I. General Information

School Name: Britannia Secondary

School District: SD#39 Vancouver

Inquiry Team Members: Simon Hayes: sshayes@vsb.bc.ca, Nekita Garcia Gravel: ngarciagravel@vsb.bc.ca, LawrenceDuong: lduong@vsb.bc.ca, Krista Ediger: kediger@vsb.bc.ca, Hubert Wong: htwong@vsb.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: Kailey Willetts/kwilletts@vsb.bc.ca

II. Inquiry Project Information

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Areas Addressed:

  • Language Arts – Literacy
  • Language Arts – Oral Language
  • Language Arts – Reading
  • Language Arts – Writing
  • Mathematics / Numeracy

Focus Addressed:

  • Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation)
  • First Peoples Principles of Learning
  • Indigenous pedagogy
  • Inquiry-based learning
  • Land, Nature or Place-based learning
  • Transitions

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? The effect of place-based, non-Eurocentric outdoor education on students’ sense of belonging and confidence.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: We conducted student interviews to try and elicit deeper responses. In addition to asking the four key questions, we also asked questions about how students define success. We noticed many of our students defined success in terms of family and community. The First Peoples Principle of Learning about how learning is relational played a big role in our scanning process. To even begin getting our students to share honestly, we had to have pre-established relationships of trust. We decided to have non-enrolling team members conduct the interviews because they were able to establish relationships with students that weren’t mitigated by the classroom context of report cards, curriculum, etc.

Focus: We noticed that our students were often disengaged when doing curricular tasks, and that students didn’t always see what they were learning in school as relevant to themselves and their success. We hoped that by offering a new setting for learning, students would be able to both strengthen connections with their peers and be able to engage with learning in a new way. We also hoped they would be able to bring skills from areas outside of the classroom, where they felt confident in their learning. For us as educators, we hoped that seeing our students in a new context where they might feel more successful or comfortable, would help us shift away from deficit thinking.

Hunch: We suspected some of the more traditional, Eurocentric ways that learning was presented and curriculum was taught were not seen as relevant to the students and were causing disconnection and absenteeism. We also noticed a tendency to engage in deficit thinking related to students’ abilities with curriculum. We hoped by shifting the focus back on to us as educators, and looking at ways we were presenting curricular opportunities, we could shift our thinking. We also had a hunch that our energetic students who had trouble focusing in the classroom might thrive in a larger, outdoor setting.

New Professional Learning: We did not have the opportunity to explore as much new professional learning as we would have liked, and struggled to find opportunities to learn together. Some learning we did do included exploring the FNESC teacher resource guides, reading about the Walking Curriculum and Nature Journaling, connecting with and learning from a member of the Squamish Nation, and attending a professional development workshop on epistemic racism. We also explored new curricular resources for the students, including cross-curricular texts.

Next year, we hope to learn together and ground our learning in a book club reading of Wayi Wah! Indigenous Pedagogies by Jo Chrona, as well as connect with and learn from the three local nations.

Taking Action: We decided to try integrating place-based, experiential learning into our classrooms, as well as offer cross-curricular field studies opportunities. In English class, for example, we did a unit on nature journaling where students went outside to the community garden almost every day. The students were able to explore the garden thoroughly and make observations on a deeper level.

Due to COVID, we were only able to offer one cross-curricular field studies activity, where the students went snowshoeing with a guide from the Squamish Nation who talked to them about place and storytelling.

As suspected, students were more engaged when they were outside the classroom for the most part. In 2/3 English 8 classes, students showed enthusiasm for and engagement with nature journaling. In one class, the students rushed their work because they wanted to spend their time outside playing basketball. In the first two classes, the work the students submitted was thoughtful and fully reflective of their abilities. Students felt comfortable taking risks and exploring new vocabulary.

On the snowshoeing trip, engagement was high and students felt comfortable sharing their own stories and making connections to their own lives and experiences. However, they did not seem to connect this with the storytelling explored in the classroom. Students may need more support making cross-curricular connections.

We also explored having a grade-wide question or theme but that did not take root this year. We hope to try again next year.

Checking: While our students overall reported feeling a sense of belonging at the end of the year, and generally demonstrated increased engagement during outdoor, experiential learning, we think we have more work to do when it comes to rethinking traditional curricular structures. We did one-off units or lessons, but would like to work towards moving into grade-wide, cross-curricular integration of place-based learning and First Peoples Principles of Learning, instead of just dropping in units or lessons here and there. We hope this will help the students build connections between curricular areas as well as their lives outside school. We would like to narrow our focus moving forward to more easily be able to see the long-term changes in our students.

Reflections/Advice: We learned it’s challenging to tease out the impact of our specific inquiry action versus the natural shifts that happen from September to June. Next year, we will examine narrowing our focus to see if we can hone in on the specific impact of our inquiry. We also learned the importance of listening to our learners and being prepared to have our assumptions challenged; they don’t always say what you would expect!

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