Arden Elementary School and Valley View Elementary School SD#71 Comox Valley

School Name: Arden Elementary School and Valley View Elementary School

School District: SD#71 Comox Valley

Inquiry Team Members:Jay Bridges:, Doug David:, Gail Martindale:, Debbie Nelson:, Naomi Radawiec:, Robert Atkinson:, Lynn Swift:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, 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, Formative assessment, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We focused on the following First Peoples Principle of Learning: Learning is holistic, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place). Our focus area was inquiry-based learning, exploring the interconnectedness of science and mathematics, and the holistic nature of learning. We looked to the First Peoples Principles of Learning, BC curriculum, and core competencies to inform and guide the learning. Students engaged in inquiries that were connected to place, story, cultural practices, and perspectives relevant to local First Peoples communities, the local community, and other cultures.

Scanning: We have noticed that students are aware the First Peoples Principles of Learning and that Indigenous Ways of knowing, being, doing exist, but they do not deeply understand and infuse those principles into their lives. Students often view school as a number of separate subjects that are disconnected from one another. They view math, science, language arts, and social studies as separate entities and do not see how these “subjects” are connected to each other and to the real world. They think that “Indigenous Education” is mostly for Indigenous students only, and is something that we learn a few times a year when we go to the Big House or celebrate Orange Shirt Day.

We noticed the need for greater understanding of how Indigenous perspectives are embedded into our learning and into to our daily lives. Many of our learners are non-Indigenous. Instead of feeling disconnected as a non-Indigenous student, how can all students feel included and take part in learning embedded in the FPPL? How can we encourage non-Indigenous students to develop a deeper understanding of their role as “allies” in reconciliation and promoting the local Indigenous culture and perspectives?

Our students love to share about their learning. They are motivated by listening and witnessing others share their successes and discoveries. We noticed that our learners are relational and reflective by nature, and we wondered how we could involve them in deep discussions and sharing that would have an impact on their perspectives related to the interconnectedness of all they are learning.

We interviewed students about their learning and noticed that they were not able to talk about the big ideas or reflect deeply on how they were doing with their learning, and where to go next. Students did not see connections between the subjects, and the connections between school and home were minimal (e.g., I learn music at school and I play piano at home).

Focus: Through an Inquiry-based design process involving numerous subject areas, we aspired to:
engage students in learning experiences that are connected to place, story, cultural practices, and perspectives relevant to local First Peoples communities, the local community, and other cultures;
engage students in recognizing the interconnectedness between school and life and across subject areas

We asked the following questions: How is our learning connected? Do learners see what they are learning in school as contributing to their own well-being and to that of their families and communities? Do students see the connections between what they are learning, and the real-world connections to places and First Nations culture in our local community?

How can we encourage students to take ownership over their learning, to see the purpose of what they are learning, the “why?” How we can help shift student perspectives about the holistic nature of learning through open and honest conversations, experiential learning, reflection, and reciprocal relationships?

Hunch: The traditional structure of schools has encouraged students to view their learning as separate rather than connected. These daily structures (routines) and subjects (e.g. Math, Science, Social Studies) have been compartmentalized. The way we communicate student learning through report cards has promoted this separation. For example, students are given feedback or grades for their work in each individual subject rather than cross curricular inquiries or projects. BC curriculum still separates the learning into subjects.

Traditional Indigenous cultures lived and taught about the holistic nature of learning and how everything is connected. We are all connected, what we do is connected, therefore our learning is all connected. What if everything we did as a school was connected? What if students saw the connections between what they were learning at school, and connections to their lives outside of school?

Do our actions match our words? If we want the FPPL of learning to be embedded, acknowledged, and a foundation for all learning in schools, are we supporting this with the structure and opportunities that are presented for students?
How can we take our learners outside of the school building to meet people, and see the FPPL in action? We are too often talking about Indigenous Ways of knowing in the classroom, but not providing experiential learning experiences for our students.

New Professional Learning: Classroom Teachers, Indigenous Curriculum Support Teachers (ICST), Curriculum Support Teachers (CST), and Indigenous Support Workers (ISW) collaborated to plan for learning experiences and engage in conversation related to the First Peoples Principles of Learning and Indigenous perspectives. We used a variety of resources to guide our learning, and collaborated with our Indigenous Support Workers to invite Elders and other local First Nations guests, and to plan for learning experiences connected to place.

Taking Action: We began our inquiry by inviting students to consider, “Where does learning take place? How does what you are learning at school connect across subjects AND to your learning beyond school? What are you curious about? Students reflected on and shared their thoughts about learning experiences, sharing examples of what they were learning in and out of school, and considering how learning is holistic; connected.

Next students were invited to consider, “How are we connected to the land here? What is a special place you return to?” Students reflected on and expressed personal or shared experiences of place; places they feel connected to here in the Comox Valley. Then we invited students to explore and consider the Courtenay River Estuary as a special place.

We invited students to consider, “What is important about the fish traps in the Comox Harbour? What can we learn about and from the K’ómoks First Nation by studying the fish traps?”

We arranged a field trip to the Courtenay Estuary, the Comox Mud Flats at low tide, to imagine and explore where and how the K’ómoks First Nation built their fish traps.

K’ómoks means land of plenty or wealth. Imagine standing on the Comox Mud Flats at low tide, noticing the Big House and Whale House, Royston, Royston Wrecks, the River, the Air Park, Comox, Courtenay. This was the site of a highly productive and functional Indigenous fishery.

Students gathered on the sand in a large circle to notice, think and wonder. A small scale model of a fish trap was drawn in sand (with chopsticks representing the poles and sushi mats representing the walls of the trap.) After exploring and considering the small scale model, students were prompted to identify evidence of a fish trap and mark it in the sand by placing flags beside the remains of existing stakes. Students looked for and spotted the shape that “popped” out of the sand and followed a simulation of how the fish would have moved once inside the trap to understand how the trap worked.

Back at our school, students reflected on their experience visiting the estuary fish traps. Students brainstormed ideas about their “special place in nature” and wrote about why they feel connected to this place. They gave details about how they use their senses to experience it and published their writing along with drawings to represent their place.

We created a map of our learning connections by writing down everything we have learned this year and drawing lines between connected topic areas/ideas. “Our Learning is connected” was in the middle of the web. Students and teachers added to the web throughout the year and it was a great visual to support our discussions and help students see the connections.

We explored how culture is connected to the land. Groups of students did student-led inquiries focused on a specific Indigenous culture in BC. We talked about why it is important to preserve First Nations culture and Traditional Knowledge. We learned First Nations and Inuit Traditional Names and Locations, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Sports, ceremonies, art, and other traditional practices connected to the land. They designed one model to represent the territory they were learning about. Student discoveries were presented in an inquiry fair open to any class in the school district. They answered and explained their answers to their inquiry questions.

Within the three classrooms, we kept our focus on this FPPL to guide our steps: Learning is holistic, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).

Checking: We had discussions throughout the year about how our learning is connected. Over time we noticed that students were beginning to understand that our core “subjects” are connected to each other, and our learning in school is connected to our lives outside of school. In a reflection that students completed recently, many were able to describe the big ideas and why they were important. We referred to the mind map on our blackboard “Our learning is connected” and we brainstormed how all the material we were learning was inter-connected, relevant to our lives and connected these to our core competencies in B.C Curriculum.

We noticed students making connections and sharing their new learning through our class discussions. They demonstrated a shift in thinking through their reflections in discussion, small groups, and writing. Students started to understand the purpose behind our learning and truly connect with the big ideas.

We also noticed that students were only able to remember the big ideas if they were written in student friendly language (e.g., We are all connected, Our learning is connected, Math is all around us). If we communicated the big ideas directly from the BC Curriculum then students were not able to remember them (too many words). This changed our thinking as teachers and made is wonder: how are we communicating the big ideas? How often are we providing time for students to discuss and share their thinking related to our big ideas? How can we rewrite some of the big ideas from the curriculum so that they are more student friendly, and so that students can become leaders of their own learning (take ownership)?

Here are some quotes from our students reflecting on their learning connected to the big ideas. We asked them questions like: What have you been learning? How’s it going? Where to next? How is our learning connected? What is the purpose of school? How does what we learn in school connect to our daily lives and to our future? Why is it important to know the big ideas and the purpose behind what we are learning?

“I like the big idea We are all connected to the land because I explore through the trees and go around in the forest. I come here every day. We love going into the woods and sometimes in the river. We are connected to the land through the animals because we honor the animals and use them as food.”

“I like the big idea Math is all around us. There are angles all around. In fact, I’m even sitting on an angle right now, an obtuse angle! There are shapes and stuff all around us. There is a right angle there. We use math in our lives everyday. I use it at my house, the grocery store, in sports, in the forest, in the parking lot. We are always doing math. It’s good for our brains. I will remember this big idea for my whole life.”

“The purpose of school is to collaborate with people and share your thinking and prepare for the world.”

“The purpose of school is to open your mind to know things and teach you how to write and do math and also read..all those things change our lives.”

“If we know the big ideas we will work harder in our learning.”

“We have learned lots about respect and also the cultures around us and what is going on in our world around us”.

“Learning is all connected in different ways. For example, when we learn something new we all share our ideas and we connect these new ideas and it helps us create answers.”

“It is important to know the big ideas and purpose behind what we are learning because it helps you not only focus on tiny information, but you also get to see the big picture.”

“Learning about First Nations cultures helps you know about the history of Canada and to respect their culture.”

“Learning in school connects to our daily lives and to our future because no matter where we are, we can and are always learning.”

“The big ideas and learning we have done this year is focusing on why First Nations culture is important and why inter-connectedness is important in our lives.”

“It is important to learn about First Nations peoples because they were put in residential schools and we are trying to recreate what they lost and our society should help them.”

“The First Nations culture inquiry was important because my friend is First Nations and before I wouldn’t know anything about her and her culture.”

“Everything we learn in school should be connected because when it’s not it is more difficult to learn.”

Reflections/Advice: We feel as though this inquiry has just begun, and would like to explore our focus area more next year! We experienced some challenges gathering all inquiry team members together for meetings because there were seven of us. However, we had incredibly rich discussions when we did meet to share how things were going and plan next steps.

Initially, we had planned to have more repeated visits to the natural places we took our classes to. Repeated visits are essential for developing a connection with the land. Next year we hope to develop an even deeper connection with the local places we visit regularly and experience those places through many different lenses. Place-based learning is deeply connected to this FPPL: Learning is holistic, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).

We tried to design curriculum and inquiries so that they are competency driven and inquiry driven instead of separating learning into subjects. In August, Doug David will be offering a Professional Development session about interconnected learning. He is focusing on the questions: How can we design interconnected, holistic learning experiences for our students? If we are communicating learning in a holistic way how can we offer learning experiences that are holistic; connected?

In the classroom we are beginning to name things differently and talk about the purpose, and how things are connected. We are trying to offer and plan for learning experiences that are not separate from each other. This inquiry has impacted the way we view assessment as well. For example, when doing Eportfolios we can write a post and tag different subject areas and competencies instead of just doing a “math post.”

We believe that showing students the curriculum is valuable. Next year we want to be more intentional about communicating the big ideas, then inviting their curiosity and co-constructing ideas. We aim to base the learning on the “Know-Do-Understand” model to support a concept-based competency-driven approach to learning. This learning is meant to be enduring, and we want students to be able to extend their learning beyond.

Life and learning is not compartmentalized. It’s richer when you see the connections. The learning is deeper, more memorable, less burdensome for instruction, and less overwhelming for teachers. When they are aware of the purpose and connections, students are more engaged and able to become leaders of their own learning.

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