The EPIC nature of Michael Becker!

Michael Becker teaching from Weslandia

At the end of June I had the opportunity to take a permaculture teacher training with Michael Becker in Calgary.  Check out this awesome video from his Calgary evening presentation to the public (Thanks Dana for putting this up)!

Michael Becker is a middle teacher from Hood River Oregon.  He is doing truly amazing inspiring things at his school, in his community and shared with us his transformative way of education!

He started out being a home room teacher- teaching science, social studies and writing skills as well as math.  With these kids he started a forest garden and a school garden complete with rain water catchment and solar panels.  Their systems were fantastic. But too small.  Everyone wanted to be part of it!  So they scaled up.

TT with MB at the AREA in Calgary- photo by Delvin

To say that Michael Becker's classes were popular because gardens are awesome is incomplete.  Michael Becker is EPIC.  And the way the he teaches is inspirational.  For example, the kids are learning math by building igloos.  Or science by wiring solar panels. Or studying geography by cooking different cuisines from around the world.  Or applying many skills at once by starting their own apple sauce business.  These kids are fired up, are engaged with the world around them.

New permie yard in Ingelwood

Michael Becker says his classrooms look more like a workplace.  The kids are doing lots of research and communication.  Always reporting back in to everyone about their progress and what they have learned.  This is the kind of learning where you don't just throw away your notebook at the end of term- instead, the kids 'are building functional additions to our all their research, all their prep, all their everything- makes our system more complex, more durable, more fun, more interesting, whatever it might be.'  They are building on their own skills, knowledge, confidence and empowerment every day instead of just memorizing facts for the sake of a test.

Permaculture for disasters design charette for the Stampede grounds vis à vis the recent flood

Connecting kids to everything that's going on in the world is important.  The students have science partners that they do field work with like gathering glacier recession data, soil conservation work, stream surveys.  The scientists come in a train the kids, and then they are responsible for gathering the data and writing the reports. They are getting kids outside, working with real scientists, doing real work.

Living willow trellises at the AREA

When Michael Becker is asked about his curriculum, he says he doesn't have a curriculum, that he teaches what every other teacher in the State of Oregon teaches..... but (and this is my emphasis) he does it in a way to activate, engage and inspire these kids.    This is where kids get to participate valuable projects, as major contributors, not just as, 'discounted kids'.

Permaculture garden in the suburbs in Calgary- yay Anna!

The Hood river farmer's market started at the Middle school, 5 years ago, 8 vendors and 125 people.  In June 2013, there were 37 vendors, 1200 people showed up (hood river is only 6000 people). The students have a booth and have a motto: 'If it was any fresher you would have to pick it yourself'.  They have a timer and go run down to the garden to pick fresh greens fro their customers.  One of Michael Becker's students that was in his class at the first farmers' market, is now 17 and has his own backyard gardens, where he installs gardens, grows and harvests the produce, and keeps some to sell at market.  He also employs other kids to work for him and has 50 chickens.  He is always the first vendor to sell out at the market.  That is engaged learning!

Apart from Michael Becker's epically inspiring story, I will take from his workshop his emphasis on transformative education (instead of transmissive). He modelled this all throughout our class- talking, doing, challenging, doing project after project and making sure we were applying these lessons and permaculture principles to our own lives, and to our own projects.

As a teacher you always need to be pushing the edge... challenging your students to grow.  Michael Becker said think about 'afflicting the comfortable, and comforting the afflicted'

Community Currency workshop by Bruno

Teacher training ended in a 3 h intro the permaculture class for about 50 people.  There were about 20 teachers and we were running intense workshops all over the AREA and it was truly amazing and inspiring.  I'm not sure if an intro to permaculture has ever been so complex, and so stunning.

Teaching a food forest workshop at a Young Agrarians Event, Creston, BC- photo by Judy Hansen

One of the other things I think is funny a poignant that I will take out of this training- was not being 'the big wet yellow dog of permaculture'.  ie- don't blow your excitement for permaculture in a bad way so people are scared off- leave them wanting more... not everyone is ready for the full stream dowload, sometimes the gateway is compost, or balcony herbs, or riding your bike.

Permie resource sharing mandala

Another thing from his teachings- is CELEBRATE!  Right?!  We are doing this because we love life, and we want to live it! So celebrate.  It was so wonderful being with all the other students of the class, because of their positive energy and drive to spread permaculture.  RECHARGE is a huge gift, and something to recognize and plan into your life.

but the very next things after celebration is.... 'GET BACK TO WORK'.

alright. game on.


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