Vedder middle teachers Chris Falk (left) and Jason Shea have started the Outdoor Education Academy at the school.

Vedder middle teachers Chris Falk (left) and Jason Shea have started the Outdoor Education Academy at the school.

Taking education outside the box

Two teachers at Vedder middle school are changing the way education is delivered as Chilliwack knows it.

Two teachers at Vedder middle school are changing the way education is delivered as Chilliwack knows it.

Instead of teaching in the bricks-and-mortar style classroom, Jason Shea and Chris Falk will be teaching outdoors. Instead of seating their students in uniform rows, lecturing from textbooks, and scribbling notes on the whiteboard, they’ll be hiking mountains, kayaking down rivers, exploring endless acres of wilderness. All while learning about science and social studies.

This is the Outdoor Education Academy.

“These kids are not just looking at books and pictures, they’re actually going to be experiencing the courses hands-on,” said school principal Greg See. “I love the idea that we’re taking kids out of the classroom, that they’re learning beyond classroom walls.

“To me, this is totally exciting. It’s what education should be about.”

The academy, which was approved by the school district last spring, is a move towards 21st century learning – the current buzz word in public education – that would scrap the “one-size-fits-all” form of schooling and replace it with a model designed more to individual student needs and skills.

Shea and Falk believe the Outdoor Education Academy is suited perfectly.

The 27 students enrolled are athletically sound, they enjoy the outdoors, and while some are quite adept in science and socials, approximately 40 per cent are not.

What this course will do for them, said Falk, is provide them with a unique, interesting, hands-on treatment of those subjects.

“Everything they’re going to be learning, they could learn in a book,” said Falk. “But when they’re out in the field, using different tools, and seeing it first hand, now they can see a purpose behind it.”

Instead of looking at pictures of plants in a textbook, they’ll be hiking different terrains and identifying the different plant species native to Chilliwack. Instead of studying astrology from a book, they’ll be camping out under the stars, identifying the major solar system components with their own eyes. Instead of reading page after page on Canada’s aboriginal community, they’ll be discussing local history with Chilliwack Sto:lo.

“We’re in an area that has so much history,” said Shea. “Early explorers have been through here, surveyors have been through here,” and with the Grade 9 First Nations component in social studies, “who better to learn it from than local experts.”

And with Falk and Shea at the helm, there surely won’t be a dull moment.

Shea, who’s nicknamed the “outdoor guru” by his peers, is an avid white water paddler, kayaker, rock climber, hiker, skier, trail runner, backpacker and general mountaineer. His teaching counterpart, Falk, has worked for children’s camps, has designed high ropes courses, coached several sports teams, taught gym class, and loves snowboarding, camping, hiking, backcountry exploring and more.

“This academy is about experiencing new things,” said Falk. “Our job is to take it to the next level.”

Still, the academy is not a get-out-of-school-free card.

Even though students will be engaging in spectacular physical activities – climbing Elk Mountain, white water kayaking down the Vedder River, back country skiing at Manning, and more – they will still be studying the academics, they will still be required to present their knowledge in a variety of formats, they will still be expected to excel.

“We’re not throwing everything out,” said Shea. “We made sure the kids understood they’re still going to be doing classroom work.”

For principal Greg See, the academy, which will alternate between in-class and nature-learning sessions every other day, is a move in the right direction.

“I see this as a way for more students to succeed, for more students to get a higher quality, more sophisticated education,” said See. “It’s real. It’s relevant. These kids are going to be touching, seeing, experiencing new things.”

They’re going to be learning.

Just Posted

Chilliwack Fire Department on scene at a house fire on Boundary Road and No. 4 Road on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (David Seltenrich/ Facebook)
Fire crews respond to house fire on border of Chilliwack and Abbotsford

Flames, dark smoke reported coming from front of house when crews arrived

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

Pig races at the 147th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 10, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack Fair plans in-person event for 149th annual exhibition

Will be first large-scale, in-person event in over a year, provided regulations continue as planned

Vivian Le is one of two local recipients of a Beedie Luminaries scholarship.
Chilliwack students overcome adversity to win Beedie Luminaries scholarships

Sardis secondary’s Vivian Le and G.W. Graham’s Alisa Gusakova are among 112 students receiving money

Crews work on the construction of Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt near the Vedder River on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack School District shuffling catchment areas as Stitó:s Lá:lém totí:lt construction continues

SD33 is looking for public input about proposed catchment and feeder school options

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read