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Is there room for a Raven in my classroom?

There used to be a joke about the ‘immune theory of education’. From my observations, it is especially true among junior high students. The theory goes something like this: once a student has been taught something, they never have to hear about it again. Don’t mention mathematics in a science class. They already had that. They are somehow now immune from ever having to ‘take’ it again. Another description might be that many students view what happens in the classroom as ‘episodic’ i.e., there is no connection between what is learned in science class and what is in the math curriculum. There are dozens of antonyms to ‘episodic’: continuous, constant, habitual, connected, permanent, continuing, enduring, and lifelong all come to mind. Many of these words may apply to learning, but perhaps the most apt antonym to ‘episodic’ in the context of education is ‘deep’. When educators talk about deep learning, they are often talking about cross-curricular teaching/learning. There are lots of topics to make the focus of a cross-curriculum project. I am going to suggest Ravens.

Ravens as spirit animals.

In my younger years, my Mom used to refer to us kids as her little chickadees. For some reason, I didn’t fancy myself as a chickadee so when my own daughter began referring to our family as the three ravens, I was totally into that. On an adventure to the American Southwest, we had purchased a small black totem raven carving she called Muninn. For most of the next decade, Muninn, our spirit raven travelled with us everywhere.

Bill Belsey and Raven’s End by Ben Gadd

I’ve known Ben Gadd for many years. I have appreciated Ben’s feedback on some of my blogs and he has supplied me with photos to illustrate the blog I did on ticks a few years ago. We bought the last eight hardcover copies from the first run of his book Raven’s End and took them to cousins in Britain. It was at an event hosted by Ben in 2014 that I met Bill Belsey. It didn’t take us long to get onto the topic of ravens. I learned from him that he taught for Rocky View Schools, but what really caught my attention was that he told me that he used Raven’s End as a cross-curricular vehicle in his upper elementary classes. He introduced me to his adult son, who, as a young student, had run home from school all excited about a new book – Raven’s End. Bill read the book and knew immediately how he was going to use it. Beginning in 2001 and continuing since, Bill inspires his students to read and discuss. The book helps him connect his students to the natural history of the Canadian Rockies. They discuss biology, environmental awareness, nature studies, art, healthy relationships (anti-bullying), and individual leadership. Since Yamnuska is almost in the backyard of Bill’s school, he regularly does weekend field trips to the mountain. In the photo you can see him reading Raven's End at Raven's End with some students and their families.

I have provided a link below to Bill’s Raven’s End website created for his students and others interested in the book.

The Ravenmaster – My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London.

I have enjoyed following Christopher Skaife, Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, on Twitter for the past several years. I was pleased to recently read his book, The Ravenmaster. I was barely a page or two in when I realized that this was another raven book that could be used for cross-curricular purposes and in this case for the higher-grade levels. Select reading could be made to elementary students, but high schoolers would probably crush through this book.

Skaife invites us to choose a favourite bird to study in detail:

If you are in any way interested in birds, and yet like me just a few years ago you don’t know where to start, I suggest studying a particular bird: don’t try to learn about every species all at once. Pick a bird you love, or which fascinates you in some way…

I think he must also have been anticipating the cross-curricular nature of his book: in addition to a very comprehensive natural history of ravens, he also stirs our interest in English history. Through a bit of autobiographical information, he describes his life in the military and how it turned him from an aimless teenager into a disciplined adult. We learn the value of leadership, teamwork, practice and routine whether it applies to the military or to working directly with the ravens.

Raven Genomics

Yes, of course you can bring in connections to genomics. Corvus corax – the common raven – is found throughout the northern hemisphere. Students could look at topics like the range, habitat and niche of the raven. Ravens were named by Linnaeus using his binomial nomenclature (genus/species) taxonomy. Students can learn about clades, speciation, admixture and evolution through recently published research about mitochondrial genomes of ravens.

I know that when I read these raven books, I was sent on my own journey of discovery. Bill Belsey has been taking his students on similar journeys for close to twenty years. Bring the ravens into your classroom!

Links of Interest:
      Raven’s End (Bill Belsey Tribute Page)
      The Ravenmaster
      Raven Mitochondrial Genomics

Is there room for a Raven in my classroom?

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