An exciting movement is afoot in land-use planning and a local teacher is taking it into the classroom.
Systems ecologist Barry Wilson and Salmon Arm Secondary teacher Dave Ramsay are so excited by the implications of a holistic approach to planning, they have formed the non-profit BC Tomorrow Society, whose mandate is to help students and teachers better understand sustainable planning.
They will share their ideas and enthusiasm at an event at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3 at the Salmar Classic Theatre as part of Okanagan College’s MacQuarrie Institute Lecture series.
Systems Ecology: Holistic Planning for Today and Tomorrow is not simply a lecture. The event is designed to be a night of engagement, where people learn about and buy into the concept that the survival of the planet and her inhabitants are in the hands of the people.
BC Tomorrow is developing an online simulator that uses cutting-edge geographical information systems (GIS) technology and satellite imagery that will allow users to see how one decision can affect another, be it for good or ill.
With understanding and excitement growing as more and more individuals, community groups and teachers are exposed to the concept, Wilson and Ramsay accepted an Okanagan College invitation to take it to the greater community.
On Feb. 3, Wilson will describe systems ecology and explain why it is so important when making decisions to balance human activity such as settlement, development, use of natural resources and tourism with a view to the needs of all – humans, animals and the environment.
In what he refers to as the new old way, Wilson says holistic planning hearkens back to the First Nations’ way of looking at the planet.
“Their view is that the world is one system and all things are connected, whereas Western science is in the habit of looking at different land uses in isolation,” he says.
Using a short video and a PowerPoint presentation, Ramsay will explain how the concept is one that merges well with changes in curriculum.
“The provincial education system is being further enhanced by moving from a compartmentalized system to a more holistic one that gives students a chance to explore the subject matter within the context of big ideas,” says Ramsay, pointing out that rather than learning one subject in a biology class, followed by another subject in an economics class, followed by a socials class, etc., students are being exposed to a combined perspective.
“In a watershed, it’s even more important because that’s how watersheds function; they’re linked, they’re complex, they’re messy, multidisciplinary… like the real world,” he says. “Education is going this way, the watershed functions this way and BC Tomorrow is the tool that can meet the needs of both.”
BC Tomorrow is based on an Alberta program already successfully in use in that province, engaging students in interactive exploration of land use in local watersheds, teaching them critical thinking skills and improving their understanding of system dynamics.
While he has been working with the concept, Ramsay had not yet met the Alberta Tomorrow creators.
He was scheduled to leave for Calgary yesterday to do just that.
“I am now at the point when I need to go and immerse myself in what they are doing and absorb their knowledge to apply to our classroom application,” he said Friday, noting Alberta Tomorrow supports teachers in classrooms from Grade 4 to 12. “It provides a tremendous advantage; they’ve done a lot of work getting to this point and they have a lot of experience for us to build on.”
As well as garnering support from the Alberta organization, Wilson says Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo has been supportive since pre-MLA days and has offered to help them explore access to gaming funds and provide avenues for the men to talk with ministry officials.
“I’ve seen kids learning about their own watershed become very engaged,” says Ramsay, who earned his masters with an environmental science course he wrote, based on the Shuswap watershed. “There is definitely a sense of urgency about the role teachers have to play – not to tell but to facilitate.”
Wilson says two Grade 6 students who attended a presentation at a recent Wa:ter AGM, were totally absorbed and ran up to the front with their questions at the end.
That attention and enthusiasm are the reactions Ramsay and Wilson hope to see at net week’s presentation, which will include ample time for questions.
As exciting as it is, the project will be costly. Admission is a suggested $5 donation, or more. Seats can be reserved for $2 at Wearabouts or Okanagan College prior to the event. Doors will open to ticket holders at 6 p.m. and 6:30 for the general public.