A magical, educational tour at Evergreen Brick Works

Continuing our Toronto place-based learning experiences, our cohort took a tour at Evergreen Brick Works, a “community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” Starting off in the education centre, we learned about this history of the Don Valley and the Brick Works, which once functioned at the site. Brick-making, an important industry in Toronto, the site was built in the Don Valley river valley in late 1880s. The location was essential to the success of the business, as the site was once the river mouth to a glacial river that buried the city eight times the height of the CN Tower. Imagine that! The factory provided bricks for many of our city’s famous landmarks, as well as providing jobs for nearly a century until its close in 1984. Revitalization projects by Evergreen, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and others began to replant and rejuvenate the area, bringing back indigenous plants and restoring buildings for public use. Students and members of the public can enjoy a mixing of cultures, history and environment — I highly recommend!

Three Sisters Farming (winter squash, corn, beans). Retrieved from https://fourstringfarm.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/tres-hermanas-late.jpg

Our professor provided us a with a worksheet, recommending that we take notes during the tour. It is useful to provide your students with a tool for focus. In past outdoor education or place-based education experiences, and from my experience as an arts educator, I ask students to create and submit a learning journal. Students are invited to take notes, make drawings, record digital memos, take pictures, collect fallen specimens and more. In addition to their journalling activity, which gives students an opportunity to reflect during an experience, it is valuable to consider asking questions of your students to provide opportunity for critical thinking and analysis. For example, I may wish to ask my students to consider how their landscape at school is similar or different from the landscape in the Don Valley and ask them to propose ideas for why it is similar or different. I might direct them to think deeper and more holistically by asking them to imagine how students from all background could benefit from an experience like the one they experience at Brick Works, or how the world would look if we incorporated Three Sisters farming practices into our daily diets. Activities for students should be engaging enough that students are actively taking part and they feel ownership over their creation, as with a journal. However, any activity should not be disruptive to the tour guide, nor to the environment around. Students should be invited to explore their environments respectfully, which may require an additional lesson before the visit. Furthermore, any activity students are required to undertake should not be so mentally challenging that the student is unable to make the most of playing in the great outdoors and truly experiencing nature. Asking students to think about all their senses, asking them to listen and to smell their environment gives students the opportunity, in my experience, to be mindful of their positions in nature and the world.

Local Ontario tree leaves. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/oE2CWC.

As a part of my research, I am investigating how teachers identify with and incorporate ecojustice and social justice in Environmental Education. I’d like to take this opportunity to present some pertinent definitions from Martusewicz, Edmundson & Lupinacci (2011), a team of researchers who have presented a resources for educators for ecojustice. I’ve commented after each definition with ideas for incorporating these definitions into your classroom. If you wish to learn more, I highly recommend their book, Ecojustice Education: Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities (2011) or visiting their website here.

“Anthropocentrism: Centric form of thinking that positions humans at the center and at the top of a hierarchy of all living and non-living beings.”

  • Challenge your students by asking them to consider how plants, animals and humans are different. Ask them if they are the same. Challenge them further by asking them to imagine a world where we thought of plants and animals as our equals. Many of our younger students may do this already if they have an pre-existing affinity for animals and plants. Still interested? Check out David Sobel’s Beyond Ecophobia (1996).
Retrieved from https://goo.gl/k2fhHV

“Bio-diversity: The natural world is multi-layered and interdependent — from the ecology of micro-organisms to the ecology of plants, animals, and humans; renewal of species is dependent upon the diversity of living systems; biodiversity as the basis of life; to undermine it is to undermine life itself; the opposite of an anthropocentric way of thinking.”

  • Consider the importance of bio-diversity. This is especially great for grades 4, 5, 6 and 7. Give students a scavenger hunt to find various plants and animals in their environment. Have them compare it with a similar scavenger hunt at their schools.
  • Teach students the value of the Three Sisters Farming and incorporate other valuable lessons from Indigenous ways of knowing.
  • Recommended by our exceptional tour guide, Luke, take the opportunity to help students identify the trees of Ontario. Did you know pine needles are round, spruce needles are square and fir needles are flat? I didn’t until this tour. Additionally, as indicated by Luke, knowing your trees has it’s benefits, similar to if you are at a social event and you know those around you, you feel more comfortable. The same goes for plants and animals!

“The commons: The non-monetized relationships, practices and traditions that people across the world use to survive and take care of one another on a day-to-day basis. This includes both the “environmental commons,” such as air, water, seeds and forests, and the “cultural commons,” which include practices, skills and knowledge used to support mutual well-being.”

  • Help your students to define their commons and ask them how they hope to use and hopefully protect these commons in the future.
  • Use map-making to do this, combining it with a lesson in geography.

“EcoJustice: the understanding that local and global ecosystems are essential to all life; challenging the deep cultural assumptions underlying modern thinking that undermine those systems; and the recognition of the need to restore the cultural and environmental commons.”

  • Students are taught about equity, but it is equally important to teach them about our environment, as social equity relies on environmental justice.
  • Give your students opportunities to like culture to the environment and society to the environment. Incorporating Indigenous Ways of Knowledge for their inherent connections and relationship to land and natural world will provide new and valuable perspective for thinking about the world they live in.

Reference

Martusewicz, R. A., Edmundson, J. & Lupinacci, J. (2011). Ecojustice Education: Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities. (New York: Routledge)

Sobel, D. (1996). Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society and The Myrin Institute.