- Professional Learning
Every spring, Grade 4 students from Upper Canada College and Branksome Hall come up to the Norval Outdoor School for a 3-day cycling adventure. This trip is a big deal, the kids look forward to it for years. At this year-end assembly, the UCC Grade 5 boys were asked to share their favourite single memory of the entire UCC Primary program, and nearly half of them picked the Grade 4 bike trip.
In April 2020, the Grade 4 students were very disappointed when it became apparent that we would not be able to run the bike trip this year. Their teachers asked if there was any way we could organize the bike trip online and have the students cycle with their families. While very exciting, this idea had some big obstacles to overcome. Some students were not confident enough to bike yet. Some did not have adults to supervise them cycling. Some were not allowed to leave their homes. Our model had to be very flexible to allow maximum participation.
The key aspects to the Virtual Cycling Trip were:
- We had the students imagine they were cycling to Norval along an actual route of a given distance.
- We gave the students two weeks to cumulatively travel that distance.
- They could achieve this target by almost any form of self-propelled travel including cycling, running, scootering, roller blading or walking.
- We created a conversion chart for static exercises. For example, 100 jumping jacks counted as 0.5 KM.
- Everyone logged their kilometres onto a group Padlet. They were also encouraged to post a photo or video of themselves, and/or a screen shot showing their cycling route. This allowed everyone to see and even cheer on their classmates.
- We copied each post onto individual Padlets for every participant, so that each person had their own personal record of their accomplishment.
- We divided the trip into segments, every kilometer at first, then more spread apart as they progressed. At the end of each segment, the students would earn a stylized “badge” for that segment, plus a special map of that part of the trip and a high-speed video showing what cycling that section of the trip looks like in real life.
- At the end of two weeks, we celebrated everyone who participated, including a slideshow of the photos, videos and screenshots from the Padlet.
The virtual bike trip model allowed us to integrate different themes to each trip. The UCC trip theme was “Ride For Heart”. The boys tracked their activity, and in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada each boy raised funds towards critical heart disease and stroke research. Over 80% of the students participated in the Virtual Cycling Trip. Many logged well beyond the target distance. One student cycled over 150 km in the two week period.
The theme of the Branksome Hall Grade 4 was “Every Trail has a Story”. The girls imagined that they were cycling along Caledon Trailway. In the words of Branksome Hall teacher Marianne Long:
“The students were excited to receive badges for each milestone completed, as well as video clips of historical checkpoints along the trail and photos they could use for their virtual backgrounds in Zoom. They also participated in a virtual river study, where Norval teachers captured and shared water creatures such as crayfish and mayfly nymphs. They completed an archeological dig escape room and learned about the history of Norval. And what better way to celebrate the outdoors than with an evening campfire to share stories, songs and to celebrate our year. We appreciated the creativity and commitment of the Norval staff for supporting us in bringing Norval to the students. This was truly a team effort and an experience the Grade 4 students will not forget.”
As outdoor educators, we are used to having to be flexible in our teaching approach. Still, moving to teach experiential education in a virtual platform was a huge challenge. The model we used for the Virtual Cycling Trips worked very well, allowing students to have their own individual outdoor experiences as well as a shared community experience. We are excited by what we learned through this process, and look forward to applying this “virtual trip” approach to different programs in the future.
Bill Elgie, Brent Evans & the Norval Outdoor School Teaching Team.