By Pam Matthews, Faculty

There are more benefits to learning at the lake than just the ease of delivering and receiving the content: there is a growing body of research that shows that kids who spend their time outside are happier, more creative and less stressed.

I often take my students outside to learn about science, and one of my favourite places is Killarney Lake on Bowen Island. It is a perfect place to study a lake ecosystem. Recently, I took my students out for the “great Killarney lake scavenger hunt”. Armed with clip boards and iPads, the students headed around the lake to observe and record evidence of lake ecosystem organisms. As we walked around the lake, I pointed out beaver lodges, woodpecker trees, nurse logs, fungi communities and riparian zones. The students puzzled through geologic events, hydrology, and symbiotic relationships. They were engaged and focused, and there was lots of laughter and silliness; we took breaks to slide down the burned out log, turn our faces to the sun while standing on the boardwalk, stopped to listen for the frogs, and took a group photo at the teepee stump.

Killarney Lake was flooded and enlarged more than 70 years ago and it has become a rich ecosystem with a diversity of species. Along the trail I can teach about seasonal rivers, forest fires, beavers, and human-caused disturbances and ecological succession. Students are able to witness these concepts first-hand and they are much more engaged and focused then during a classroom setting. The floodplain is especially interesting because over the seasons we can observe its flow and study things like erosion and deposition. Over the years the river has changed its course on its way to the lake as it continues to deposit rock and sand from the hillside above the lake. While the geology is interesting to explain, student also wonder about the organisms that have to adapt to only having water available for part of the year. On this year’s hike, as we wandered along the river bed, we encountered snails, toads and insects. The students realized that life is thriving even in a dried up creek.

There are more benefits to learning at the lake than just the ease of delivering and receiving the content: there is a growing body of research that shows that kids who spend their time outside are happier, more creative and less stressed. There is also evidence that teachers become more confident, creative and enthusiastic about their work. I feel more energetic and alive when I am teaching outdoors. The effects of the fresh air, quiet sounds of nature, and the beauty are lasting, and we always return to the classroom with a sense of enthusiasm and renewed curiosity. I will always look forward to taking my students to the beautiful outdoor classrooms. Each year, I return to the lake for ecology, the beaches for marine studies, and the meadow to meet with Will Husby to learn about the insect ecosystems. There is so much to learn on the island and I am grateful for the opportunities to share it all with my students.

Here are some of the things that my students said about their recent trip around the lake:
“I learned that mushrooms and trees have their own way of communicating. I learned that forest fires ar not always bad – that they can actually help the forest”.
“I learned that woodpeckers are actually helping the trees by eating the insects.”
“I found it cool that there are rivers that are empty in the summer but they run fast in the winter. I also like the tree that grew out of an old stump and the stump has decayed away and left a tree that looks like it is standing on its roots!”
“Killarney lake is magnificent!”
“I learned that you can’t catch leeches with your hands.”

“The lake was so pretty. I loved all the lilipads – this was a much better way of leaning than sitting in the classroom”
“I liked the flood plane that made a rocky beach.”
“I enjoyed being in the forest and observing the calm forest around us.”
“I liked the wood slide and the tree frogs”
“I liked the calm breeze and the warm air”
“The whole thing….”
“Walking on the board walk above the plants made me feel like I was floating”