Pivoting with Technology and Outdoor Education
Pivot. It’s become my least favourite word. But like so many, that’s exactly what LSRCA’s Education team had to do in the spring of 2020 when the realities of COVID-19 sunk in. We have a
long history of providing high-quality, hands-on learning opportunities in the outdoors that connect people with nature and inspire action for the environment. But how could we possibly continue to offer these programs and services within the constraints of COVID-19? School closures, remote learning, gathering limits, new safety protocols. At times, the challenges seemed insurmountable but thanks to the tremendous support from the RBC Foundation through the
Tech for Nature grant, we found our way through!
Like Ross and some of the cast members from Friends, pivot we did in trying to get that proverbial
couch up the stairs. We launched a new Facebook group,
Outdoor Learning with LSRCA, which provided an opportunity for members to share tips and resources. We also created a new
online learning section of our website, where we continue to post activities and lesson plans. We produced 11 episodes of
Neighbourhood Naturalists which included recording video in our backyards, editing it all together and even writing and recording our own theme song!
Support from the RBC Foundation enabled us to quickly learn and test new technologies and software platforms (like
interactive Google slides), develop digital resources (like our free,
Do-It-Yourself Climate Change presentation for Grade 7/8 teachers), and establish an online support community. The message to our partners and participants was clear – we are still here to support outdoor and environmental learning! As summer 2020 approached, we developed new online professional learning opportunities for educators, such as the webinar series, “Introduction to Outdoor Learning", which attracted participants from as far as B.C.!
Momentum continued into the 2020/21 school year. The RBC Foundation's support provided us much needed capacity in designing and developing lesson plans, resources, and safety plans so we could engage with in-person learners again. Our Forest School sessions sold out almost instantly and we successfully delivered “contactless schoolyard visits" to nearly 1300 grade 4 students, providing those much-needed opportunities to learn together outside. The school year wasn't without its challenges with new waves of COVID-19 and school closures bringing everyone back to remote learning, but we did what we're good at – we pivoted. Between January and June 2021, we achieved close to 5,700 student engagements across a variety of grades and subject areas, all connected to the Ontario curriculum. We turned another corner in the summer and returned to in-person summer camp program delivery in partnership with many of our local municipalities. Kids engaged in activities outside at camp – it was feeling more normal with each day.
Working with the RBC Foundation also encouraged us to think deeply about 'tech for nature' and how else we might leverage technology for environmental learning and action. We launched a series of hikes in September and October 2021 at three different conservation areas, where we engaged participants in conversations about different aspects of climate change, such as our changing forests, while using technology, such as Seek by iNaturalist to demonstrate how to identify some of the tree species in our communities. With the intent of reaching a broader audience, we also launched
Lake Simcoe Sessions, a podcast and listenable learning journey all about climate change in the Lake Simcoe watershed.
And here we are, well into the 2021/22 school year. COVID-19 is still very much a part of our every day lives and will be for the foreseeable future. But the future is bright. November marks the first time in almost two years that we welcomed a group to the
Scanlon Creek Nature Centre where youth learned to use various types of technology, such as a compass and GPS unit, to navigate. I also recently learned of a local teacher who used our resources to engage students in climate change education and action.
“I love that these resources are all focused on local information. It allows my students to make real-world connections to the curriculum and deepen their understanding on the impacts that human settlement has on the environment. It also helps them to understand the role they can play in their local community. The Lake Simcoe Sessions podcast episodes were so engaging and filled with so many important connections to the curriculum, so I was excited to use them in my classroom. While we listened to the episodes, I had my students create sketch notes, so it was also a great opportunity for them to develop and refine their critical listening skills." - Katrien Ecclestone, Grade 8 Teacher, Willow Landing Elementary School, Barrie.
Never in my 20-year career could I have imagined what outdoor education would look like in 2021. But here we are, with a suite of new innovative programs and services, both in-person and virtual, providing opportunities to learn about, and take action for, the environment. We have strengthened our reputation as leaders in outdoor education, broadened our reach to new audiences, and built upon long-standing relationships with our local partners. While “pivot" may not be my favourite word, there is a phrase I read recently which really resonated with me, “the comeback is always greater than the setback". I am so incredibly grateful to the RBC Foundation for providing the support that has made the comeback possible.
Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority