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books Stephanie Burgart

Confessions of a Bibliophile

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

It has been almost two years now since I graduated with my Masters in Education from Western Washington University (WWU) and North Cascades Institute’s unique graduate program. My memories are filled with the laughter of Mountain School students, Professor John Miles’ New “Hampsha” accent and endless views of Diablo Lake. While I miss the sunshine, quiet and darkness up there in the mountains, there are days where I also long for the library, research and studying. It may be shocking to some, but it’s true: we did actually do traditional learning and coursework during the residency. With images of the graduate students gallivanting around snowy peaks, dense forests and playing in the sunshine, it is easy for parents and friends to wonder if we were actually trying to “learn anything” in the program. Of course, it’s a very big “yes”.

We were all there to learn. Sure, Dr. Miles did an excellent job of getting us out into the world we preach about, but there were also the necessary times of studying inside. You can’t read heaps of homework out in the rain, at least not everyday. Deer Creek Shelter, for example, is a wonderful place for respite, but I doubt a LAN cord to connect to the servers will reach that far (though I’ve no doubt Nick Mikula, one of my fellow graduates, tried it at least once). Large portions of curriculum writing, nonprofit work and research for various projects all happen in front of the screen or book, but one of the best parts was the individuality of all this learning.

The amount and types of research varied from student to student. Taken out of context, some of the reading we do as experiential environmental educators could come across as crazy. For me, I’m pretty sure the WWU library has me flagged, and with the recent National Security Agency and “Big Brother” news going on, I wouldn’t blame them. I’m into some pretty amazing stuff.

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Title hunt

Gone huntin’

October 24th, 2009 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Eyes on the side like to hide. Eyes on the front like to hunt.” With rhymes like these, we begin to introduce students to the energy relationships between prey and predator here in the North Cascades.  For this fall season’s Mountain School Ranger Program, fifth grade students examine a variety of mammal skulls.  There is a Cougar (sp. Felus concolor), a Black bear (Ursus Americanus), a Gray wolf (Canus lupus) and a Wolverine (Gulo gulo). The position of their eyes face forward, all of them serving as hunters in these mountains.

Among the group of hunters also exists skulls of a Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) and Black-tailed, or mule, deer (Odocoileus hemionus), the side position of their eyes indicative of their status as the hunted, the prey. The sense of wonder in these students’ faces as they examine eye position, teeth shape and cranial size in their attempts to, as young scientists, figure out which skull fits which mammal, is clear and inspiring to me as an educator.

Observing from the sidelines, I have, at times, seen students compare their own teeth, their own eye positions and jaw bones with those of the mammal skulls they have yet to determine on the tables. Watching them, I wonder — how do they view themselves in relation to these animals?  We are mammals, too. Are we, as humans, the hunter or the hunted?  Or, in a child’s mind, are we humans seen as separate from this ecosystem, outside of the realm of observation and inquiry these students so strongly exercise during Mountain School?

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