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