School Name: James Whiteside Elementary
School District: SD#38 Richmond
Inquiry Team Members:Briana Adams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Eguia, email@example.com
Janice Novakowski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)
Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing, Matahematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? How can connecting to place enhance our learning experiences?
Scanning: During the scanning phase, we noticed that our students love nature and being outside, however they had minimal engagements in their local school environment or neighbouring community with the purpose for learning; nor with the lens from a First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) perspective. Through the four key questions, classroom conversations and student reflections, we noticed that the primary students were developing their sense of identity and self in their space at Whiteside. They knew where the playground was and that we were located by the South Arm Community Centre. They were also able to place themselves in relation to important spaces in their school community, such as the gym or our school library. They also knew about Minerou Park and Richmond Centre as being a big part of their place and community. However, we wondered how we could facilitate opportunities for engaging with place and how we could deepen their learning in school and in the broader community. With the four key questions in mind, we could also see that the few learning experiences we had facilitated outside were leaving an impression on them. As many students mentioned: “we are learning about our school. We are learning about our garden. We are making stories with our garden and the vegetables found in our garden. We are learning about First People. We are learning about the plants and animals that live at our school. We are learning how to talk in French. We are learning how to make patterns. We even learned how to make patterns with leaves and sticks outside. We want to learn more about the plants and living things in our school yard. We need to map and name our school yard. We want to learn more stories about and in our school yard. I want to play more outside. I wonder what it will be like in the winter.” As educators, due to the scanning phase, we were motivated to provide the students with a playful space that prompted trans-disciplinary inquiry-based learning experiences, engaging with the environment in a mindful and respectful way, and localizing our knowledge with a FPPL approach.
Focus: After engaging in the process of innovation grant proposals within our district, participating in a district-based study group and attending a Lower Mainland NOII networking session, the teachers from Whiteside and our district consultant, Janice Novakowski came together to think about how they could weave together several areas emerging from their observations and conversations at the school. Areas of focus included learning outdoors (many students at the school do not regularly play outdoors in their daily lives), storytelling (to support an increase of oral language and develop a strong sense of self) and making the FPPL more visible in the school community. We were curious about how the students engaged with the school and their broader community. What was their connection? How did they identify with the place where they live, work and play? When it came to the school garden, did students enter that space with multiple lenses for learning? Do they have a sense of social responsibility towards their community and the land? Could we promote a sense of stewardship towards the place they lived? Do they understand the concepts of continuity and change in their community and the history of their local First People? The students are naturally engaged with how the world works around them, so how could they take these wonders and opportunities for imaginative play and harness it into meaningful and fun inquiry-based learning experiences- ones with enduring understandings? We wondered, how can the students develop their competencies and engage with the redesigned curriculum when they head outside? We also wanted to seek pedagogical resources that could support our land-based learning approach. We further hoped that these learning experiences could trickle down to their families, fostering a community that celebrates and connects to place, as well as the FPPL and their metacognitive practices as a learner.
Hunch: As we began to think about this project, these were some of our hunches, hopes and considerations we had in the fall:
Staffing and professional development: this year at our school, similar to many schools in the province, the school staff and culture had changed. There were many new members on staff, recent teacher candidate graduates, present teacher candidates, as well as many experienced teachers. We were at a point in our school culture where we could learn and grow as a staff in many ways. We do not want to stay stagnant, but innovate and inquire into new teaching practices and pedagogy that will benefit our 21st Century learners. This case study focused on place based learning, but it also delved into the First Peoples Principles of Learning, the new curriculum’s big ideas, and student metacognitive practices with the core competencies. We hoped that via this case study many new learning opportunities would engage teachers in the broader school and district community, and encourage us all to collaborate, share ideas and explore new resources. We are only better when we learn together and we hope that this case study will have the ripple effect to delve deeper into the redesigned curriculum with a place based FPPL lens.
Collaboration: On our study tour of Opal school we hoped to find ideas that could spark conversation with our staff about place based learning, story telling and big ideas and how we could bring this to our students and our teaching practices. We hoped to inspire staff and students to get outside and see where their learning will take them. We hoped to learn from other teachers in the district and build connections in our school when it comes to exploring outdoor education. We sought to solicit experts that have a deep knowledge about the land and local stories. We hoped that our students could also act as knowledge ambassadors sharing their learning with their buddy classes and/or other classrooms. Student voice and agency is important to this inquiry, as they are the citizens we are shaping to head out into this uncertain world.
New Professional Learning: Our learning was sparked by attending the district primary teachers study group facilitated by Janice Novakowski – this year’s focus is on storytelling outdoors. We also attended the school district’s study tour to the Opal School in Portland in March where there is a strong emphasis on storytelling, place and outdoor learning. Participation and professional learning as part of district’s Curriculum Implementation Day, during which two speakers shared their practices around outdoor learning were key learning experiences that deepened our pedagogy. The following is a further list of new professional learning we undertook to better understand the scope of our inquiry:
Fall NOII 2017 Meet-Up – provoked our thinking and renewed our passion for place based learning
Jo-Anne Chrona – following her on twitter and blog on the First Peoples Principles of Learning
Reflected on Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt’s “Connecting to our Place” Blog Entry- following her on twitter
Participating in the workshop “Discovering an Indigenous Garden” facilitated by Lori Snydor at the October PSA Superconference 2017
Reading and reflecting on Dr. Jo-Anne Archibald’s work on storytelling, “Indigenous Storywork, Educating the Heart, Mind, Body and Spirit”
Conversations with Leanne McColl and Lynn Wainwright, Richmond School District Aboriginal Education Teacher Consultants – encouragement, creating connections
Terry Point Sharing Local Stories, “Knowing the Land” workshop facilitated by Lynn Wainwright- local stories shared about Garry Point Park and Terranova
Attending the Outdoor Storytelling Workshop facilitated by Richmond School District Teacher Consultant, Janice Novakowski
Implementing the sharing from “Musqueam: giving information about our teachings” http://2.moa.ubc.ca
Reading and trying learning experiences from “The Art of Land-Based Early Learning, Volume 1 & 2” https://4elementslivingarts.org
Participating in Cease Wyss’s Richmond Indigenous Plant Walking Tour, facilitated by District Teacher Consultant Janice Novakowski”s Outdoor Story Telling Group Study
Membership in the Study Group “Connecting to First Peoples Principles thru Art with Steve Smith Dla’kwagila,” facilitated by District Teacher consultants Lynn Wainwright and Marie Thom
Attending the “Indigenous Knowledge for a Changing Climate: Can Traditional Knowledge Systems help with Climate Change?” Presented by Ethnobotanist Dr. Nancy Turner at the UBC First Nations Longhouse
Attending the “8th Aboriginal Math K-12 Symposium- Living Mathematics in Our Communities: Listening to the Land,” UBC First Nations Longhouse
Richmond School District May 2018 Professional Day at Musqueam Cultural Centre- “Deepening Connections and Understanding”
Participating in SD#38 French Immersion Teachers Workshop, “A Sense of Place & Story Walk”, facilitated by District Teacher Consultants Carrie Bourne and Leanne McColl
Many of the professional resources used for this inquiry are listed on our “Wolves At Play” weebly:
Taking Action: Our focus began with looking to educate ourselves and our staff through professional development in regards to place based learning and the First Peoples Principles of Learning. We also hoped that these teachings would trickle down to the students and they could be able to construct meaningful localized knowledge about their land, community and school. We completed the following:
Basics, respect and resources regarding the FPPL available (September 2017)
Principles of Learning (September 2017) – exploration, connection and reflection * Posters available for all learning spaces
Ongoing Pro-D Share outs with Staff – powerful way to educate the team and provoke deeper personal meaning with the professional inquiry
With students- our goal here was to try new things! Find new connections! Their knowledge about local living things and the local First Peoples (Musqueam) is increasing.
Teachers are keen to get the experts in! Storytelling, song, dance, climate change, art, etc.
Lori Snydor – spoke with grade 2/3’s about local indigenous plants and they passed it on to kindergarten students and they have shared with others in the school community
Planted an indigenous garden in the school garden bed & utilized it as an ongoing learning tool (medicinal properties, stewardship, FPPL connections, etc)
School Pro-D allowed for teacher self-directed Pro-D, a small group of teachers and student teachers inquired into place based learning
For more key learning experiences the students participated in, please see: Kindergarten and Grade 2/3 Learning Experiences on wolvesatplay.weebly.com
Checking: Throughout our inquiry into place based learning, the students were asked: “I used to think… Now I think… I still wonder…” after being outside. Their answers showed a growing connection and understanding of their place. They were able to recognize shifts in their thinking. After key learning experiences outdoors, the students were often asked to reflect with the learning intention and the core competencies in mind. They became more reflective about their sense of self in place and time. The students developed an understanding that there was so much to learn from the environment and the land. They spent time outdoors with the transdisciplinary lens of mathematics, art, science, story workshop, adst, social studies and career education. The OECD principles were embedded within our pedagogy as the principles all connected back to the students and the shifts and understanding they were making meaning from. By being outside and learning from the land, the FPPL were a natural focus, however teachers need to spend more time reflecting on their significance and how the students can engage with them respectfully and in a meaningful way. Further reflection and work is needed in this area, but indigenous ways of knowing about our place, especially from a local Musqueam First Peoples lens is starting to occur amongst staff, students and families.
Some of the students’ and their family’s reflections included:
Calven, Kindergarten: “I used to think I should kill bugs when I see them. Now I know all bugs are actually good and they help our food grow and make it taste better. I still wonder if I should kill bugs like mosquitos because I’m not sure if they help our garden grow or if they just bite people.”
Joshua, Kindergarten: “I used to think that weeds are just in the garden but now I know that they can grow everywhere and that they aren’t bad because we can use some kinds of weeds to make medicines and teas. I still wonder what makes the weeds grow in such weird places.”
Charles, Kindergarten: “We have to be careful when we play in nature so that we don’t hurt or break things because they are alive.small when they grow and that sometimes bugs eat them. I still wonder how to count how many bugs are in the garden.”
Fiona, Grade 3: “I love that we learned about the trees and plants at Whiteside. Now we can share the knowledge with others like the students at Whiteside or our families, and we can use this knowledge in our stories or learning at school. I will remember Lori’s visit forever!”
Aneil, Grade 3: “I had no idea the Musqueam people lived in the area for 1000’s of years. There were many settlements here before there was even Richmond Centre, Whiteside or the farms! The Musqueam always protected the land and the river. It’s our responsibility to help protect the earth too.”
Jaya, Grade 3: “I wish the old village cites still existed and the areas where are all the berries and plants lived still were around. We could visit them and take care of them. Our job is to now take care of our environment. I’m going to pick up litter whenever I see it. I want my school to sparkle.”
Parent, Field Trip Chaperone: “I loved listening to how Terry told the story. Listening was so important, especially when there were so many distractions. It was beautiful to be surrounded by the natural environment and the sun that day. It was magical when the snow geese flew over us! His sharing had such warmth and I was happy to be involved in this field trip to Garry Point and expose the children to all of the learning about their community.”
For more student reflections, please visit: https://wolvesatplay.weebly.com
Reflections/Advice: Advice we can share with others from our cycle is to also make time for professional development with the FPPL, this can help educators and students approach their learning from the land and community. There was a lot of keen interest from the staff with the FPPL and this will be next years focus for the school’s professional development goals. We hope to engage with the NOII Aboriginal Understanding Learning Progression rubric, so we can further our connection to time and place at Whiteside through a respectful aboriginal lens. We are excited about how this can reach our learners and professional growth via ourselves and staff. Rubric: http://noii.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Aboriginal-Understandings-Rubric-.pdf We also encourage teachers to make going outside a priority. A teacher ensured that every Monday they committed to their outdoor learning time. Families also had to be educated about appropriate clothing and the learning intentions, as it differed from a traditional indoor setting. Don’t be afraid to allow the students to guide the learning. Pre-planning is not always necessary, as the students are full of wonders and natural curiosity that will bring the curriculum to life. There is still work to be done in terms of further understanding the different pedagogical approaches towards outdoor education, land based learning and place based learning, but always keeping the student at the centre of the learning focus. Staff also voiced a need for an outdoor learning space that can facilitate learning outside. This can be an area of future focus (structuring space as a way to further learning).
Ms. Jessica Eguia: “Via this case study, I was provoked to engage more deeply and reflexively with the FPPL. As an active participant in Canada’s reconciliation process, I sought to learn more from my local First Nations community and with the support from experts on my school district team I was supported in my pedagogical journey. It was a joy to watch my students begin to approach the land with open hearts and open minds, and with a respect for indigenous ways of knowing. With the framework of the redesigned BC curriculum, my students are becoming more reflective, respectful, open-minded and curious in how they can interact with the world around them.”
Mme Briana Adams: “Before beginning this case study, I had been taking my students outside for weekly outdoor learning times, however, I was seeking ways to embed the FPPL into those learning experiences, and also to support my students in forming a deeper understanding of and connection to their place and the land around our school. Through this case study, I was able to develop a deeper understanding of the FPPL and how to embed the principles into learning experiences for my students. I also saw the power of learning from the land and the joy it brought my students when they were able to explore, be curious about and learn about the world around them. My young students learned to slow down, look closely and to share their thinking and learning with others through a variety of means, including oral storytelling, and it was a powerful and transformative experience for all of us.”