Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School has partnered with the Guelph Lake Nature Centre to pilot an immersive experiential geography program for grade 9 students.
“This is a brand new take on the grade 9 geography program,” shared Emily Case, one of two classroom instructors involved in the program.
Each week students spend three to four days in the classroom and then travel to Guelph Lake or a specific place in Guelph for one to two days led by Greg Meredith Environmental Education Specialist with the Guelph Lake Nature Centre, exploring the curricular objectives both traditionally and experientially.
“Geography is investigative exploration,” explained Case. “There is quite a wide range of learning objectives. Last week we looked at how to analyze soil, so first we learned all of the different types of soil and what makes up soil, and then we dug up the ground and learned how to break apart and do soil samples. Before that we were practicing using compasses, how to get your bearings, what to do when you’re lost.”
While the class is categorically a destreamed grade 9 Issues in Canadian Geography class, it happens to support a number of new Canadians and multilingual students. The partnership with Guelph Lakes Nature Centre empowers students to become more fluent in English while learning about their new home.
“We were looking to have more of a hands-on experience with some of our multilingual learners and a lot of the time our learning starts with our oral understanding,” explained Case.
Learning away from a traditional classroom setting has been known to support growing language abilities.
“We know that ML students benefit from experiential learning options, as do all students and we know that anytime that a good teaching pedagogy is applied for ML students - all students benefit,” explained Valerie Karunaratne, ELL Lead, Student Engagement and Transitions Resource Teacher. “Being in this learning environment could benefit ML students who have maybe arrived to Canada during the COVID lock down and haven’t had an opportunity to explore the community and experience what the different areas of Guelph have to offer.”
So far, the pilot has been well received by students.
“It’s been really great, the students really like Greg (Meredith) who is a wonderful instructor,” said Case. “They get to focus on what is in front of them, creating an awareness about Guelph itself and about our surroundings and city.”
Beyond this most recent pilot program, the Guelph Lake Nature Centre has a lengthy partnership with Wellington Catholic DSB offering all elementary students the opportunity to visit the nature centre for an educational field trip led by Environmental Education Specialists, as well as offering Environmental Science programs to grade 11 students.