Joyful Learning Outside

Definitely, do not eat! Front-end loading on this beautiful mushroom is required!

I am a long-time advocate for the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits of learning outdoors.  Part of it is based on observational research.  You take kids outdoors and you tap into joyful learning.  All of the learning inspired and put into practice by Reggio Emilia after the second World War, unfolds when children are given the freedom to explore the outdoors, and are able to show their learning with loose parts they pick up along the way.  There is palpable joy when children make connections with their own experiences and books they are familiar with.  The curiosity is not taught.  It is allowed to flourish by encouraging questions and plans to figure out answers. 

The connections to learning across the curriculum sometimes emerge from personal inquiry but can easily be scaffolded.  As many educators before me, I put together outdoor learning backpack kits to structure some of these connections.  Each backpack had some basic materials:

  • Binoculars
  • Compass
  • Ruler
  • String to help measure round things
  • Magnifying glass
  • Waterproof notebook
  • Pencil
  • Large sized rope to practice tying knots
  • A dollar store silver blanket to sit on when it’s damp
  • Large plastic tweezers
  • Plastic guide to the birds of BC from the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Then kids were free to customize their backpack with other essential items.  Sometimes this included rocks and sticks.  These items are never to be underestimated.  I have a stick that I collected on the beach with my Grandpa Keenan when I was five and rocks collected as souvenirs with my father while hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains.   These seemingly worthless items carry precious memories and a well-developed voice that is so essential in personal writing.  

Children will spend hours without prompting learning to use the tools and document their observations.  There is no need to measure lines on a worksheet when you have ample practice measuring with a ruler and measuring a length of string that you’ve wrapped around the base of a tree.  Bringing a cell phone or an iPad was helpful to document large constructions and loose part representations of learning that could be added to portfolios.  Notepads would facilitate close attention to details during observations.  The desire to share discoveries would drive the development of new vocabulary, the development of public speaking skills and send kids back to books and search engines to research or journals to record stories. 

Inviting someone with well developed background knowledge of science or an artist who records observations in different ways in focusing student attention on specific aspects of the outdoors and great to stimulate good questions.  Creating rain gauges to measure rainfall or using litmus paper to check the pH or chemicals to make discoveries about water sources are framed as inquires rather than assignments.  We don’t want students to be passive receptors for knowledge.  After all, this is the “age of google” when phones are considered necessities rather than luxury items.  Information is literally at our fingertips.  We want students who ask good questions and are able to devise a research plan or science experiment to find answers or perhaps possibilities.  We want innovators who keep asking questions.  Children who pay attention and demonstrate curiosity.  Children who are joyful learners.

A Wild About Vancouver Wednesday Blog Post

– posted on Thursday 🙂

Giving Tuesday

Scan the code to donate to St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation

A day devoted to giving on the heels of the rampant, American consumerism of Black Friday and it’s offshoot – Cyber Monday.  I like it.  I wonder how much traction it will gain.  It is generating a lot of traffic on social media and people are ripe to experience, and hear good stories of human kindness in the midst of an angry COVID world.   As Robert D. Putnam documented the collapse of volunteerism in his book, Bowling Alone, Giving Tuesday holds the promise of documenting the fight to rebuild a sense of community in the age of weather and pandemic inspired tragedy and fear, through stories of generosity.  It provides the incentive for us to reflect and make financial contributions in the places we believe we can make a difference.  At the very least, it guarantees a charitable donation receipt before the end of the tax year.  

The Canadian Red Cross is a no brainer as a recipient for our donation dollars.  Nightly news and social media provide ample evidence of our weather inspired tragedy in British Columbia.  The provincial and federal matching of donation dollars means your money will go that much further.  A $50.00 donation to the Canadian Red Cross provides $150.00 to this trusted agency.  And we know that the need is there.

Amnesty International is another favourite for my donation dollars and volunteerism.  In a world where fake news is rampant, Amnesty International uses triangulation rather than innuendo and lies to collect, report and take action on human rights abuses.  They deal in facts and provide the possibility of social justice in our world.  Whether you are donating money, writing a letter, or working on a campaign, you are working towards the creation of a world that values human life and human rights.

Of course, for me, there also needs to be an education and environment focused cause.  I have been on the Steering Committee of Wild About Vancouver (WAV), a grass-roots, collective of volunteers devoted to supporting the physical and mental health, as well as cross-curricular learning through being outdoors.  WAV has impacted thousands of people across Metro Vancouver and even further into British Columbia, and across Canada, through our networks.  We are working collaboratively with The Institute for Environmental Learning (IEL), a cutting-edge educational research group working towards a sustainable future for British Columbia.  Great people.  Tremendous learning.  Lots of fun.

In 2022, for the first time since COVID-19 began, WAV is excited to announce Tidal WAV 2022, a full-day celebration of engaging in outdoor activity and learning on June 3, 2022 in Stanley Park.  WAV requires financial and in-kind donations to facilitate an amazing event.  Donations made as a tribute in honour of Wild About Vancouver are publicly recognized on the website and via social media and promotions.  Donors will be issued a tax receipt by Simon Fraser University due our relationship with the Institute of Environmental Learning (IEL) which is housed at SFU.  The charitable tax # is 118520725 RR0001.  

I am confident our civic #VanGives will be successful in adding momentum to the #GivingTuesdayNow global initiative.  I am a true believe that giving is important to support the causes we value, but also because it gives us an active role in creating the world as we want it to be.  It reflects an optimistic stance that helps us to replace anger, fear, and despair with hope.  And that is good for the soul.  An additional bonus!  Two for one.  Not unlike Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  Go for it!  Make a donation and make a difference.

Breathing New Life Into The BC Literacy Council aka ReadingBC

Back left – Kelly Patrick, Larkyn Froese, Carrie Froese, Garth C. Brooks, Kathryn Ransdell; front left Karen Addie, Linda Klassen; Missing Michael Bowden, Chelsea Miller

We are double vaxxed, enjoying the removal of some of the COVID restrictions and filled with enthusiasm for the 2021-2022 year.  Our Annual General Meeting took place on November 25, 2021 in the Pendrell Room at the Sylvia Hotel.  We are particularly delighted to introduce two of our newest executive members.

Larkyn Froese is currently in the Community Schools Team module in the PDP Program at Simon Fraser University.  She recently returned from five years of teaching English language learners in Vietnam, and then in Taiwan.  Her philosophy degree from Queen’s University, work as an artist, and travels have fueled her quest to learn about how to best engage learners in a context of equity and inclusion.  Larkyn stepped into the VP role and has already spearheaded a programme that is generating lots of enthusiasm.   

Chelsea Miller is a recent grad from The University of British Columbia.  She recently received an award to celebrate her Outstanding Practicum at the UBC Awards Ceremony.  Congrats, Chelsea!  Her practicum reflected her passion for science, literacy, and engaging students in hands-on / minds-on learning experiences.  She is currently working part time as an Intermediate Resource teacher at Brock Elementary School in Vancouver.  Her previous career working for non-profit institutions will be put to good use in her role as treasurer.

Special thanks to Garth Brooks for his role as treasurer, Kelly Patrick in her role in membership and Linda Klassen for her role as VP.  Garth and Kelly have both graciously agreed to accept appointments as Members at Large to continue to provide support and mentoring.  Linda’s work on analyzing the survey results have inspired her to take on the Membership Development role.  

Thanks also to Karen Addie for her continued work as Provincial Coordinator; Kathryn Ransdell for her work as secretary; and Michael Bowden for his continued role as past president.  I feel very privileged to be working with people so committed to providing the very best literacy opportunities for students.  

It is sad that the International Literacy Association has not been able to host their amazing face to face conferences.  The excitement of connecting with colleagues from so many places, the publishers’ give-aways, the wide breadth of professional development sessions and the party times have been highlights of my career.  However, when the International Literacy Association  was forced to pivot to online due to COVID, they adopted a stellar model for online professional development.  The ILA has been able to bring in name speakers to present online and I have enjoyed the ability to go back and revisit the recordings and ask questions.  While we are waiting for the return of the amazing International Literacy Conferences, I highly recommend you participate in the ILA online ProD.  Got to the ILA website

There is no additional charge to join BCLCILA, the provincial chapter of ILA.  All members in good standing of The International Literacy Association, who live in British Columbia, are automatically members of our provincial chapter, BCLCILA

The British Columbia Literacy Council

Of the

International Literacy Association


Reach out to executive members to ask questions, offer to volunteer, or make suggestions.  

           Go to for more information on survey results, programs, minutes and more.  

                         Follow up on Twitter @BCLitCoun1

You are also welcome to contact me directly via Twitter @carriefroese

via Instagram carriefroeseinquires or at inquire2empower

Barge on The Beach and Other Unprecedented Happenings

Wild Weather in Vancouver, B.C.

These are unprecedented times!  We’ve heard that so often now, it almost loses it’s meaning.  I was at a friend’s house in Penticton this summer and she was packing up her most treasured possessions for fear of the fires that seem to be coming a summer event in the interior of British Columbia.  Her husband had just installed sprinklers on the roof in an attempt to ward off potentially uncontrollable fire.  Down south in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at our family cabin, Silver Lake had the lowest water level I’ve ever seen.  Getting into the boat from the dock was a long drop down.  Fires burned a large chunk of the Sequoia National Forest and in California to the ground and the smoke wafted in and out obscuring the view and clogging our lungs. Fires were closing down portions of the Coquihalla Highway at the same time in British Columbia.  Fires, eye stinging smoke and evacuations plagued populations of people and animals from British Columbia to California.  People were praying for rain.  That was the answer.  

And then the rain arrived.   Pelting storms, unprecedented amounts of rain breaking records of years gone by.  Flood waters and mudslides closing down highways,  breaking dikes, more evacuations, more unprecedented damage and tragic loss of life.   

We are seeing things that certainly were not part of my childhood. Our children are seeing things that are changing what we consider to be unprecedented. There is a prevalent sense of doom with fires, floods and the COVID pandemic sparking references to Armageddon. However there are reasons for the things we are seeing. It is imperative for educators to focus on inquiry rather that fanning the flames of fear. I do believe that our children may well be the ones who step up to deal with important issues around climate change. However, many of our children feel overwhelmed by the notion that they are responsible for solving the climate crisis. Supporting our children in learning to love the environment and ask questions is within our grasp. The power of nature and the forces that impact that power need to be observed and questioned. The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert can be put to good use in providing a frame for meaningful inquiries for educators framing their outdoor learning and for students asking their own questions. I highly recommend their book – the Spiral Playbook – Leading with an inquiring mindset in school systems and schools (2017) to support your planning.

Questions to ask.  Things to learn.  Plans to be made.

Another Wild About Vancouver Wednesday post

Tidal WAV Returns

Wild About Vancouver (WAV) Outdoor Education Festival is a free public outdoor education festival offering practical ways to get children (and adults) outdoors more regularly.

Tidal WAV 2018

WAV is open to the public and aims to unite and create long-term sustainable outdoor experiential learning networks for organizations, schools, youth programs, and the broader citizenry of Vancouver. WAV is organized by a collective of volunteers passionate about improving children’s lives, being outdoors, and building supportive communities. WAV is totally de-centralized. Events must be educational, experiential, outdoors, and free. Anyone can put an event into WAV.

WAV’s Outdoor Education Festival addresses children’s increasingly limited time outdoors through outdoor experiential learning (OEL). OEL is a proven approach for opposing widespread negative impacts facing children today as a result of decreased physical engagement in the outdoor and natural world. Negative impacts include rises in childhood obesity and sedentary behaviour, reduction in creative and critical thinking and play, and increases in childhood illness, among others.  

We are particularly excited about The Tidal WAV Festival, planned for Friday, June 3rd, 2022.  Second Beach Park in Stanley Park is booked and it is an amazing venue for the outdoor learning activities we have planned.  It is International Dragon Boat Day and International Donut Day which lends itself to additional fun.  Our steering committee comprises of people including educators from pre-school to university, a forest ranger, community leaders, small business people, health practitioners, a reporter / political analyst and a photographer.  We have wide reach to engage Vancouverites and beyond in a diverse range of outdoor learning activities.  

We are meeting online and in person on Tuesday, November 16th, 2021 to continue with our planning.  We are always happy to have new steering committee members, worker bees, and supporters.  You define the level of involvement that you time and energy for including active engagement on a working committee, submitting a lesson / activity idea on the website, or volunteering on the day. Please email me at if you are interested in attending and I’ll send you the info.  

You can donate to Wild About Vancouver and receive a tax receipt through our partner, the IEL

Institute for Environmental Learning

Please select the following information and send an email to so we can put your money to work supporting outdoor engagement.

Thanks and #getoutdoors and let us share what you’re up to with our collaborative community

@WildAboutVan on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Lest We Forget

Victory Square, Vancouver, B.C.

November 11th was always my father in law’s favourite day.  He participated in the Remembrance Day processional march at Victory Square in Vancouver with pride.  He signed up with the Air Force in 1951 as soon as he was of age.  Although he served for a relatively short period of time, his favourite stories were those times of service in North America, Europe and North Africa. He felt like that his service was of value and that it defined him.  He gravitated to the Billy Bishop Legion because this contribution was validated on a regular basis and his stories were appreciated.  

Victory Square Flyover 2022

Many divergent opinions are debated about how to create peace in the world.  What is not up for debate is the fact that the people stepping up to serve in the military in the past and in the present, do so out of a desire to do their part to defend the ideals of their country, neighbours, and family.  They are pulled away from families and frequently put in harm’s way.  They deserve our respect and gratitude.

Giant Sequoia Discovery in Vancouver

The Secret Climbing Tree

A new discovery this weekend!  We have giant sequoia trees in Vancouver.  Who knew!  I’d love to say I happened upon it myself, but I have to admit I had some help.  In a midst of a cleaning frenzy, I came across the book, 111 Places In Vancouver That You Must Not Miss by Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies.  My husband and I needed a good rainy Sunday destination of interest, so off we went on a journey to discover #90 – The Secret Climbing Tree on the historic “botanical boulevard” close to Cambie Street and King Edward Avenue.  

The book reveals the general vicinity of the tree, but not the exact location.  I love this book!  We have had lots of fun learning about many familiar and many, not at all familiar, destinations in the city we both grew up in.  Both of us are very familiar with this particular intersection in Vancouver.  However, for the first time, we noticed that not only are there lots of big trees, but not all of them are the huge fir trees and cedars that we expect in Vancouver. 

Giant Sequoia

Having spent the summer surrounded and newly interested in the trees by our family cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I paid close attention to the leaves, bark, and cones.  I was amazed to discover that giant sequoia trees not only survive 7500 feet above sea level in an alpine climate, but also in the temperate rainforest of Vancouver, British Columbia.  Giant sequoia and giant redwoods are both members of the Sequoia family, although there are similarities with cedar trees. 

Sequoia trees can live up to 3,000 years.  The biggest tree in the world is a Giant Sequoia named General Sherman, located not far from Fresno, California in the Sequoia National Forest.  It is 84 metres (274 feet) tall and has a 31 metre (102 foot) circumference and weights 1.2 million kilograms (2.7 million pounds).  It is estimated to be 2,300 – 2,700 years old.  In 1944, Smokey the Bear became the poster child of fire suppression, the forest management strategy of choice.  This fall, fire fighters were wrapping giant trees in aluminun foil in The Sequoia National Forest to save the massive trees from the lightning fire started on September 9th.  Interestingly, fire suppression is a big threat to giant sequoias.  Fire is required to remove the undergrowth, reduce competition from other trees, add nutrients to the soil and release the seeds from their cones.  However, fires are becoming increasingly intense due to drought and climate change, which results in greater risk of destroying the species.  Appropriate forest management strategies have become a very public debate.

Sequoia bark
Sequoia cones
Prickly Sequoia leaves

The Secret Climbing tree in Vancouver is big, with a tree circumference of over 5 ½ metres (18 feet).  It is one of Vancouver’s oldest trees.  It is most easily identified by the reddish bark that shreds in your fingers, prickly leaves, and small cones shaped like small eggs, with diamond shapes.  It lacks the rounded scale-like leaves of the cedar that look like they have been ironed flat.  I was an adventurous child and love physical challenges.  I have climbed spent lots of time outside and climbed many trees.  As an educator, I have taught students to identify common trees as it pertained to the curriculum.  Yet, it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really closely observed and considered the trees around me.  It is fascinating.  It opens up another interesting world.  It leads to other questions, not only about the trees, but also the stories about how they got here and how they factor into our lives.  I highly recommend it.  Who knows where it will take you.

Check out the article by Emma Hall and Clint Robertson, Out On A Limb For Heritage at for more interesting trees to discover in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Another Wild About Vancouver (WAV) Wednesday blog

See @WildAboutVan on Twitter and Instagram 

for other #GetOutdoors ideas in Vancouver and outdoor learning

Putting a Face on Your Purchases

People have been spending less on merchandise since COVID started 19 months ago.  I was somewhat surprised due the huge number of Amazon deliveries that arrive at our condo each week.  I am on speed dial with several of my neighbours so we can bring our purchases to safety when we’re not home to accept deliveries.  The online shopper is alive and well.  However, excursions to the mall and to window shop on Fourth Avenue or Robson Street are down.  Purchases are more deliberate, to the benefit of places with a committed following like Vancouver Kidsbooks, Mountain Equipment Coop and grocery stores.

I find joy in the perfect cup of tea on a daily basis.  When my husband and I were visiting my daughter in Taiwan, we had the luck and the good timing to do a tasting at a working tea plantation not targeting tourists. As with everything, background knowledge matters.  Quality products are produced when background knowledge goes hand in hand with someone with a pride in what they do and the means to distribute their product.  

My very favourite place to buy tea is Silk Road Tea, especially since I bonded with the owner on a red eye flight from Toronto.  Yes, of course.  Talking about tea.  One of the books that I’m working on right now is about tea.  Why we drink it.  How it is made.  What determines quality.  I am hoping to include interesting information and the stories.  Generally, something is lost with large scale production.  That’s why you find earl grey tea without a smell or the signature taste on the shelves of chain grocery stores.  The bergamot oil does in fact matter.  A detail that eludes some.  High quality tea purchased by someone with enough background knowledge to make wise purchases and nice venues with “all things tea”, in Victoria and Vancouver, make Silk Road Tea two tea shops I want to succeed.  

During COVID, I made another tea discovery, initially through Amazon.  JusTea.  Fair Trade tea.  Non GMO verified.  Vancouver company.  High quality product with a picture and a short MEET YOUR FARMER bio.  I love that JusTea has managed to distribute high quality product while supporting Fair Trade practices.  

Fair Trade Tea – JusTea

My Peppermint Detox tea – Made by Isabella – “On her small-scale “shamba”, Isabella grows her own organic lemongrass and sells it to the Women’s Co-op.”

My Purple Jasmine – Made by Christine – “Christine, called Chepkimi, is a single mother of two energetic children.  She is pleased to have a steady job.”

My Purple Mint – Made by Emmanuel – “Emmanuel is one of the youngest tea processing masters in Kenya. He is extremely passionate to create the best cup of tea for you!”

My cousin introduced me to another venture that has helped me to put a face on what I am consuming. Skipper Otto.  The Skipper Otto Community started supporting the Fishery (CSF) in 2008 to reconnect fishing families directly to consumers. My particularly exquisite Chinook salmon meal last week came to me from Williard and Natasha Marshall.  They are the Tseshaht fishers who caught my dinner on their skiff in Alberni Inlet in August 2021.  I made my Skipper Otto order online on a Monday and picked up my flash frozen and canned order on the Thursday at the Granville Island Wharf, one of the pick up locations.  I know where it came from. I know that it’s fresh.  I know that Williard and Natasha and other members of the collective are benefitting from the fruits of their labour.  I know the pricing is good.  My initial commitment in this venture was $200.00 for 2021.  Now that I know the quality of the product and trust the company will deliver, I’ll be able to enjoy a lot more seafood in 2022.

Skipper Otto Rocks

Putting a name to the product goes a long way to ensuring that small businesses are able to succeed and we that we trust we are getting value for our dollar.  We know from experience that multi-national corporations are more interested in profit line for shareholders than supporting those people able to bring quality and value to consumers.  It is a pleasure to support the individuals who care about delivering their best to me personally and reap the benefits from doing so.  I now have a personally invested interest in them doing well. 

Greta Thunberg Inspires

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish girl on the Autism Spectrum, has become a force in the climate change conversation on a global level. It is nothing less than inspirational, particularly for our students. In August 2018, she made a decision not to go to school to protest the indifference of world leaders to engage in the discussion about climate change. She writes her own speeches, which have delivered a clear and consistent message:

“The climate crisis is a black and white issue. We need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases and I want you to panic.” . Thunberg, G. (2019) p. 29

She does not dismiss the complexity of the issues but condemns the failure of world leaders to act. Her rallying cry has mobilized children and adults. There is no tolerance of political posturing in the emerging movement that is not backed up with clear action to balance emissions with removal of greenhouse gases.

In 2015, 196 countries agreed to limiting global warming to well below 2 C, preferably below 1.5 C compared to pre-industrial times. The COP26 summit is aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050. That means balancing emissions with the removal of greenhouse gases by trees and healthy oceans. This will be a crucial test for the global community given that developed countries like US and Canada remain huge consumers of gas and oil for heating and transportation demands and those is developing countries requiring greenhouse gas emissions in the production of things such as cement and steel to develop their infrastructure of schools, hospitals and housing. Loud voices will need to ensure problem solving and accountability measures are in place.

The point of the new curriculum in British Columbia is to encourage engagement in the curriculum through the development of core competencies. We want our students to develop their thinking skills, communication skills, personal efficacy and social skills so they deeply engage in learning that matters to them. Many kids are terrified about the climate crisis. We do want them immobilized by fear, but to be engaged in problem solving. We want educators to support students in asking questions and coming up with a plan to find possibilities or answers. We can support students in learning about effective forest management that prevents the mass fires we are seeing that dump carbon into the environment. We can also help them plan and celebrate ways to limit emissions of carbon gases by biking and walking to school.

CBC is encouraging questions about COP26, climate science, policy and politics in an effort to make their news coverage more responsive to readers. Use and the many available sources so that students feel supported in this learning.

Greta Thunberg repeatedly states:

“Your generation is failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you.” p.99

Eyes are on all of us. I applaud Greta Thunberg for her success in mobilizing the world with a consistent message that has inspired political will to act. However I grew up in the day when I lost sleep over whether a nuclear bomb was going to rain down on us during the Cold War. I want our students to understand the issues around climate change but not to feel helpless or overly anxious. I want them to feel that they have support from the adults in their schools and from each other in making their voice heard. The purpose of education is to empower our students. We want our students to live that as their reality.

Thunberg, Greta. (2019). Greta Thunberg. No One is Too Small To Make A Difference. Penguin Books. New York.

Considering Memory

Nanny Keenan – Enduring Memories

We look for signs of recognition in babies and glimpses of a well-developed memory as young children learn to talk and learn rudimentary literacy and numeracy skills.  Memory plays a significant role in student success and the development of social skills.  We bemoan signs of a weakening memory and grieve the understanding that the people we love, are losing theirs.  Yet, considering memory, over all stages of life, helps us to better understand learning. 

Part of getting older and living in our day of medical advances, is coming face to face with dementia.  People live longer and many people experience memory loss or need to assume responsibility for those loved ones experiencing it.  During some of visits with people with dementia, it’s almost like watching a film, where the person you know fades in and out right before your eyes.   The workings of the mind is both fascinating and tragic for the person watching themself fading out of the memory of the person they love.  Yet not all the memories are lost.  Memories are often from long in the past or somehow connected to those experiences of long ago.  My husband’s grandmother forgot that she no longer smoked and lived for her next cigarette.  She would light up and become that person from long ago who was a smoker.  My mother-in-law consistently asks to return to her childhood home to see her mom and best friend, Shirley.  She is filled with the stories and the things she is looking forward to doing and eating.

My father has dementia and was placed in a Care Home in the San Gabriel Valley in California this past Spring.  I finally stopped waiting for Americans to open the land border to Canadians, and used my American passport for the very first time and drove down to L.A. to visit him.  He has been assigned a personal care worker named Martha. She stayed with us during my recent visit with him, which of course changed the dynamic of the visit.  Much of the conversation involved my father explaining things back to his care giver.  He introduced me to Martha and participated in conversation for a little over an hour.  Many of those memories were hinged back to his early memories.  He explained to Martha how amazing it was for a baby born in the San Gabriel Valley in California, me, would end up as a principal in Canada.  That triggered his memory of attending the MEI, the school he attended on scholarship in Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia where his family had a farm.  He has happy memories of the fun in school and how easy it had been for him.  We had a good chuckle about my experiences as a teacher and principal and how school wasn’t easy for everyone.  The conversation segued into his recollection that both of us had attended The University of British Columbia and him living as a border in my mother’s house, close to the university when he was a student.  UBC and life in Vancouver holds many happy memories for both of us.

My father has always loved an audience.  I grew up listening to his stories when I visited him during summer holidays.  He relayed to his caregiver that I had bought him a book on the Voldendam.  My father told me the story about celebrating his 13th birthday en route to Canada from Rotterdam on the ship called the Voldendam after World War II.  The name of the boat stuck in my mind because my dad also had the postcard that the ship captain gave him on his birthday when he took him to inspect the ship.  My father spoke of how proud he was to walk beside the captain and how it filled him with the sense that he was going to be someone important. When my husband and I were doing a biking trip in the Maritimes several years ago, we went to visit The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the equivalent of Ellis Island in the United States.  I did some homework and bought a postcard of the ship and a book about Pier 21 for my dad. It drew me back into the memory loop of his significant childhood memory.  His memory of the more distant past became fused with the more recent past.

When I was in school, a good memory served me well.  Taking detailed notes, putting information on index cards, reading information out loud, highlighters, cramming until the very end, singing – Yes, I memorized information for a biology test to Rod Stewart’s song Hot Legs that happened to be running through my head.  Once before I walked into a Psychology 100 test, I heard some peers in the class talking about a name I knew nothing about.  I sat down outside the lecture hall when we were writing the exam in 15 minutes.  I reread the section of whoever it was that was so very important.  I walked into the exam to discover that one third of the exam was on this old, white guy who had discovered important things.  I regurgitated everything that I had crammed into my short-term memory and aced the exam.  Couldn’t tell you who this very important guy was.  

Bruce Carabine, my principal at Hillcrest Middle School in Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver, was known for his amazing memory.  He knew the names of all our students and remembered incredible details of the lives of all of the staff.  Students and staff felt a strong sense of belonging because he used their names and asked about the things and people who were important to them.  The more he used the names and talked to people, the more entrenched the information became in his memory.  We spent a lot of time discussing “his gift” of memory.  In those discussions, he shared a multitude of strategies he used to remember.  He went on to create a Powerpoint presentation of memory tricks to share with others.  Through the years, I have used many of the ideas to commit information to rote memory.  My favourite – Our postal code when my husband and I moved back to the beach in Vancouver, 

V(ancouver) 6 K(itsilano) 1 H(appy) 7.  Yes, I was delighted to move back to Vancouver!

In my work with students of all ages, I have shared many of the techniques and strategies for doing well on tests.  However, the problem with tests is that they are never really the best measures of what students have learned.  My son was able to write a final exam in high school and sometimes pull his letter grade up, not one, but two letter grades.  I would be infuriated that he wasn’t doing the work required throughout the term.  He would respond that I should be celebrating his accomplishment on the test.  The fireworks would fly.  He would engage in the classes where he was interested or he like the teacher because the teacher believed in him.  His later entry and success in Instituto Marangoni, then later, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, came from strong family support and his own tenacity and drive to pursue his interests.  

The best aspect of the new curriculum in British Columbia has been putting students at the centre of discussions about learning.  Having the development of core competencies as part of developing understanding of the learning standards, both the grade level content and curricular competencies, has been right in line with the recommendations of the OECD for educational change in learning throughout the 34 participating nations and throughout the world.  

The core competencies work together to engage students in the process of learning and helping them to integrate the learning standards into their personal memory banks.

  1. Thinking – including both creative and critical thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Personal and Social – including personal awareness and responsibility, positive personal and cultural identity, social awareness and responsibility

Inquiry learning has brought to light the importance of student interest and engagement in the process of learning.   It has also brought to light the importance of creating a safe environment to ask questions, make predictions, and fail without dire consequences.  The first results of the OECD’s Beyond Academic Learning study of social and emotional skills states:

“Social and emotional skills have been found to be good predictors of education, labour, and social outcomes.” OECD 2021 p. 7

My maternal grand-mother was the matriarch of the family.  She was smart, strong-willed and was a leader in our family, in her community work, and in her circles of friends.  When she got dementia, my father, who was a neurosurgeon at the time, told me that it was God’s gift to her.  Although I understood what he meant, I didn’t truly believe it until recently.  As her control of her world slipped away, she got initially got angry and frustrated.  As the dementia took hold, she slipped back to a simpler time before pain and anguish.  She gravitated back in time when it wasn’t necessary for her to be in control of anything.  Her reality became those of her earliest memories. It included singing, dolls, stories of her childhood, and things that she wanted to be true.  No stress about understanding what is happening to you.  When we consider how we commit learning to memory, it seems to make perfect sense to create a learning environment in which memory is strengthening by involving students in things they are interested in and creating strong links to their prior experiences.  We want students to create meaningful learning that matters to them, not just because they will remember it for some arbitrary purpose, but because that will form the foundation for all of their future learning.  

%d bloggers like this: