School Name: Nakusp Elementary & Burton Elementary
School District: SD#10 Arrow Lakes
Inquiry Team Members: Brenna Leitch: firstname.lastname@example.org, Ben Gehrels: email@example.com, Naomi Smedbol: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Writing, Science
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Incorporating core subjects and Indigenous learning meaningfully into outdoor education, to create investment in the community.
Scanning: During the scanning phase, we asked students a number of questions: 1) How does being outside affect your mood (especially in terms of feeling happy, calm, and safe)? 2) How does being outside affect your body? 3) How are you responsible for the outdoors? 4) What do you want to learn about nature? 5) Describe how nature is important to you. From their responses, we noticed that: 1) Our students love being outside, 2) They want more time outside, walks, field trips, and hands-on activities, 3) They have a positive relationships with outdoors, 4) They love play-based outdoor learning, and 5) They have some inclination to clean-up/give back but can also be oblivious to environmental impact.
As our “focus for the year” answer suggests, we had several of the First Peoples Principles of Learning at the front of our minds during the scanning phase when interacting with the kids and designing our questions: 1) Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors, 2) Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place), 3) Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions, and 4) Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
Focus: By encouraging and supporting the kids to explore their natural passion for local plants and landscapes in meaningful ways, we hoped to increase their connection to their community and the land on which they live and play — using memory/history/story and a sense of responsibility to drive those points home. As part of our focus, we incorporated the Leave No Trace principles and returned to them throughout our various activities, to drive home the importance of showing respect for our surroundings.
Hunch: We noticed that there was a surprising amount of garbage being left out on the playground — everyone was constantly reluctant to be responsible for their own wrappers or even to just pick it up and throw it out if they saw one. Also, although the students were all at different levels in this regard, they didn’t seem to know instinctively how to tell the difference between plants and trees: what clues to look for using the five senses to distinguish one species from another. In selecting this focus area, we were hoping to deepen and enrich their perception of the world around them: to help them see a multitude of diversity instead of a “monolith forest”.
New Professional Learning: We attempted to weave our general focus area into multiple subjects across two different schools. In PE, this looked like learning and teaching a variety of traditional Indigenous games that encouraged students to practice moving deliberately, listening intently, and looking around them with purpose.
For finding new games, resources like “Indigenous Games for Children” by High Five (https://www.nscrd.com/uploads/document/files/indigenous-games-for-children-en.pdf) were invaluable. When we settled further into the process on a native and edible plant guidebook, we consulted a variety of local plant guides for ideas and templates to guide our approach.
Taking Action: From the beginning, each of us were coming at the NOIIE from different circumstances and backgrounds: only one of us was a classroom teacher this year; another was teaching PE and Indigenous student support; and the third member began by filling in for a Gr.7 class, then worked as a TTOC, then took on a K-7 Indigenous student support role. Despite the challenges presented by this lack of stability, so to speak, we were united by our common drive to engage in meaningful environmental education through an Indigenous lens. As the year progressed, we kept finding new ways to support and build the project: bringing in Indigenous Elders to discuss local flora and fauna, playing Indigenous games in PE, discussing native vs. invasive plants and participating in a weed pull, safely lighting and cleaning up campfires, and finally planting and researching a variety of local and edible plants. Although the process felt scattered at times — as if the nucleus was a bit amorphous — everything we were doing was falling in line with FPPL #2: Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational. Each of us was responding to our different contexts and students to move our collective learning in the same general direction. What helped pull everything together was a common project that we produced at the end: a native and edible plant guidebook that we had printed and bound by a local publisher. This united the students from two schools who had never met in their common learning and gave the students something tangible that looked AMAZING that they could take home, continue learning from, and feel good about.
Checking: Our students certainly developed broader vocabularies for looking at and talking about nature. The way they answer prompting questions now in June is more detailed and perceptive: they’ll discuss the feel of the bark or the ridged edges of a leaf, and sometimes make a connection back to what kind of species they may be looking at. Our Leave No Trace approach also gained momentum throughout the year; students really got behind the idea that they should walk more carefully in the forest, try not to break plants or step on bugs, etc. There is certainly more learning to be done, and they will continue progressing as they age and move up through the grade levels, but we’re satisfied with our activities this year as a promising baseline for future learning.
Reflections/Advice: We learned that it’s okay not to have everything perfectly mapped out when you begin a project like this — that exploring alongside your students is half the fun! That allowed us to adapt to changes in this difficult year and continuously brainstorm new ways to approach the same general target. We plan to involve high school students next year in designing the layout for future booklets, instead of the teachers handling that part. Our students can now build on this foundation by exploring new plants and looking for even more subtleties to distinguish plants from one another.