Sunday, 29 October 2017

Localizing Indigenous Perspectives in Science

Last May, educators braved the weather for a professional development session held entirely outdoors. Our focus was to explore the respectful and appropriate representation of Indigenous perspectives within the K-12 science curriculum. Our guiding document was the new FNESC Science First Peoples Teachers Resource guide. While the guide is targeted at grades 5-9, the guidelines for balancing Indigenous and Western knowledge systems are helpful for any grade. In fact the introductory chapters of any of the FNESC educational resource materials are highly recommended for K-12 educators in any subject area who are striving to increase Indigenous perspectives in their own contexts.

Here are a few things we considered to make the session as meaningful as possible:

SD67 Cultural Coordinator Anona Kampe sings the Okanagan Song
1. The importance of connecting with local community members. As most of the session's participants were not Indigenous, we felt it was important to model the intentional inclusion of people from the Okanagan Territory who were willing to guide and support us in our journey forward. SD67 cultural coordinator Anona Kampe began our session by singing the Okanagan Song and providing background on the connections between the Syilx people and the land. Another member of the Okanagan Nation, Carrie Terbasket attended the session as an observer and provided us with valuable feedback regarding what we were doing well and how we could improve. Finally, the last 45 minutes of our session were spent with Dustin Louis, another member of the Okanagan Nation who shared the foundational captikwł story How Food Was Given. Dustin infused the story with Nsyilxcən words and phrases and provided background on the importance of Indigenous language, as well as the importance of a sense of place.

2. The importance of localizing the activities. While the activities we shared were inspired by the FNESC resource guide, each one was revised to make it relevant to students' lives in the Okanagan. Station one which was based on Chapter 3 in the FNESC guide "Power from the Land" involved the study of paddling a canoe as an opportunity to explore the concepts of force and motion. As Penticton is located between two beautiful lakes, this unit is particularly relevant. Participants watched a live demonstration of a canoe and a paddle board and then watched part of a video clip that gave a local perspective on the cultural significance of canoeing. In addition to the "Power from the Land" activity, a second station was developed that reflected the reality for everyone who lives in the Okanagan which is the possibility of extreme forest fires. At this station, participants tested and compared soil samples from before and after a fire, and examined photos that compared local methods of Syilx fire management practices with municipal government strategies. The third and final station involved a STEM challenge that involved reducing pollution in connection with efforts by the Okanagan Nation to reintroduce sockeye salmon into local waterways.
Comparing Syilx resource management with municipal strategies
Preparing for the STEM challenge
3. The importance of concepts described in the FNESC Science First Peoples guide that are necessary for understanding Indigenous knowledge including: interconnectedness, a sense of place, the inclusion of Indigenous languages, the use of place names, the importance of story, and the awareness of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).  We also tried to model the First Peoples Principles of Learning by making sure the session was experiential, collaborative, personalized, connected to the community and the outdoors and respectful of the land. It was an excellent reminder that if we want students to have learning experiences that reflect these elements, then professional development opportunities for educators should mirror the experiences we hope to create for students.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

It's More than just BURLAP

SD67 and SD53 have begun a joint project called Making Learning Visible.  It is under the TADL umbrella because it is all about viewing the child as a competent citizen full of strengths they can offer the community, and full of curiosity about the world.

A group of us spent two days with Dr. Laurie Kocher from Capilano University.  She spent time in teachers' classrooms asking questions, and helping each teacher ponder their own questions.  She also gave an after school session for anyone interested in learning about the principles of  teaching using a Reggio Emilia approach.

Here are some of the things that have stayed with me: some complex big ideas and some things that clearly overlap with the work we have been doing in Through a Different Lens for the past 8 years.  

The Image of the Child

In Reggio Emilia, children are seen as protagonists, collaborators, communicators, citizens, and researchers with 'endless potential'. Teachers are viewed as partners, nurturers, guides and researchers, and parents are genuinely seen as partners, because they contribute and are involved in meaningful and complex ways.

Any district work or decisions made by teachers and administrators reflects how we view the child and what we value.  Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the schools in Reggio-Emilia, in an article "Your image of the child:  Where teaching Begins" says that you teach based on your image of the child:

"There are hundreds of different images of the child.  Each one of you has inside yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to a child.  This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways; it orients you as you talk to the child, listen to the child, observe the child.  It is very difficult for you to act contrary to this internal image."

Language We Use To Describe Children

In the city of Reggio Emilia, children that we often describe as children with special needs are described as "children with special rights".  These children are the first to receive a spot in municipally funded schools along with those children who do not have extended family support in the community.  Why? Because this reflects their values of supporting and nurturing children and building community.

The language of "children with special rights" reflects their  image of the child as curious and full of strengths rather than the North American view of deficits and "fixing".

Ways That Children Communicate

"The 100 Languages" is the idea that children communicate and represent their ideas in a vast variety of ways such as talking, dancing, drawing, and sculpting.  Children learn in 100 different ways and can express their thinking in those 100 ways.  This reflects the child's "endless potential".

This writing by the founder of Reggio Emilia describes the 100 languages.  We have certainly seen the results of thinking in this way in Through a Different Lens over the years as we have witnessed students come alive when their strengths are recognised and valued in the classroom and in learning.  We have seen them become stronger, more confident, and more appreciated and respected by others as they show their strengths though using art, digital media, photography or music to represent their understanding.

The Environment

In Reggio Emilia the environment is seen as "the third teacher"; it is an environment that reflects the values that we want to communicate to our children and a space that is responsive to learning together.  It is an environment that fosters creativity and relationships with parents, teachers, the learning materials and each other.   In these classrooms, materials are there to provoke investigation or curiosity and also to be used to help the child express their thinking.

Laurie Kocher talked about Pinterest as communicating a view of what Reggio classrooms look like, but that is actually not true of Italian classrooms.  The idea of the environment is to create an authentic learning  space that reflects your values, one where both the teacher and children want to be to create and learn, and where children have a voice in their surroundings, and their learning is documented.  It is more than just burlap on the wall.  It is a co-created space for curiosity and learning.

It was a full 2-days of deep wonderings by the teachers, with reflections on our values, our practice, and our image of the child.    We will continue to work with Dr. Laurie Kocher throughout the 2017/18 school year.

Contributed by Judith King, SD67

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Learning from the Knowledge Keepers

'How do we decolonize education? Invite Indigenous Elders & knowledge keepers into your space - Nothing about us without us.' Amy Smoke

It has been documented that most children can identify 50 or more brand symbols, but less than 5 species of local plants. Canadian children are so immersed in consumer culture indoors, they are often quite unaware of their personal natural surroundings outside. 

We have made a concerted effort to be outside more at our small rural school. Our ventures are iterative, that is, we visit the same spot on an open benchland near our school over and over and start with free exploration. This type of learning is open-ended. The students  are motivated to learn in this way and often cheer when it is time to head out. Afterwards we meet either outside as a group or back indoors and discuss what we've noticed or come up with questions about where to go next in our learning. 

Our class has been focused on learning about local plants and their Okanagan names, importance and uses. A nsyilxcən language mentor visited the classes at our school over a 10 week period and through story and language, taught students about the landforms, plants, and animals in the Okanagan.  By involving local elders and knowledge keepers, the learning is not only more accurate and less filtered by western interpretation, but also explored in an engaging way through story, drumming, and songs. 

As well, last year​ a biologist from the RDOS (Regional District)  visited and took us outdoors to examine the competition between invasive plants and indigenous species. The students have had an ongoing multi-year role in shaping the landscape as they seek to reduce the impact of invasive species around the school site.

This year (2017-18) the whole school is going to embark on a service inquiry of working in family groupings to address the invasive plant issue on a larger scale and to re-introduce some indigenous plant species to our surroundings. This work will be done with the support of land based Learning Program Activities with the ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands at the En'owkin Centre. We are excited about this opportunity and are grateful for the support of local experts in our community.

Submitted by Michelle Tom, West Bench Elementary School

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

LOOKING FORWARD: September 2017

This year in Through a Different Lens we are excited to be going deeper in our learning in SD67 and also broader by learning together with SD53, Outma Sqilix'w Cultural School in Penticton,  Sen'Pok'Chin School in Oliver, and some early learning educators.  In all of our projects we are continuing to look at ALL of our children and youth, with a focus on those that we are most curious about.

We continue to be so thankful for the support of the Vancouver Foundation.

We have four projects starting up this fall (with several more in the planning):

1.  INNOVATIVE SCHOOLS:  105 educators met last week in school teams to begin a 6 session inquiry looking at innovations they think would be good for their learners. Educators involved are from SD67, SD53 and Outma Sqilix'w Cultural School.  Examples of inquiry questions include outdoor learning, embedding Indigenous practices,  project based learning, team teaching, and place-conscious learning.

2.  INCLUSIVE PRACTICES: 75 educators will be involved in a 5 session inquiry in school teams to explore ways to create more inclusive classrooms and schools, think deeply about what they believe, and learn how to implement strategies that are good for ALL kids.

3.  CHANGING RESULTS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN:  SD67, SD53, Outma Sqilix'w Cultural School, Sen'Pok'Chin, and early childhood educators in a variety of settings will be part of a project sponsored by the Ministry of Education and the United Way of the Lower Mainland.   We will explore social emotional wellbeing for young children!

4.  MAKING LEARNING VISIBLE:   This project involves learning more about inquiry for young children, curiosity, democracy, the arts, and documenting children's growth as human beings.  We will be looking at the practices of Reggio Emilia in a variety of ways.  We have a school in Oliver and a school in Penticton that are going to consciously play with the ideas; as well we are offering after school sessions for all others interested.

Some of the people who are supporting our learning outside of our districts are Dr. Leyton Schnellert from UBCO, Shelley Moore, a consultant in Inclusive Education, Sharon Jeroski from Horizon Research, Maureen Dockendorf from the Ministry of Education - Early Childhood, Dr. Laurie Kocher from Capilano University, Kim Atkinson from the University of Victoria, and Dr. Kim Schonnert Reichl from UBC.  We are so grateful for their support and expertise in so many different areas.

We have some very diverse projects beginning but ALL have a strength based pedagogy, and all have similar goals: to make learning more accessible to ALL learners and to support ALL of our children and youth to see themselves as capable learners who have many strengths and many options in life.  Confident, engaged, empowered, strong and thoughtful citizens… ALL of them.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Animal Tracking and Inquiry in Science 9

For this Inquiry project our science 9 class took on a mini unit that focused on getting to know local wildlife. The goals were three-fold:

 1. To use an experiential and place-conscious approach to cover new curricular competencies.

2. To introduce students to real-world science through hands-on activities and exploration.

3. To interpret local wildlife from both Eurocentric and Indigenous perspectives.

 The topic for this unit was Animal Tracking and the premise was simple… we go to our local park, look for animal signs and document what we find.  To an outdoor enthusiast and naturalist this sounds fun and straight-forward.  However, most of the students in our class had never been to the park, had no idea what animals lived in our area and had never heard of animal tracking before.  Needless to say we had some legwork ahead of us.
Our unit began with a lively classroom discussion and information session about the recent cougar cull in our town.  This introductory hook was a success because cougars are naturally fascinating and all of the students had heard about the exterminations.  More importantly all of the students had enough local knowledge to contribute to this conversation; essentially the playing field was level.  This conversation got the students wondering about our local park, Skaha Bluffs, and if it could support cougars and other apex predators.

 To learn more about the wildlife in the park we had to go there but we needed to hone our observation and tracking skills first. 

 Through classroom activities and museum programming we studied bones, scat, tracks and artifacts of local animals.  These classes engaged different students and allowed for a lot of story-telling and sharing of personal experiences.  It also uncovered the artistic skills of many students whose drawings and attention to fine details were celebrated.  The saying, “when you change the rules you change the winners” was very apparent during these classes.

Our final field experience to Skaha Bluffs provided students with the opportunity to learn from community experts in an adventuresome walkabout.  We partnered with biologist and museum assistant Chandra Wong and local knowledge keeper from the En’owkin Centre, Dustin Louis.  Both
of these leaders shared their knowledge and understanding of the land and helped the students with their tracking projects.  Some exciting aspects of this field experience were setting up animal cameras to collect field data and partnering with our school’s photography and film class.  The photography class ‘tracked’ and documented our group through the experience and provided many of the photos featured in this post. 

Some important (and positive) numbers to consider:

Nearly 50% of the students attending this field trip had never been to the park before.

2 students visited the park again the weekend after our field trip to share it with their siblings.

100% of the students did not see a cougar while in the park however, based on our data we concluded that this park could be part of a cougar’s territory. 

Contributed by Allison Dietrich

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Complex Tasks Inquiry

Teacher Inquiry Question:  In what ways do complex tasks increase student engagement and confidence?

"When students are engaged in appropriately challenging tasks, they are more likely to repond to feedback because they need that information to continue growing and learning.  
We like to think of difficulty as the amount of effort or work a student is expected to put forth whereas complexity is the level of thinking, the number of steps, or the abstractness of the task.  
Students learn more when given complex tasks".  
Hattie, Fry and Fisher (2016), Visible Learning

In Through a Different Lens, teachers are encouraged to meet in collaborative inquiry groups to pursue questions they are interested in both teaching and learning.  This blog outlines a science project that one teacher pursued as she explored how her students respond to COMPLEX TASKS.

The teacher provided some introductory lessons on the human body to get the students excited about the unit of study.  She then let the students chose a human body system they were interested in learning more about.  There were four systems:  reproductive, excretory, hormonal, and nervous.  The students chose a system and worked in groups to do research on the system of their choice. 

Text sets were provided through collaboration with the teacher librarian so that each group had access to texts at a variety of reading levels.  Students were guided to collect important vocabulary and  images as they documented structures and functions, asked questions, and made connections to other body systems.  

After the research was complete, the students worked with the tech ed teacher to produce the body system out of a multiplicity of materials.  Students enjoyed creating the systems out of every day material.  

Each student created their own system,  labeled them and explained how each structure functioned and helps the human survive, reproduce and interact. 

Complex Task:
In many classrooms with ten and eleven year olds, this unit would have been considered a great success.  However, this classroom teacher was really looking at complex tasks and encouraging deeper and connected thinking.

She decided that the final assessment would encourage the students to think deeply and use the knowledge they had gained in a very practical but also complex way.  She invited the school health nurse, Karen Anne, to come in and talk with the class.  Karen Anne presented the students with a case study of a patient suffering from a medical condition.  She gave the students the patients symptoms.  The students worked in quads – one students from each system – to diagnose the patient and provide treatment options. They each were an expert in their body system.

After they had explored treatment options Karen Anne gave them the final diagnosis.  The groups continued to work on the treatment plans.  Each group had the opportunity to present their findings to a panel which included Karen Anne, the classroom teacher and the resource teacher.  They had to explain to the panel how each system was impacted by the medical condition and then suggest both short and long term treatments.

The public health nurse and the two teachers were amazed at the depth of understanding.

Submitted by Pam Rutten and Janice Moase 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Power of a Problem

Teacher comments included:
- The biggest factor that led to rebellion in upper Canada was land, so students showed that land was taken by the clergy and the crown. Often they used the symbol of a crown or a cross. In Lower Canada, the fact that the British controlled the French majority was an issue. Students showed this with many blue pipe cleaners being lorded over by red pipe cleaners.   
- The boat represented the concept of the journey of immigrants. It was long and dangerous, but led them to the promised lands.  
- One student used a castle to represent the iron rule of Britain and it had a moat and drawbridge which the student explained were obstacles to the French Canadians who wanted to metaphorically storm the castle and rule themselves through representative self-government.

Students explained that by having to create visuals and explain them, they came to a deeper understanding.

Friday, 31 March 2017

QR Codes, the Weight room and Student Success!

Through A Different Lens encourages teachers and students to use their strengths to make learning more engaging.  This blog is a great example of a student teacher at Princess Margaret who brought her enthusiasm and her love of technology to Superfit 11/12.  

The student teacher collaborated with her sponsor teacher and all of the students in Superfit 11/12 to create instructional videos on how to use each piece of equipment in the weight room effectively and with proper form. 

Every student in Superfit got to choose a piece of equipment or type of workout and was filmed doing the exercise. Once the short videos were complete, they were uploaded to youtube. At this point, each video was given a QR code using a free online QR code generator. 

Now, on every piece of equipment in the weight room, there is a QR code. Students simply take out their smartphone, scan the code and it takes them to a concise video. Moreover, students get to see themselves as teachers, helping future students reach their fitness goals.  This idea underscores the power of student agency, teacher collaboration and the use of technology to help students achieve their goals.