Today’s middle school students, like the Eco Leaders at École K.L.O. Middle School, have a near infinite amount of information at their fingertips. Through an educational mandate called ‘21st Century Education’ which the British Columbia ministry of education has been incorporating into its curricula more and more each year, students are not only able to connect to this overwhelmingly vast array of information but are learning how better to access it instead of just learning how to memorize it. As far as I am concerned, this is a move in the right direction but what often gets missed in curricular documents about 21st Century Education is that the internet is not the only information database available to students.
‘This is My Classroom’ is a small press publication project I created with the Eco Leadership students at École K.L.O. Middle School. We used this project as a vehicle to build a creative and embodied knowledge of the natural more-than-human world around them to use as a database instead of, what Richard Louv calls, “the know-it-all state of mind” in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods,’ for students to be more balanced in their understanding of their knowledge.
Louv’s philosophy is that ”children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity. This need is revealed in two ways: by an examination of what happens to the senses of the young when they lose connection with nature, and by witnessing the sensory magic that occurs when young people—even those beyond childhood—are exposed to even the smallest direct experience of a natural setting.” This is a kind of knowledge that must be engaged through the human body, making use of all of its sensory interphases, it simply cannot be fully understood in binary code alone.
To start this project, the students and I went on a series of walks through the school grounds they themselves had worked extensively to re-naturalize. In our note books, we collected dead leaves, branches, and other decomposing matter, as well as took notes on how we responded to our environment and how it responded to us. We then went through a crash course on the small press and self publication process, learning from examples made by local artists and self-publishers. The material created out of the embodied data we had collected and documented ranged from paintings, to poems, to decomposing material on the page, to math equations, and stories. Each one of these contributions shares the unique perspective of each student’s direct and embodied experience with their more-than-human counterparts.
In the process of creating this book, it did take a while before students started doing more than what specific method I was showing as an example each day for their submissions, and then taking ownership eventually over their creative input to the book. But once they realized they had that ability and artistic license, their work began to blossom. Through this process, I learned that less direct guidance (being less didactic) can be better for creativity and the acquisition of knowledge; as people need to discover this particular kind of knowledge, not simply be told what it is.
This book is in the process of bring printed and will be made available for purchase in Canada soon. All funds from the sale of these books go directly towards the creation of an outdoor learning environment which will be mutually beneficial for its human students as well as its more-than-human students like those new, wide eyed Western Painted Turtles that hatch here every year with a whole world of opportunity to discover.
For more from Shimshon Obadia, visit www.ShimshonObadia.com