A small group of students from the International School in the Troy, Michigan area came to Strawbale Studio for a 4 hour Extracurricular Program on the theme of SOCIAL ECOLOGY. This Class, initiated and taught by Shane Norris with Co-Deanne Bednar, included a tour of the Strawbale Studio and other natural building structures on the land, a tour of the grounds and ecological feature, and a woodswalk. Throughout the process we explored Social Ecology ~ “the relationship between humans and the environment”.
Starting in the Strawbale Studio on this beautiful and unexpectedly snow-covered cold day, ideas were shared about the Natural Building Materials & qualities, Nutrient Cycle, Embodied Energy and The Circle of Life! Leaving the Studio, we went into several other hand-built structures and explored the nearby land and gardens. During this journey we observed and discussed our human relationship to the following: Natural Building materials from the land and the region (wood, earth, stone, straw, living roofs), wood ashes chemistry and uses, biochar uses & production, compost strategies, Rocket Stove, Earth Oven & Thatching.
After a lunch by the cozy wood stove in the Strawbale Studio, we went for a Woods Walk and experienced the bog, birch trees & birch bark, Dogbane plant used for cording, Oak Galls, and the beauty of this cold, snowy day.
Returning to the warmth and coziness of the Strawbale Studio, Shane gave a spinning demonstration on his spinning wheel using flax fiber, the material used to make linen, and students did cording, taught by Deanne, also using the flax fiber!
It was a lovely day to be together, learn, reflect and explore.
Before attending, Students studied pages from Deanne’s book WHOLLY CONNECTED: Drawing Relationships between the Person, Planet & Empowerment. This was written & illustrated as a Thesis Project for her Masters Degree in Social Ecology from Goddard College, 1980.
Shane Norris created this Social Ecology Course for the International School Extra-Curricular Program. The Strawbale Studio visit was one component in the larger Social Ecology Program, which Shane describes below:
Social Ecology is the study of humans and how they interact with the environment. Many of the issues we are facing today are both social and environmental and they are interdependent with each other. Humans need the earth to live healthy and happy lives, and the earth needs humans who sustainably steward its needs. In this course, we will explore what it means to have a healthy relationship with nature, how our decisions and how we live impact the earth, and how our interconnectedness with each other and the natural world shape our reality.
Excerpts from Braiding Sweetgrass by Native American Botanist and Scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer
Excerpts from Deanne Bednar Thesis on Social Ecology
The class will consist of a total of 20 hours of instructional time. There will be three 2 hour long classes which introduces the idea of social ecology, and how we interact with the natural world as humans. Students will be expected to read an excerpt from Braiding Sweetgrass which will include comprehension and critical thinking questions. Those comprehension questions will be used to form the discussions for the course to get students to begin thinking about the concept of social ecology.
In addition to the 6 hours of classroom time, Students will also be able to get some “hands on” looks at social ecology in practice. Namely, three 4 hour long hikes in the local area.
- Tour the Strawbale Studio. Website here: https://strawbalestudio.org Owned and operated by retired West Bloomfield Middle School art & Sustainable Future’s teacher with a MA in Social Ecology.. Focusing on the Nutrient Cycle and Natural Building, how traditional cultures would use the land. We will talk about embodied energy, composting, gardening, and earth building.
- Hike around Proud Lake State Park, Hike and identify various plants, both native and non native plants growing in Michigan. Identifying toxic plants in Michigan, etc. Talk about ecology and preservation of the land. Also about effects of pollution. Proud lake is a state park where you can’t eat the fish because of PFAS contamination.
- Hike around Bloomfield Hill High School Nature Center. Native plants, the importance of spaces reserved for people to enjoy nature in, etc
Thank you Shane, for bringing all these ideas together and sharing them with youth!
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