Friday, September 12, 2014

Leadership: We must build the capcity for students to lead.

Some challenges require strategy
 and forethought.
The FFA Creed was written in 1928, and if you have never had the opportunity to read the foundational body of work that solidifies American agriculture, then I must make the recommendation for such. Opening lines to the third paragraph of the creed express a sentiment that may be overlooked in today's society. E.M. Tiffany wrote: "I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others." In examining this sentence, it is evident for a "leader" to be successful they must have self-knowledge or self-awareness.

Each of us knows someone who has poor self-awareness and continues with actions that ostracize a team. Nonetheless, do our great leaders know what qualities they possess that make them effective leaders? As well, do they know what qualities they possess that might hinder progress?

Marshmallow Tower
Click for larger picture.
You might ask yourself, what does leadership have to do with experiential learning?
At the Outdoor Learning Center there are opportunities to grow leaders, just like our shade trees. This year the OLC has conducted team building activities with teachers from various campuses as well as the STEM Academy.

On September 10, 2014 the OLC hosted 270 NHS students and 15 teachers to continue laying the foundation of leadership amongst students in STEM. The ninth through twelfth grade students were sorted into 27 different teams, some working with students they had never worked with before. These teams competed in various challenges with two main goals in mind. One, students needed to lay a foundation of trust and openness with their team. Two, students needed to realize and internalize their capacity for leadership. It is essential for students to realize "you do not have to be officially designated as the leader, to be an effective leader."
Trajectory is needed for
tossing popcorn into shaving cream

Effective leadership comes from our ability to develop our own qualities of leadership, which each of us possess. These qualities can surface in times of crisis or calm. They are available within our own minds, heart and character. It is up to us to have enough self-awareness and courage to lead each day. Our actions must match our beliefs for us to have the capacity to lead. Students in the STEM program were given a chance to participate in challenges that focused not solely on their words, but their deeds.

Whether it was a challenge to build a free standing Marshmallow holder out of spaghetti or assembling a solar powered "ice conditioner", students were asked to examine their capacity for leadership. Just like so many of us, there were some who knew their strengths, some who discovered new strengths and others who were just beginning the journey.

"Ice Conditioners" Do you prefer solar or battery operated?
Leadership is a mix of knowledge, values, skills and deeds. The OLC is committed to developing those qualities of leadership our students and teachers possess.  Warren Bennis tells us "Recognizing strengths and compensating for weaknesses represents the first step in achieving positive self-regard." Each day allows us a chance to move towards positive self-awareness. The OLC hopes to continue to grow in its capacity for leadership. So our advice is simply....

Keep Calm and Lead On!



CyLynn Braswell
Outdoor Learning Center Coordinator
           

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A new season for learning.

The changing seasons are approaching at warp speed; or it appears that way, with the vastness and pace of today's society. It seems only yesterday that the OLC hosted Camp ECO and school was just letting out. As the summer has progressed the OLC and its staff have grown, developed, and established deeper roots. We are so excited about the 2014-2015 season  at the Outdoor Learning Center. This 193 acre classroom will be host to thousands of Northwest ISD students for experiential learning opportunities.

Two baby fox look to get out of the heat this summer at the OLC.
Each year we hope to establish ourselves more, becoming deeply entrenched in the community, while providing an experience that is second to none. Although the world around us is in a continuous state of change some things stay the same. The evolving curriculum here at the OLC will hold steadfast this season to ensure an interdisciplinary approach that is inquiry based and full of experiential learning. Those key concepts are at the heart of everything taught at the OLC.

One of the things you may see integrated, will be a focus on cross-functional skills that help to fortify the NISD's Profile of a Graduate. Students preparing for a job in the 21st century need soft skills that help them throughout their lifetime. Problem solving, teamwork, self-motivation and presentation skills to name just a few, will be implemented into all of the experiences at the OLC.

Baby deer born at the OLC June 14th, 2014.
In an effort to help students embrace nature we will be taking a more active approach at the OLC, so make sure students wear the proper shoes because we will be walking. Moving away from a sedentary learning approach, last year students logged enough miles to walk across America six times. This year we look to double that number and promote the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle.

In addition, sustainability education will be sewn into the fabric of each lesson. We will be conscious of the amount of waste produced at the OLC and work towards a zero waste goal with all byproducts being, recycled or composted. As we look at the sustainability model, the OLC curriculum will reinforce environmental values, with a positive message of our future in a global society.


As a global citizen students should be exposed to sustained and frequent experiences in nature starting in early childhood. What better way to appreciate the world around us than to get out in it. Students at the OLC will get an opportunity to realize "nature is reflected in our capacity to wonder." Northwest ISD Outdoor Learning Center's stance on students in nature is exactly that. We need to get students in nature. Children need to have the opportunity to have physical contact with nature.
"Nature is something to watch, consume, to wear, to immerse oneself."

Butterfly lighting on wild verbena. October, 2013
This year we look forward to the students of Northwest ISD becoming closer connected to the earth around them while wondering what is to come next. It is our desire that students begin seeing the joys of being outside instead of seeking out the closest electrical outlet.  #getoutside #nisdolc #itjustcomesnaturally

Feel free to follow our progress this year on Facebook at Northwest ISD's Outdoor Learning Center or Twitter @nisdolc #nisdolc

What was your favorite place in nature when you were a child and how did you feel when you were there?

Feel free to comment. We would like to keep a log of the responses.

Sincerely,


CyLynn Braswell
OLC Coordinator

Monday, June 9, 2014

Camp ECO...Meet the Team

We here at the OLC are so excited about the 97 students who will be attending Camp Eco! Experiencing the challenges of the Outdoors will take your child's confidence and excitement about nature to a whole new level. As we embark on the inaugural journey for the OLC and NISD we are excited about the opportunities a camp like this brings to our students. In an effort for you to connect a name with a face we wanted to take this time to share with you a little background on your instructors.

 
1st Grade:  Tribe Name~ Warrior Bears


My name is Lauri Ward.  I am married to Rick Ward and we live in Haslet.  I have a son who is a 2014 Byron Nelson graduate and a daughter who will attend BNHS as a freshman in the fall.  I also have 3 adult stepchildren 3 grandbabies.  I have been in education for the past 27 years. I have experience in grades kindergarten through 8th grade.  I have also worked as an educational diagnostician for 10 years.  Currently I teach kindergarten at Haslet Elementary.  The OLC is one of my favorite places to visit.  I am looking forward to a great camp experience.
 

  Andrew Komarek I am 17 and attend Northwest High School. I enjoy racing Outlaw karts, being in the woods and swimming. After graduation I hope to attend Tarleton State University. I am excited about working camp and working with kids to learn to love nature.

 
2nd Grade: Tribe Name~ Crazy Horse
Hello! My name is Chelsea Dullye. I just finished my 4th year of teaching kindergarten! I really enjoy teaching young kiddos to read and write. I am also very passionate about educating future generations about sustainability and ways to be eco-friendly. In my free time I enjoy fishing, reading, spending time with my daughter and doing arts and crafts. I am excited to a part of camp-eco this summer. I am looking forward to getting to know your child and all of the fun and adventurous activities we have planned. It is going to be a blast!

Rebecca Lee:
I'm 17 and I will be a senior at Byron Nelson this coming fall. I hope to attend the University of North Carolina or Boston University after high school, and aspire to be a doctor in Oncology later on!
3rd Grade: Tribe Name~ Sun Hawks
I am Amber Benjamin and I have been teaching Pre-K at Hughes Elementary for 3 years and absolutely love it!  I was born and raised in the Fort Worth area and currently  live in Haslet with my husband Eric who is a teacher at Central High School in Keller. We added a beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer named Beretta to our family over spring break and I am fully convinced she is the perfect  tool for parenting 101. We have had many sleepless nights and no longer get to sit down and relax when we come home but we are loving every bit of her companionship.  I love camping, fishing, hunting, and anything that involves being outdoors. I cannot wait to share this passion with your child, it is the perfect way to kick off the summer!


My name is Dana Taylor, I am 16 years old, and I will be a junior next year at Northwest High School. I enjoy playing soccer, and hanging out with friends and family. I have a 19 year old brother named Steven who plays rugby at the University of Texas, and a 28 year old brother named Blake. In the future, I plan to study biology at either Texas A&M or Oklahoma State. 
 

4th Grade: Tribe Name~Wagon Wheels

 
Hi, my name is Alyssa Biles.  I’ve just completed my 2nd year with Northwest and I’m currently teaching Health Education and coaching volleyball, basketball, and track at Truett Wilson Middle School.  I graduated from Cleburne High School then went on to earn my Bachelors of Science Degree in Health & Fitness from Baylor University and yes, I do bleed green and gold…Sic’em Bears!  I’m blessed to be married to my best friend Matt who is a teacher in the district as well.  Together we have 2 “fur-babies”: a Husky named Kiya and a Border Collie named Bentley.  A few of my favorite things include:  spending time with my family & friends, my students, sports, beach vacations, Baylor Football, Bahama Bucks, and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.  I am so excited to be a part of the first ever Camp ECO and looking forward to a fun filled 3 days!



I am Jason Knisley I just completed my 17th year of teaching and coaching. I have a Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma State University. I am currently the Boys Athletic Coordinator at Medlin Middle school. I have been married for 12 year to Kerry who is an assisntant principal at Wilson middle school and we have 2 children Grayson (10 years old) and Addison (6 years old). I love the outdoors and cannot wait to show the kids how great it can be to get outdoors.


I am Seth Montandon I am 15 and just finished my Freshman year of High School. When I graduate I plan to go to Texas A&M where I hope to get my MBA, after which I plan to go to law school and become a Criminal Defense Attorney.

I am Gracie Eddleman a 15 year old Junior attending Byron Nelson High School. I am a the oldest sister of three and I am so excited about work at Camp Eco. I hope to attend TCC then Tarleton State University and become an elementary teacher.

 


5th Grade: Tribe Name~ Broken Arrows
I am Ted Twa M. Ed. currently teaching 5th grade science at Seven Hills. I've been teaching for Northwest ISD since 1999 in an elementary classroom. I've taught 1st, 2nd, and 5th grade. I love to pass on my enthusiasm for science and the outdoors. I have a lovely wife, 2 amazing daughters that are 3 and 17. I rock climb, fish, hunt, scuba dive, camp, mountain bike, and kayak. I enjoy cooking over an open fire and can't wait to teach students how to survive in different environments. My goal is to pass on my love of nature and the outdoors to as many people as possible.

 


Dawson Davis, awesome big brother and international traveler, Byron Nelson High School, completed 9th grade, age 15, will attend University of North Texas or join the Marines.




Nurse: Shannon Bode:
My name is Shannon Bode.  I am a wife and mom to three children ranging from age 10-15.  I have been a nurse for 16 years.  I worked in the hospital setting most of my nursing career with my primary focus in general Medical/Surgical Unit.  I also have experience in the OR and often floated to ER, ICU, Women’s Services, and other areas as needed.  Prior to my employment at NISD I worked in a neighboring school district for three years at an elementary school.  The 2013-2014 school year was my third year at Northwest ISD.  My first two years in the district I worked at Northwest High School and I was the Campus Health Coordinator at the Outdoor Learning Center.  I currently serve in the same position at Peterson Elementary School.  I am thrilled to be returning to the Outdoor Learning Center for Camp ECO.  I look forward to working with the students and staff to make this an amazing and memorable experience for your child.
 
 
Administrative Assistant: Kelli Ragsdale
Our family has lived, played, and worked within the Northwest ISD for 5 generations. Before moving to the OLC in August, I worked in the Human Resources Office for Northwest ISD for 8 years.   I have been married for 25 years; have 4 children; 2 that have graduated from NHS and 2 still NHS.  I love to cook and spend time with my family. I am so excited about our new adventure this year at the OLC and that you are getting to be the first group to Experience the Challenges of the Outdoors.
OLC Coordinator: CyLynn Braswell
As the Coordinator for the NISD Outdoor Learning Center I have one of the best jobs in our progressive district. I am in my 12th year in education and I look forward to each day that I get to help shape and mold our future generations. This will be my fifth year at NISD and 3rd year as the coordinator for our new facility. Prior to this opportunity I have worked as an agriculture and engineering instructor on the secondary level while developing meaningful programs for experiential learning. I have a wonderful husband, Kyle of nearly 11 years and we have 2 beautiful dogs (Bella a Scottish Terrier and Gus a Border Collie). I am a product of great summer camps and it is my goal for your child to have the best 3 day experience we can provide. I look forward to seeing you at Camp ECO!
 
 

 
 

 


 
 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Walk like Thoreau...

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
-David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobia

When we chose to "Walk like Thoreau" there  was a bit of apprehension about how we could get students to make the connection to a writer from nearly 200 years ago that they don't usually study until their Junior year of high school. The challenge was issued and of course the OLC responded- This can be done!

Henry David Thoreau thought he could find himself and the meaning in his life through nature. Most people view his work, Walden published in 1854, as the truest representation of this. He wrote “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

 One might think this would be too much for a fourth grade student, however, I beg to differ. The students I  have seen these past two weeks are sharp, bright and intuitive. With some small ground work they began to understand their task. Each student, armed with a notebook and pencil set out on a journey to begin to observe as Thoreau had done. It wasn't enough to look for things, but to truly see what nature had to offer. Along the trail students were asked probing questions that made them contemplate what they were observing. This exercise was not a work in finding the right and wrong answers. Thoreau, Emerson, Chaucer, they did not seek the right answers, but rather they sought the truth's they could draw from their observations of life. Each one of us has our own lens that we draw from. We are a naturally curious people and have the opportunity to see things in a different light based on who we are as an individual. Our individualism is created by the circumstances and experiences we have been exposed to throughout our life. You could question what could ten year olds have experienced?

Well a lot! They are a digital native constantly on the go. Running from this practice, to this recital, to the next event; never really taking the time to absorb what they are seeing and what they are experiencing. More importantly as they move through their day it happens so fast that often times they forget to reflect or to act "deliberately". Here we like to say "walking with purpose."  Thoreau had a special way of observing nature. He would journal his first day purposefully and write down many of his experiences, then he would come back to the same journal and rewrite what he could remember from the day before. This reflection allowed for him to emphasize his feelings and heighten his awareness because he replayed the journal events in his mind.

There are many benefits to reflecting on ones experiences, but simply taking a walk can bring benefits that many of us would not normally think to relate with walking. Arianna Huffington wrote "The solution to many problems is simply taking a walk." Her article in the Huffington Post references studies where people who are not only exposed to nature, but also are actively walking were more inclined by nature to be civic minded and community oriented.  "Even more intriguing is the link between the physical act of walking and thinking. A study in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology found cognitive performance was increased when the subject was actually walking."
The easiest and most effective way to differentiate instruction is to change the environment which forces the brain to take in its surroundings, and process the new locale in a different way. This new processing will erupt creativity and awaken the soul.

“Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently,” Gregory Berns writes that “new insights come from people and new environment — any circumstance in which the brain has a hard time predicting what will come next.”

As we prepare for more students to "Walk like Thoreau" we must remind ourselves that students need experiences that transcend and move beyond a two dimensional box. Children need chances to explore, be exposed to new environments and simply get a chance to walk. The destination does not matter, it is the journey we must remember.

When you set out on the voyage to Ithaca
Pray that the road is long
full of adventure, full of knowledge
                                  -Cavafy

Friday, April 25, 2014

Historic Moments...

There are times in every organization's life where monumental steps have been taken and you need to savor the moment. April 25, 2014 is such a moment for the Outdoor Learning Center. As of today we had visitors from 10 different campus and more than 1,000 students pass through the gates of the OLC. This week we celebrated Earth Day in style, paid it forward by starting our giving garden, prepared our evergreens for a year of growth with Arbor day, did studies on water quality, soil and UVA and UVB rays, planted herb gardens, and discovered wildlife on the trails. A majority of these things happened at the hands of the nearly 700 Kindergarten students who had their first visit to the OLC.

The OLC was so excited to have "Kinder" visit; that is was really overwhelming at times. To see the excitement in every child over the smallest things was truly special. The most frequent quote was "this is the best day ever!" Planting trees can seem like a mundane task, but to a 5 year old who is excited about protecting his/her earth it was tremendous. The first day we had over 120 students from Roanoke all planting trees at the same time. It was organized chaos and the most refreshing thing to watch.

It had rained the day before and the soil was more like mud and the kids were covered. That did not slow this group of all-stars down one bit. They kept moving making sure that every Afgan Pine they had in their bucket was planted. The teachers from this group took it one step farther by asking the children to pack an "Earth Friendly Lunch". More than 140 adults and children worked to have as little trash as possible and were able to have less than one pound of trash as a collective group. This is pretty impressive seeing as how, the average person produces 4.4lbs of trash daily. As the week wore on we had several groups who monitored their waste. Lakeview measured their actual food waste and most of the groups weighed in at under 1 pound of food. Each of our schools focused on ways they can improve the amount of trash left behind with their food. This will help as they move forward in their curriculum over nutrition in the upcoming weeks.

The students had already begun the conversation on campus about food and where food comes from, as it was introduced in a wonderful lesson taught on all elementary campuses by our Library Media Specialist. Kelley Valdez, LMS for Roanoke elementary created a introductory lesson from Judy Sierra’s book EIEIO – How Old MacDonald Got His Farm . The students at haslet created posters and took the lesson a few steps farther to really understand how Old MacDonald got his farm. When venturing out to the OLC each Kinder group was given an opportunity to plant seeds in our new raised planter beds. It is the hope of the OLC that we can create crops that can be harvested and donated to the local food pantry. Every child who visited the OLC this week planted a seed of hope in the "giving garden".


So many times our children do not get to explore in nature, or be a part of the sights, sounds and smells that make our experiences so special. We forget to play as a child. To wonder and discover fuels the minds' creative center, something we should never dismiss. As our students ventured out for the discovery trail, they were able to walk a mile in the beautiful greenbelt areas around the OLC. This expanse has ponds, large trees, open meadows and several views of Denton Creek. The students were given a task and a small chart to identify things like leaves, wildflowers and animal tracks, although those were not the only artifacts unearthed. Often times the students and teachers were excited about reporting new found discoveries. Like the wild onions growing in the back by the meadow, a tree full of caterpillars, the skunk who came for a visit earlier, the turtle who chased the child's wheel chair or  even the baby frogs found in the standing water. Everything discovered along the trail was met with excitement and a profound joy one can only experience as a child. We wish these experiences were not a novelty, but an everyday occurrence.

It is the hope of the OLC that these initial discoveries will spark and interest in nature that will carry-on throughout the students life. Looking back there are so many things we hope to change for next year and so many things we accomplished this year. This is the first of many great days of building sustainability natives for Northwest ISD. As the students continue to attend Experiential Learning days at the Outdoor Learning Center we expect for them to experience the change over time and see how our piece of earth is ever evolving, ever changing, always growing. This is but just a moment in time, however it holds piece of our heart eternally.

We look forward to seeing you again and thank you to all who participated! Have a great weekend, get outside and play-put a smile on a child's face.

Sincerely,

CyLynn Braswell

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sometimes we forget!

Sometimes we forget!

When I was a child my life was full of things I didn't realize I should be appreciating. Like the fact I grew up surrounded by some of the most beautiful country in East Texas with acres of rolling hills and expansive oak and pine trees. I never realized how privileged I was to see coastal fields and the smell of hay being cut, honeysuckle and shade trees by the lake. Taking each of those things for granted I enjoyed life to the fullest, walking barefoot to the barn; when I wanted a pool, they dug a hole, filled it with water and viola! "Swimming pool". Those little pieces that made me who I am were pieced together day in and day out.

Today I was reminded to never forget and be thankful of my experiences. 110 GT first grade students visited the OLC today and it was truly humbling. To see such joy in each of their faces while they went from one area to another was a bit overwhelming. Due to the busing schedule some students got their early. We didn't want to waste their day so the teacher introduced the book The Caboose who got loose. This book introduces Katy the Caboose and wouldn't you know it, we have our own Katy the caboose on the OLC property. Students were able to explore and come up with ideas for her future.

Once all of our groups arrived we had an eventful ride on the trolley pulled by Mr. Mark (he takes good care of us out here and the trolley is the best transportation). Students visited an area where we are currently trying to make art out of culverts that were left on the property. Using industrial chalk, the students worked with Ms. Rebecca Ireland to make mans' trash into beauty. Wildflowers, trees and grass now adorn this area all composed by our students and teachers imaginations.

As we journeyed further in to the property the amazement, joy and curiosity took over with each child. Venturing into the back looking for things like erosion and microhabitats the shear joy of discovery took over. Soon kids were picking wild onions, playing in the open meadow, finding cool bugs, identifying wildflowers, making plaster molds of deer tracks and simply enjoying the outdoors. The teachers who accompanied the students brought so much enthusiasm and knowledge to the day that is was simply infectious. Their planning and prior teaching ensured the child really got the full "OLC Experience". As I stood behind the lens of a camera to capture some of these moments, it hit me! Some of these precious children had never experienced nature like this.

Often times we forget how special mother nature is and what she can provide. Being so busy rushing for the finish line we forget to look and see our surroundings for what they are. An opportunity to discover, a place to play, engineering at its best, a natural progression, not forced but growing at its own pace. I hope as we move forward we can remember to let discovery and learning come naturally.

Sincerely,

CyLynn Braswell

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The first step is the hardest.

My first blog

I have decided to write about my experiences in education and about the amazing journey I am currently on with the Northwest ISD Outdoor Learning Center.
Our Mission:
"The expectation of the OLC is that all participants are viewed as collaborators, not just “teachers and students”. The OLC is focused on the exploration of engagement-based lesson execution, while fostering the maximum educational enthusiasm any life-long learner could possibly possess."
 
What that says in a nutshell is that I am so lucky to work in an environment where I can help teachers and students explore and discover different ways of learning. It is a very exciting time here at the OLC. We have tried lots of different lessons this year. Some days it is hit or miss, but most days it is amazing... Watching the teachers become more comfortable as they question and push kids is a joy in itself. Tomorrow we will host 110 GT first grade students from across 15 campuses in the district at one time. We have been planning for this day and I just hope that the weather holds up for us to have the day of instruction that I know we can have. The teachers and students seem to be excited.
 
Then next week we will become green superheroes with our Kinder groups. More than 600 kinder kids will descend on the OLC to begin their first steps of becoming "Sustainability Natives." It is our hope that we see these students throughout their years at NISD and watch them grow and make environmental impacts along the way.
 
The week after that will begin fourth grade at the OLC. This will be a marathon race as we learn to "Walk like Thoreau." and write in nature. This is a new experiment and I'm excited that we are bringing to life the words that were so promisingly written more than 150 years ago.
 
You see with so many different things at the OLC one can never get bored. My first steps here more than 21 months ago I never thought about doing a blog, never thought I would facilitate for more than 12,000 students, parents and teachers and I never realized those first steps would lead to the path of experiential learning becoming my challenge, obsession even my greatest reward. This first step, just like those first lessons, pictures, and planning days are the hardest. But when the momentum shifts and you are riding the tide of a great day of learning it makes everything worth it.
 
I hope you have a great day and we look forward to seeing you at the OLC! #itstheplacetobe
 
Sincerely,
 
CyLynn Braswell