By Warren Lake, Teacher at Robert Thirsk High School
Introduction by Jaclyn Angotti, Education Director
This month, we want to spotlight one of our amazing teacher supporters of the CPAWS SAB education program. Warren Lake is a Natural Sciences teacher at Robert Thirsk High School. He has infused our classroom and outdoor programming into all his courses. Warren is constantly volunteering to help us improve and develop our programming. Over the last year, he has worked with us to develop and deliver our new Climate Connect program for high school. Warren even lets us use his students as guinea pigs for the new program, and presented with us at teachers’ convention. Over the last month, Warren’s classes have been out snowshoeing with us. Read on to hear from Warren himself about his experiences with our education programs.
I have been a high school science teacher in Alberta for 23 years. I had the pleasure of teaching for 18 years with the amazing staff and students of Canmore Collegiate High School, part of the Canadian Rockies School Division and then moved to the Calgary Board of Education to help open and teach at Robert Thirsk High School. Part of the challenge at Robert Thirsk was to develop a new program that took advantage of the Natural Resource Career and Technology Studies (CTS) credits available and create an innovative program that would attract a wide range of students.
Over the last five years, I have been working with students to develop what has now become the Natural Sciences program at Robert Thirsk. The program has grown from one class of Grade 10 students to five classes running from Grade 10 to Grade 12. The core focus of this program has been to reconnect students to their natural world by exposing them to concepts surrounding stewardship, wildlife, forestry, and agriculture while making sure that opportunities for learning outdoors are widely available.
Over the past four years, I have had the opportunity to integrate CPAWS Southern Alberta classroom programs and interpretive hikes into our Natural Sciences program at the 10, 20, and 30 level, including the new climate literacy program and hike. From the start, the work with CPAWS staff and programming has been a natural fit and supports the outcomes and competencies for all levels of Natural Science programming.
When CPAWS Southern Alberta started their interpretive snowshoe program in 2016, I was thrilled and looked at finding ways to incorporate this adventure into the journeys of my Natural Science students. This program works brilliantly at providing an opportunity to reconnect with nature during the winter period and we have built the snowshoeing trip into the Natural Science 20 and 30 level programs. The outdoor experience coupled with the wealth of knowledge provided by the CPAWS Southern Alberta naturalist/outdoor guides creates a wonderful day for both students and staff.
This winter, I booked two trips: one for the Natural Science 20 program (Grade 11) and one for the Natural Science 30 program (Grade 12). I have found that keeping the grade levels separate allows the students to interact with friends more easily and keeps the group size to a much more manageable and teachable size. To accommodate this, and keep the program fresh, we rotate the classes through the different snowshoeing sites available with CPAWS Southern Alberta program. Last year’s groups visited the Penstock Loop trail system in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, whereas this year’s groups visited Brown Lowery Provincial Park. Both trips were amazing and were supported by the knowledge and storytelling expertise of our guide, Julie Walker. Julie has worked with many of my students in the past. She is very adept at finding ways to introduce many students to the snowshoe experience for the first time and guide their attention to the many natural elements that abound during our snowshoeing excursion.
With a little luck this year, both trips occurred in mild winter weather under blue skies and lots of fresh snow. This allowed snowshoeing on both created trails as well as some off-track skill work. Students’ attention was directed to a knowledge of trees and shrubs, animal scat and tracks, and the sheer importance of spending time in nature. Lunch for one group was under the trees finding patches of sun to warm the body and the other was at the lookout with a view to the Rockies. What was amazing was to see the smiles on student’s faces, the easy way that students fell into play in the snow and the depth of understanding of the small lessons that were delivered throughout the day.
These experiences are so important and so necessary in our current busy and distracting world. The snowshoeing program offered by CPAWS Southern Alberta, as well as the Aquatic Program in Yamnuska, the Grizzlies Forever Program at Foran Grade, and the Climate Connect Program at Coal Mine Scar, will remain a centerpiece element in the Natural Science program at Robert Thirsk High School as the program continues to develop and change. The opportunity to expose students to high-quality classroom programming matched with an outdoor experience under the tutelage of experienced CPAWS staff continues to be a boon for the students who participate in the Natural Science 10-20-30 program at Robert Thirsk High School.