a program that was as student-centered, inquiry-based, and play-based as possible in a virtual context.

We started the day by inviting students to interact with us, and with one another, by sharing their feelings, the activities they took part in over the holiday break, and even their stuffed animal friends! Our hope was that students would continue to form healthy relationships with one another through these interactions.

We integrated physical movement into our virtual program by introducing “animal adaptation yoga” so that students would learn about a specific animal’s adaptations through yoga poses. These learned poses would be useful when we moved on to a favourite activity of the students: a cooperative role-playing game, where students helped solve mysteries on a storyboard.

With a map of the Kortright property as a storyboard, and staff members, animals, and familiar trees as characters, we created storylines as open-ended as possible to encourage students to take the lead, and to let their imaginations lead the way. This meant even we (the teachers) never really knew how the story would end.

mao of the Kortright Centre property is used by Nature School students in a cooperative role-playing game

An example of our co-operative role playing game. In the ending of this owl story, the owls were united against the other nocturnal creatures, and a king was chosen to lead them into a new dawn of owl civilization!

The adaptation yoga poses we learned prior to these adventures were used when we had to, for example, help the resident beaver build a dam to get across the river, and all the students transformed into beavers and pretended to carry logs or use their large flat tails to pat down mud, while acting out these movements from the comfort of their home!

All of the students demonstrated engagement through the questions they asked of the characters, the way they collaborated with one another to come up with a “plan”, and the physical acting-out of adaptation poses to assist in solving the mystery.

In order to create a sense of inclusion, it was important to make students feel like they were still joining their teachers on outdoor adventures, so after each session we shared a pre-recorded video of ourselves walking through the forest, happening upon exciting animal evidence, or giving them a more in-depth look into places they may not have seen on the Kortright property.

Ultimately, we worked to instill a sense of normalcy in the students through this incredibly abnormal time. As always, it was important to provide a safe place for self-expression, exploration, inquiry, collaboration and, most importantly, an opportunity to laugh and play.