Sometimes a career as a middle school teacher seems more like a career as a cat herder.

Middle school kids have a lot of energy. There are times when we just have to break out of our classrooms, giving our kids space to apply at least some of their enthusiasm to projects outside of our school walls.

So this fall, we have been taking it outside a little more often.

First, while the other students in their classes fan out across Abbotsford and Mission to thrift stores, seniors homes, and schools to help out as part of a Grade 8 weekly service block, a few Grade 8 students have been spending the last few Thursday afternoons along Stoney Creek with Mr. Berger, Mrs. Bakker, or myself. We go armed with water quality testing kits and sharp eyes as we search for salmon making their way upstream, and once we complete the testing and fill in a survey form, we send them off to a local gentleman who tallies the results and includes them in his weekly report of this year’s salmon run in the Abbotsford area.

Second, over the past few years, we have been developing a relationship with Abbotsford Parks, Recreation & Culture, and the Abbotsford-Mission Nature Club. To celebrate Earth Day last spring, we were invited to participate in an Earth Day celebration at Willband Creek Park, where we helped to plant some native trees and shrubs in areas that had been cleared of invasive species, and we also helped to install some bird houses that had been built by one of our Grade 5 classes. This year that partnership is continuing, as one Grade 8 and all of the Grade 7 classes have already been out to Willband Creek Park to lend a hand with more planting.

Besides the fact that these are great ways to just get out of our classes for a change of scenery and chance to work off some energy, there are a lot of other benefits. For example:

  • These experiences provide fantastic ways to make our curriculum real. Each of our middle school grades can make a connection to these projects – from theme units in Biodiversity in Grade 6 and Ecosystems in Grade 7, to a Science unit on Freshwater in Grade 8.
  • The products are authentic. The data that we collect as we monitor Stoney Creek and count returning salmon is being reported to professionals in the field. The Red Alder and Western Red Cedars that we planted in Willband Creek Park will eventually shade out the invasive Reed Canary Grass.
  • We are building connections between our school and other groups in our community. Take a walk in Willband Creek Park sometime and look for the green sign with Abbotsford Christian School listed on it, along with the other community partners involved in these projects.

It turns out that taking things outside does more than just preserving my sanity!