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Fallen tree leads to hands-on lesson

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 1:54 PST, Fri January 28, 2022

Blundell elementary students learn about environment, weather

Blundell elementary students are using the effects of November’s massive rain event to learn about the environment and its impacts.

A fallen tree on the school’s property led to a collaboration between classroom teacher Harrison Brown, teacher-librarian Isabel Chan and digital literacy consultant Ellen Reid, who created a unique educational offering for Grade 5 and 6 students.

“There definitely were some kids who experienced some flooding (at home), and we talked about that. In general there was a lot of excitement around what had happened and how it had happened,” says Brown. “We really got a good look at the root system and we were trying to figure out if it was the wind or the excess water in the ground (that caused the tree to fall).”

Originally, Chan and Reid had plans to work with the class using “loose parts,” a variety of small items that can be used by students to create pictures or stories to help visualize something or spark creativity.

“When I saw the tree, I said how about we nix our original plan and instead use this golden opportunity; it’s such a teachable moment right on our school grounds,” says Chan. “So we got all the kids to put on their jackets, and got out the iPads, and started documenting.”

Chan says the students were particularly engaged, and had many questions including the depth of the hole, what type of tree it was, why that tree fell as opposed to others, and how the weather caused the tree to fall.

“One way they measured the depth was with broken branches,” she says. “We didn’t expect it to be that deep, (because) when we looked at the root system it was quite short. Thankfully the damage was minimal, and (with) the day-to-day operations of our school it didn’t affect us.”

After taking photos outside with the school’s set of iPads, students headed back inside and used the loose parts to create a scene of what had happened and work through their questions.

“(We used) the background knowledge that we discussed about the atmospheric river, and what we heard about what else had happened in Richmond and the Lower Mainland. Giving them that kind of context and combining that with the photos they had taken and the questions they had generated, (we synthesized) that into something they could create with themselves and with us to show their understanding,” says Brown.

The new stools in the library, made from pieces of the tree’s trunk, are another unexpected positive outcome of the event. Chan says she had students help her roll them into the library.

Principal Joanne Rooney says the activity’s strength lies in the fact that it was authentic, real and tangible.

“It was so hands-on, and it reaches a whole variety of learners. It’s not a piece of paper, it’s not a video— it was real, touchable, smellable, observable,” says Rooney.

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