Bringing Creativity into Sustainability

I was lucky enough to spend some time learning firsthand from Mitchell Thomashow two summers back, a wonderful scholar, educator, and writer who has been influential on my own development in environmental & sustainability education (ESE).  His EcoIdentity book was one of the first books on ESE that I read years ago, and now I’m working through his Bringing the Biosphere home (also an excellent read.)  Mitch’s latest work focuses on the Ecological Imagination, recognizing the important role of expression, imagination, and creativity in working towards sustainability   (http://www.mitchellthomashow.com/ecological-imagination/ )  As part of the workshop he gave at OISE, he mentioned a book published by the Museum of Modern Art called BioDesign:  Nature+Science+Creativity (http://www.biology-design.com/ ).  It’s a fascinating look at how we can partner with natural organisms and their ecological design capabilities to create sustainable products, buildings, and communities.  It takes the idea of environmental art-making to a whole new level.  MOMA has posted a preview of the book on their website to give you a glimpse into a more sustainable future…I just need to find a way to do this, even if small-scale, with students.  Ideas anyone?

Mapping Sensory Experiences of Place

I taught a professional development course for teachers from the Toronto District School Board in July – always a pleasure to work with teachers who are so passionate about environmental learning that they give up three weeks of their summer vacation to learn more about it! I was pleasantly surprised to see such an interest in environmental art-making – there were lots of great ideas shared around the table, evidence of the experimentation going on in Toronto schools about how to use the arts to support eco-literacy. Many expressed their enjoyment of the ‘sensory mapping’ activity we did on our first day together – such a simple way to get learners to connect with and reflect on the power of place-based education. The teachers were asked to capture their sensory experience of the local park into the form of a pastel drawing. This requires them to consider how a sound translates into a line, a touch into a colour, or a smell into a shape. This proved to be a great way to get them to focus on the place, and to remove the inhibition that some have about drawing as all of the drawings turn out abstractly. Later in the course we talked about the power of ‘creative mapping’, drawing on the books The Map as Art (by Katherine Harmon) and Mapmaking with Children (by David Sobel.) Mapping and sensory experience can go hand in hand to help learners of all ages experience the environments in which we live in creative ways.

Sensory mapping

Pinning my passion for eco-art

My new favourite creativity tool is a digital app called Pinterest.  This app is easy to learn and use, and is perfectly geared to visual learners.  Think of it as a series of (digital) bulletin boards that allow you to save images anywhere on the Internet in an easily accessible way – no more file folders of clip art, lists of URLs, or bookmarked webpages.  With the Pinterest app installed on your favourite digital device, you ‘pin’ an image by clicking on the ‘pin it’ button (saving not only the image to your bulletin board, but its original URL as well. You can access other people’s bulletin boards by searching under key words…which (finally) connects back to environmental art.  Pinterest has many boards related to nature art, land art, ecology and art, environment and art – there is a board for just about any variation on eco-art you’d like.  I’ve started to compile a couple of boards in this area – check them out under the names ‘art & nature’, ‘art in schoolyards’, ‘upcycling’, ‘environmental art’ and ‘eco-art ideas’.  If you’re up and running on Pinterest, send me your board names if they connect to these topics, and I’ll re-pin your fascinating finds!

Going DEEPER

I have been focusing specifically on eco-art education in this blog since its inception, but have just finished working on a major document related to environmental and sustainability education and so would like to share it here.  Called DEEPER – the Deepening Environmental Education in Pre-Service Education Resource – it aims to support and inspire faculty, staff, and students to deepen the implementation of environmental education in initial teacher education programs across the province.

 This resource guide is a substantial publication that is the first of its kind.  It was a collaborative effort informed by the input of over 60 participants of the DEEPER provincial roundtable that we hosted at OISE last May.  Since that time, we have coordinated a team of writers and reviewers from faculties of education across Ontario who have shared strategies, practices, and resources to encourage initial teacher educators, teacher candidates and staff to improve the breadth and depth of environmental education in their programs, faculties and institutions.

 It has been a rewarding journey working on the DEEPER guide; I have learned so much about the field of environmental education, and its practice in Ontario teacher education programs, and there is so much more going on than I had anticipated.  Most importantly I have forged new connections with other environmental educators working across the province, which was in fact one of our motivations for writing this document in the first place.  I hope you will take the time to look through it; so much of what we have compiled could be applied in school or community settings.  I certainly hope that it helps you to go DEEPER into your own practice of environmental education moving forward.

The DEEPER guide can be found at:  

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ese/DEEPER.html 

 

Deeper Cover 2014

Get outside and draw!

I had the pleasure recently of attending a workshop led by naturalist Clare Walker Leslie, who is a prolific artist and author.  Clare is a passionate proponent of art-based nature journalling, well-evidenced in her many journals.  Seeing her journals is a delight – they are rich with drawings of the natural world, observations, and connections to her experiences.  Her drawing style is beautiful – in some cases, quick and gestural to capture the shape of a bird before it flies off into the bush; in others, detailed, well-worked watercolours or coloured pencil drawings created in her studio from outdoor sketches and field guides.  She spends a lot of time in classrooms with students, encouraging them to use drawing (or mark-making, as she prefers to call it) as a way to closely observe the flora and fauna around them – an important step towards developing their ecological literacy.  Clare delivered three workshops in Toronto, including one at the Master of Teaching Environmental Education conference at OISE.  It was refreshing to get outside – yes, even in a cold Ontario winter – just to draw, and to be reminded of the power of journaling as an ongoing learning activity for learners of all ages.  For more info on Clare, or to order one of her books, please visit her website at:  

 http://www.clarewalkerleslie.com/index.htm

Art Education & Eco-Awareness

As part of a conference I presented at in the fall (All Hands in the Dirt, at Evergreen Brick Works) I was asked to present on how to keep students making art outside when the weather turns cold.  That day we did some outdoor stenciling, but it reminded me of the power of taking art learners of all ages outside year-round to learn from the natural world.  A colleague in the States, Heather Anderson, has written a new book on just this topic that’s worth a look:  Art Education & Eco-Awareness:  A Teacher’s Guide to Art and the Natural Environment.  This resource is a compilation of art lessons on land, water, sky, plants and wildlife, all accompanied by colour illustrations of professional artists’ work on these themes and exemplars of children’s work.  For those looking for new ideas to get your students outside to make art all year long, this is a great start.  It’s available from Davis Publications:   

http://www.davisart.com/Portal/K-12-Curriculum/Art-Education-and-Eco-Awareness/A-Teacher%e2%80%99s-Guide-to-Art-the-Natural-Environment-129587.aspx

Maybe there’s something in the water in BC…

I had the pleasure of catching up with Lisa Lipsett recently, an artist from Salt Spring Island (on the West Coast of Canada) who is doing some fascinating work as an artist and educator in connecting to nature through art-making.  (There seems to be lots of environmental art happening in British Columbia – may it’s all that makes for such fertile ground!)  She’s designed a process she calls Creative Nature Connection, that is, in her words “a nature-inspired practice of artful connection to ourselves, each other and the world.”  This is more than simply art-making in the great outdoors, but involves connecting to the self and with nature by “letting the inside out, and letting the outside in.”  She’s written a book about this called Beauty Muse: Painting in Communion with Nature, and runs programs and workshops around the country as requested.  She also has a terrific website, well-worth a visit to learn more about her approach.  Find it at:

http://www.creativebynature.org/