Mill River education kick-off event
The importance of “slowing down” and “paying attention” were key takeaways for participants in the Mill River nature journaling workshop on a balmy afternoon in early October. Seven educators and five River Guides gathered along the Mill River trail for the 2021 kick-off event of River Inquiry via Exploration of our Region. Teachers spanned grade levels from early elementary through higher education and settings from community gardens to environmental clubs. Carol Berner and Jan Szymaszek co-facilitated the activity, welcoming new and returning teachers to the Mill River educator network — an initiative launched in 2019 and interrupted by the pandemic. Several participants knew each other and were excited and grateful to be reconnecting on a sunny afternoon by the river.
Event mapping from Pebble Beach
Jan led the group along the Mill River trail to “Pebble Beach,” a name given by 3rd graders who frequented this flotsam-strewn meander during their annual river study. Carol introduced the group to a journaling activity called Event Mapping, in which an explorer records their wandering path with a mix of words, images and symbols. “The purpose is to create a trail of encounters as you, the explorer, move through a particular place, at a particular moment, asking, ‘What’s going on here?’” (from Hannah Hinchman, A Trail Through Leaves). Carol invited participants to disperse and explore along the river for the next thirty minutes, before reconvening to debrief their experiences.
Slowing down, paying attention and questioning
“I sat on a sun-drenched rock I’d never seen before,” shared one teacher who had walked her dogs along this trail for years. Karen wondered, “how could there be tadpoles this time of year?” Katie perched on a boulder, feet dangling in the water, writing and sketching. Natalee found poop bags everywhere she looked and concluded: “We need to educate others about taking care of our environment for all to enjoy. I love nature and dogs, but we are not alone… one dog poop left on the river is one too many.” Flotsam of all kinds caught people’s attention, raising questions about how the river shapes the land and how people shape the river.
Takeaways and bringing the experience to students
De-briefing their experiences, participants highlighted the quality of time: “Taking time to settle in, slow down and notice” and “how valuable it is to observe undistracted for a good length of time.” Teachers were eager to bring this experience to their students. Sally Imbibo facilitated event mapping with the JFK Middle School Environmental Club and reflected, “every student was totally engaged.” The October kick-off event inspired participants and facilitators alike to feel “appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to be in a beautiful place,” and to request “more of the same!” in anticipation of future workshops.
Looking ahead: next steps for River Inquiry
Look for a survey requesting YOUR input on future River Inquiry educational opportunities. Here are some of the ideas generated by participants in the October workshop:
Watercoloring with water from the river.
Photography of the river’s edge.
Poetry writing about the river.
Hands -on science experiment with the river.
Could you do this with an ELL lens?
More open-ended experiences like this.
Learning about history and natural history of the river
More of the same!!
Virtual launch of children’s book about Mill River flood (coming in January, 2022)
Author, artist and educator Nancy Meagher will host a live reading of her book Millicent and the Day it Rained Buttons, a lively re-telling of the 1874 Mill River flood featuring real-life factory girls, historic artifacts and a spotted brook trout named Millicent. Explore with other educators how this book might inspire and inform classroom curriculum across disciplines of social studies, art, engineering, poetry, mapping and civics.
Post written by Carol Berner
Photography by Brita Dempsey
With thanks to John Sinton, Gaby Immerman & the River Guides:
Karen Bryant, Brita Dempsey, Wendy and Freeman Stein, Jan Szymaszek.