Babine Elementary Secondary School SD#91 Nechako Lakes

I. General Information

School Name: Babine Elementary Secondary School

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members: Deb Koehn:
Roberta Toth:
Michelle Miller-Gauthier:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Case Study

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Areas Addressed: Applied Design, skills & Technology, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy

Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Growth mindset, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We hoped that a playful approach for learning would help all our students, but particularly our Indigenous students, adopt a more positive mindset and move students from an expressed indifference in learning to engaged learning.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: Students were able to identify which adults supported their learning and ways that their actions demonstrated this – students related many occasions of one to one conversations, including adults asking ways that they can help the students move forward.

Students were unable to express any specific ways that they were learning in school – all learning related questions solicited shrugged shoulders, refusal to participate and a general disinterest in school learning. When asked about learning in the community, students stated a dislike of contributing to community wellness, but were able to tell stories of learning to chop firewood, or ways to prepare salmon from the harvest. They were unable to relate any community-based learning to school-based learning.

When asked how they were doing with their learning – almost 100% of students responded with “I don’t know and I don’t care”…or simply refused to participate in conversations. The ‘where to next’ questions elicited a number of responses most of which referred to just preferring not to be at the school, or participate in learning. A tough crowd!

Focus: We hoped that we could engage our students in playful, imaginative and creative learning activities that would develop the core competencies of critical and creative thinking, positive communication skills and help students develop personal/social skill sets that would develop more positive experiences with learning. We hoped playful activities would engage and motivate our students to enter into literacy and numeracy experiences and learning with a more open mind. We wanted our students to learn how to be learners.

Hunch: Our hunch was that our students had only experienced learning through workbooks such as Jump Math or red, blue or green phonics decoding books. There was no school library and a very limited source of literature in each classroom. Students literally spent five hours a day, sitting in desks, for year after year in the same series. Conversations and dialogues between students and adults were minimal.

New Professional Learning: We attended the CPSN (Canadian Playful Schools Network) workshops, read The Playful Classroom by Jones & Dearybury, attended literacy and numeracy workshops and worked hard to develop experience-based, hands-on learning activities for every lesson. We changed our classroom structures to make them as ‘home-like’ as possible – and removed frameworks such as time commitments – learning took as long as the learning lasted. We spent a lot of time outdoors, no matter the temperature. We became very familiar with our place as a learning space. We incorporated our Indigenous community into our planning – reaching out frequently to ask questions or ask for support. And our students taught us, and humbled us, as we grew to understand the complexity of their daily lives – and tried to embed strategies and skills that could be applied not just cross-curricular, but across learning spaces.

Taking Action: We focused on developing a love of literacy. We read to our students a lot. Our grade 7 – 12 class chose only to read Indigenous authors this year. They each read Van Kamp, Boulley, Wagamese, Gray-Smith, Kimmerer, as well as others. They unpacked similarities and disparities between their lives and the lives they explored in fiction. Our younger students benefited from the library we created (courtesy of our Indigo Chapters grant) and loved being exposed to non-fiction books. They poured over the new books and developed an interest in reading independently. In mathematics we moved to a games-based, hands-on manipulative approach to all concepts. Students learned vocabulary that helped them explain their thinking as they applied strategies – in many content areas students were astonished when they shared evidence of their learning. They began to put the missing pieces of the puzzle together – rather than depending on rote learning – and learned why specific strategies worked.

Checking: It was not enough – it is hard to undo many years of learned behaviours. This is a multi-year learning challenge for all staff members. We did see improvements – our Early Years assessment tool (EYE) showed growth in students. PM Benchmark scores improved (some students jumped 10-12 levels, while some students moved a level or two) and students identified understandings that they were missing in math; they could show with manipulatives how to solve questions that they depended on a calculator to solve previously. Our SNAP math assessment tool was completed with greater understanding and reflected improved vocabulary and strategy use.

Reflections/Advice: We definitely underestimated the power of play, and the role that play has for each of us. Play allowed for imaginative and creative thinking to be the way of learning. Playful learning built confidence in staff and students and allowed our staff to address significant needs in a positive manner. Play is holistic; it involves emotions, brains and our physical being to be engaged, as well as our senses of belonging. We will continue to explore the role of play in our learning journey. It has made an enormous difference in the overall well-being of our learning community.