École Christine Morrison Elementary SD#75 Mission

I. General Information

School Name: École Christine Morrison Elementary

School District: SD#75 Mission

Inquiry Team Members: Judy Cathers : Judy.cathers@mpsd.ca, Shannon Greig: Shannon.greig@mpsd.ca, Robyn Bishop: Robyn.bishop@mpsd.ca, Lorien Osborn: lorien.osborn@mpsd.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: lorien.osborn@mpsd.ca

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Case Study

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Areas Addressed: Applied Design, skills & Technology, Career Education

Focus Addressed: Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year?  Connecting Aboriginal understandings and oral storytelling practices through experiential, applied design, skills & technology practices, based upon the use of our nature classroom, the land, nature or placed-based learning.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: The schools’ MDI report for 2017-18 indicated a gap in environmental awareness and opportunities to engage with nature by the students at our school. This year, we will focus on developing skills and knowledge by integrating the use of tools and forest management practices into the learning developed in the Nature Classroom.

Focus: We have found that although previous inquiries focused on the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning in combination with the Nature Classroom learning space, the skills developed were not practical enough for students to see the learning as holding much value in their future endeavours.

Hunch: Our hunch is that students’ previous experience as passive participants with the outdoor classroom have made them lose interest in the area. It is our hope that students will be excited to use the space in a new way, and through their work on the project, will take ownership of the environment.

New Professional Learning: Our professional development has centered around Indigenous and Western Forest Management techniques and tools. We have consulted with Elders about Indigenous fire management techniques for small forest areas, as well as what local plants are currently growing in the area and which plants could be cleared or added. Consults with members of the Forestry Industry focused on forest management and the building of a small non-invasive bridge to be constructed at a future date. We also consulted them in regards to the tools and implements, any safety concerns and general maintenance schedules that would be most helpful for the students in maintaining the forest classroom area. Finally, we consulted the school Health & Safety team for insight on how to make the Nature Classroom space accessible to all learners and a rich resource of Indigenous plants and animals.

Taking Action: Our aim was to ensure that although the concepts of forest management can be complex, our learners remain at the centre of the process. To do so we asked students to describe in their own words what they are learning and why what they are learning is important. Students’ answers ranged from ideas pertaining to keeping the area clean and safe, to ideas pertaining to Indigenous plants as a resource for learning. To engage the students in the idea of forest management, we asked them to collaborate with various stakeholders and set ‘smart goals’ they would like to achieve for the area. In consultation with the Elders and Forestry members, students set goals based on a timeline and stages for development with the understanding that some actions would have to come before others could be completed. Students understood that there would be successes along with failures and discussed how they would manage these emotions. For example, the vandalism of the signage students created led to a discussion about resilience and persistence. Students learned to recognize and identify each other’s strengths and stretches, interests and passions, and planned duties accordingly. While some worked on the signage designs, others worked on the physical aspects preparing the forest through clean-up and maintenance jobs. When the team of students was asked about their strengths all connected to their various previous experiences with the forest classroom, some with the identification of plants, other with the bridge building and others with the mainstream aspect of forest management. Students from the school community who were not directly involved in the project were invited to see the developments made to the area. Additionally, presentations were made by the team on their plans for the area. In June, the team of students were asked about what they had learned with the project. Answers were numerous, from teamwork to planning and goal setting, the safe use of garden tools to plant recognition, and how Indigenous ideas are influencing forestry management strategies. Students took on the perspective that critiques from other students or stakeholders were not personal, but rather a desire to protect the forest. The team was excited by their new skills and could better answer questions about their future endeavours in terms of jobs they would like or could see themselves doing in the future. Where students had at first been unable to come up with any answers at all, students were full of ideas now, including park ranger/Indigenous ‘tour guide’, surveyor, tree planters and forest planner (forestry management).

Photo descriptions: (Top) Plant identification Signage created by students. (Bottom) Forest ideas list created by students.
Photos by Robyn Bishop

Checking: Our original baseline involved developing awareness about what it means to be a success in life, as the students had a very difficult time identifying what a ‘success’ would look like. Ideas of success included video playing, finishing grade 6 (end of elementary school) and non-specific job experiences. Students’ growth was determined by their understanding of how to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, how to improve themselves in relation to those qualities, and how to translate those skills into a working environment. The changes to students’ ideas were evident.

Reflections/Advice: In upcoming years, we would like to include more consultations with external stakeholders to increase student awareness of tourism and forestry industry opportunities. Due to a lack of availability, it was very difficult to set up time to meet directly with Forestry personnel, and many of the meetings took place online or through emails which was difficult for students to connect with. Also, as the forest just beyond the official forest classroom is open to the public, we couldn’t make any significant changes or build permanent structures in the area.