Friday, November 14, 2014

Overcoming the fear of nature and the unkown to experience more.

Have you ever feared the outdoors?  Often times when people
 venture outside they have fears that are created by previous experiences, society, friends, television or the imagination. At the Outdoor Learning Center there are thousands of visitors and each of them has their own fears, experiences and tolerances while being outside. Maybe the frigid weather and wind we are experiencing is something you do not enjoy, or maybe the cold gives you a sense of security concerning the wildlife and insect activity.

Whatever your experience was in the past, or maybe your preconceived notions of what lay ahead, dictates how you react in nature.

Mother Nature is a thing of beauty, she can make us surrender all from a mountain top and hold us hostage to the very depths of our fears in an ocean blue. But no matter where you go nature can truly take your breath away if you choose. In the past three years I have learned that enjoying nature can be a choice. I grew up on a large ranch in East Texas, behind the pine curtain, with few neighbors and no stores nearby. The hill in which my home sat, served-up some of the best sunrises and sunsets amongst the trees while green costal fields dotted with black cattle painted a picture of serenity. I took that view for granted for 18 years of my life while living on the ranch. Now I see things through the eyes of the OLC visitors.

Often times I see adults so afraid of what they will encounter that they do not see the forest or the trees. We have students in such a hurry for the next thing, they do not observe what is going on around them. Each time we host a group at the OLC it is our goal to slow things down and help students to see the world around them. We try to help teachers to embrace the opportunities at the OLC as a chance to grow internally, however often times their fear is so great and so internalized that they struggle with relaxing in nature.

Although I was exposed to the outdoors a great deal growing up, I have always feared snakes and did not enjoy wasp or scorpions. Being immersed in an area where I may encounter those things has taught me so much about how I control my fears and it is up to me to make the best of each day. I remember the anxiety I experienced at the unknown of what I would encounter on a summer day at the OLC. Now, three years and many experiences later, I do not shy away for what I may come across. Instincts and education have taken me to a new place in my mind and allowed me to work through any fears I may have.

This past month when we had Schluter day at the OLC I was once again reminded of the anxiety people face when being outside. We had spectacular weather, sunny with the warmth of an Indian Summer day, it was certain, there was no place better to be than at the OLC. This was the first time we have hosted an entire campus for a day of learning at the OLC, so our anxiety of having more than 600 students, teachers and volunteers rotate through various stations over a five hour period, was a bit high.  But to our amazement, not only were we able to make the day work, it was successful. People were happy!

Students' excitement for the day was palatable. Teachers who had anxiety about taking on the challenges of the outdoors, were so focused on their jobs with the students that they really didn't have time to dwell on their fears, even though I am sure they were present. Parents were so absorbed in their children's joy of being in this type of setting and so appreciative of the districts commitment to preserving such a precious piece of land, that they did not revert back to the early questions of wildlife and weather. Truly it was a special day where students embraced the natural setting. Learning, togetherness, enjoyment all of it was experienced outside.

I had a fear going into this day. I didn't want to fail or have students get hurt. I worried over pumpkin launchers and high school students. But at some point in the day my focus and resolve shifted. I realized I could not fear the unknown and needed to embrace the day. When I did, I saw STEM students doing amazing work teaching children, I focused in on the teacher leaders who were enjoying time with their students. More importantly I saw the joy on a child's face when they visually identified a scavenger hunt word (something I will never forget). Although the days are different, remembering Senior days and STEM days at he OLC helped to put my day in perspective and enjoy what was before me.  We could have allowed our fear of the unknown or failure dictate the day, but thankfully we chose to take a chance.

Fears come in all different packages; our fear of failure, finishing, acceptance and success.  I wonder if our fears in certain aspects of education could be overcome by repeated exposure to those things we fear most? Could we get to a place where our anxiety of something can be undone by instinct and education?

Henry David Thoreau wrote: I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.
Each step you take, may you take them with a conscious endeavor in mind and seek the things you wish to find. Work through your fears, and maybe you will experience something that will elevate your life.

Have a great weekend!


CyLynn Braswell
Outdoor Learning Center Coordinator
#nisdolc @nisdolc

Friday, October 3, 2014


There are the moments where you "step out on a limb because that's where the fruit is."  At the OLC the myriad of opportunities for such risk taking is boundless. Each day we work to try a unique approach and venture into a place that can produce fear of the unknown. Now this fear is not conjured from the bump in the night, panic inducing visions some of us equate with fear, however anxiety of our own failure exist. We want so badly to be successful that often times we are afraid to take a chance, step out of bounds or go for the next level.

Students preparing to launch seed pods.
The OLC is dedicated to the concept of No Fear of Failure or in twitter speak #nofearoffailure! At the beginning of the year I remember agonizing over the new program for fifth grade, but I knew it was time to try a newfangled approach. The first day brought many nervous inquiries from teachers, students and parent chaperones (and myself) about "Are we doing this right?". Life would be easy if there was a formula that allowed us to operate on autopilot. However, the saying is true "there is more than one way to skin a cat "(by the way we do not do that at the OLC) and experiential learning at the OLC allows for different approaches to every problem. As in years past, students and teachers are asked to try innovative ways to approach daily difficulties. Unfortunately not all methodologies work.

Students working in teams to make seed pods.  
Students who attend the OLC Experience for fifth grade have been asked to focus on three major concepts;  being a team, problem solving and most importantly finish the task to the best of their ability. During these two days students participate in specific leadership training and team bonding activities, create wildflower seed pods, and work in oversized demonstration stream tables. Each one of the activities have an element that may require the student to step out of their proverbial box of comfort and try something new, work with someone different, or lead by example.  

Teachers have all the fun.
In an effort to help kids practice skills in problem solving and measuring we have asked them to create a seed mixture that can be made into tiny little pods that are placed all around the OLC. These seed pods are composed of clay, wildflower seeds, compost and water. The mixture itself can be a bit messy and quite frankly I think it is great to see kids getting their hands dirty. It is truly eye opening to see how many students are not used to getting dirty or feel completely out of their element in this challenge.  Most notable are the students desperate to be "RIGHT". No one likes being wrong or failing, however we have students who literally fear the failure.

Each day at the OLC we like to push just a bit harder so we can reach beyond the scope of failure and see success. Nothing is more rewarding than trying a new approach to an old problem and have students "GET IT". But I must say watching students struggle and fight through a problem is pretty rewarding- even if they do not finish the first time. The failure that happens in the struggle is precious and if we revisit that failure we can work through the problem to find success. It can be difficult as an adult to watch students struggle, however we have to check our "fear of their failure". There are days when I just want to give everyone the answer, but I know if I do...they will never work through their fears and grow.

It is great to see a child smile.
Sometimes we see students who have such a fear of not completing the challenge or not being the best they chose to not even try (they literally never start). If we allow ourselves to never start then we never have to worry about failure, however if we never start then we never find success. Each day if we push ourselves through our own sense of complacency and compliance while moving towards our fear, imagine how much more bountiful the harvest will be. The Northwest ISD Outdoor Learning Center is committed to moving towards the furthest limits of the limbs and if we fall we will climb back up with No Fear of Failure.

Food for thought:
Do you challenge yourself to such an extreme, that it is possible you will fail? How often? Do you seek opportunities to grow through failure? Or do you walk the line to where you know you will always be successful?

Have a great weekend and we look forward to seeing your #NoFearofFailure @nisdolc
Thanks so much to Ted Twa, Terry Chaler, Traci Gomez, Melissa Roberts, Susan Jacobs, Tricia Hanson and Dawn Warren, your No Fear of giving ideas has made for a great new season at the OLC.


CyLynn Braswell
Outdoor Learning Center Coordinator

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.


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