Teacher Feature: Forest School is Growing in AMDSB

I want to be a student in this class… was how I ended the first blog post I wrote about my day at Outdoor School with Kendra Martin and her Grade 2s. And in 2 years that hasn’t changed.

Kendra Martin is a teacher at Little Falls PS in St Marys who has been blazing trail to introduce a Forest School and Outdoor School program to other schools across AMDSB and throughout Ontario.

Forest School is the umbrella program which incorporates daily immersion in nature and core routines to provide a grounding in nature literacy. Forest School educators make sure students have opportunities to return to the same natural spaces throughout the seasons. They have a place called Outdoor School which they take a bus to one day per week to enrich the learning of their students, connecting them with a more biodiverse area and involving a Nature Educator to co-facilitate the experience.

Kendra Martin writes…

Forest School has changed my teaching practice and opened a whole new world to my students. I finally discovered a foundation for learning that is so elemental to all children that everyone gets connected. Nature is that foundation. It touches every child in a different way and no matter how reluctant some are at the start, all jump on board in this journey of discovery. Each season provides new subject matter. As my nature literacy grows, I am able to widen the lens of learning for my students. My students now show their understanding in unique ways, they problem solve, persevere, take care of each other and themselves in all weather -they have are resilient! Each year has been better than the last as I allow Nature to guide my practice.

Over the years Kendra has developed programs for students in grades 2-6 that integrate the curriculum in all subject areas so they can be taught outdoors. Watching the students explore the curriculum outside is an incredibly powerful experience. We have such a natural strong connection to nature, doesn’t it just make sense that students would be engaged in their outdoor classroom and feel more connected to their learning? And while they are exploring their natural environment, they are learning math, science, social studies, art… and skills for life.

When Kendra and I had time to chat we exchanged ideas about how to integrate technology to augment, modify and redefine tasks into her outdoor ed program by incorporating opportunities for learning in digital environments to further develop 21st Century Competencies. I am looking forward to continuing these conversations with Kendra. It was inspiring to spend the day with such an innovative educator who is so passionate about teaching, learning, and doing what is best for kids.

About Forest School

Vision Behind Forest School

Nature Immersion Routines


If you are interested in learning more about Forest School, please contact Kendra Martin by email or leave a comment below!


Teacher Feature & Student Showcase: Robot Rally at MDHS

I had the pleasure of attending a Robotics Challenge hosted by Michelle McDonald and her students at MDHS last week. Kids spent the day coding robots and participating in a series of obstacle course challenges. You could feel the excitement and the buzz in the air as students collaborated to solve problems, applied critical thinking skills and strategies, and persevered to achieve their goals. Here’s what a few competitors had to say…

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I asked Michelle to share her experience…

In the fall, my grade 8 class worked in groups to built and code Lego EV3 robots.  As a culminating activity, the students designed a Robot Olympics.  Each group designed a creative challenge, organized materials, and figured out how they were going to run and score the challenge.  The Robots Olympics were a great success!  The students not only learned how to code a robot, but they also learned how to problem solve their part in running this event.
20170424-144639.jpgAfter the Robotics Olympics, several of my students continued working on coding the robots and attended D&D Automation’s Battle of the Bots.  While at the event, my students thought that they would be able to run a robotics competition for other teams at our school.  When we got back to school, the students went directly to the office to ask if this could happen, and happily, we were encouraged start planning!  We introduced the idea to the rest of the class, and they were excited to get started.  The class worked together to plan which events to include, what to call the event, and how to schedule the event.  We started organizing by thinking about all the jobs that needed to be done to organize this event successfully, and students dove into organizing their part of the event.  These jobs included making challenge boards, creating score charts, calculating how much pizza was needed, designing t-shirts, and making signs and posters.  My class has been working all year to fundraise for the Right to Play PLAY programme, and they decided to sell treats at the Robot Rally, so this became part of the event organization.
On the day of the event, several students arrived at school before 8am to set up the challenges, tables and chairs, and to hang directional posters around the school.  When the teams arrived, they were greeted at the doors my my students and the rest of my class were at their stations and answered any questions.  Two of my students were MCs for the event and the rest of the class judged the challenges, did the scorekeeping and answered questions at the information desk.  Thanks to the planning done before the event, the Robot Rally ran very smoothly!  Robots were following lines, going through a maze, identifying colours, and sumo wresting.  It was exciting to see all the teams in their school jerseys excitedly showing off the results of all the coding they had done at school in preparation for the event.

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At the end of the Robot Rally, when all the teams left, my students returned to the classroom and were very proud of the event that they had coordinated.  I don’t think they realized the magnitude of what they had just done!  They didn’t just organize this event, they worked through all the issues and questions that came up at their stations and were completely engaged all day.  My students even cleaned up and packed up at the end of the day without a lot of direction.  I am very proud of the students in my class for organizing an event that allowed so many students from all over our board the opportunity to work collaboratively on their coding and problem solving skills!

If you are interested in integrating coding into your classroom program, but don’t know where, or how to start, please contact me! #EveryoneCanCode

Teacher Feature: Design Thinking, Teaching & Learning

We live in a world where we face design challenges every single day -from deciding how to craft a lesson, to making financial ends meet, to packing our own children’s lunches in the right combination of small tupperware containers so they fit in their lunch pails! The challenges we face (no matter how big or how small) are real, and they impact they way we live, work and play. The reality for our students is no different.

So how are we teaching students to design solutions to problems in the context of their daily lives, while also integrating the curriculum and embedding the necessary learning skills?

Meet Heather Durnin

Heather is teaching Grade 6 at Goderich PS and I had the privilege of spending some time with her students earlier this week. Heather’s program focuses on design thinking as a framework for teaching and learning:

Learning through making, referred to as the “Maker Movement”, is a technological and creative opportunity where students learn through firsthand experience. Former Wired magazine editor and author, Chris Anderson, declared the 3D printer as the “home computer of the 21st century.” Over the past 4 years of integrating 3D technology into my program, I’ve seen first hand how 3D printers have emerged as a critical component in the support of student creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. The City X Project introduces students to the 6 step design process, the same process the 21st century world will demand our students understand and follow. This process helps students understand a challenge and the people it affects, generate possible solutions, develop a final product, and then share their solutions with their community and beyond.

Now you may be thinking, I don’t have 3D printer, so Design Thinking as a model for teaching and learning won’t work for my students. But if we are focusing on the process of learning, and the skills we want students to develop -as opposed to the end product they create- shouldn’t we at least consider the possibilities? And did you know that there are thirteen 3D printers in our system spread across throughout our high schools? What a great opportunity to connect elementary students with secondary students to help bring these projects to life!

Design Thinking Defined…

Simply stated, Design Thinking (DT) is a process of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems.

The definition of Design Thinking (DT) in education, as a concept, is of moving thoughts and actions forward to find a solution to a problem or question in an empathetic, creative, and innovative manner. It is a way to find answers to complex, unique problems with multiple solutions, where there is not only one result or correct answer. The process develops pupils’ and teachers’, students’ and instructors’ ability to act as change agents.

(Schwartz-Bechet, Barbara. “InnovationLab.” InnovationLab – Project: Learning Outcomes. N.p., 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2017)





Powerful stuff right? I thought so too…

Heather’s students are currently working on the City X project, which teaches them about the 6 step design process, while also encouraging them to identify real-world problems that need solutions.

City X Project

If you’d like to learn more about Design Thinking, and the work Heather is doing in her classroom, please contact her by email, or connect with her on Twitter @hdurnin. You can also follow the hashtag #DTK12chat to learn more about Design Thinking in education.