Uplands Elementary School SD#82 Coast Mountains

School Name: Uplands Elementary School

School District: SD#82 Coast Mountains

Inquiry Team Members:Sam MacKenzie: sam.mackenzie@cmsd.bc.ca
Daphne Heenan: daphne.heenan@cmsd.bc.ca
T. Corstanje: tanya.corstanje@cmsd.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: tanya.corstanje@cmsd.bc.ca

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

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Formative assessment, Growth mindset, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We wanted all students to develop a greater understanding of local First Nations’ experiences and explore the extent of First Nations culture in their lives.

Scanning: When asked about cultural aspects of their own or the First Nations culture that appears everywhere in our area of northwestern BC, they seemed quite disconnected. We needed students to be aware of culture, both their own and of the Tsimshian, in order for them to show respect for diversity as well as the similarities and differences with a First Nations culture.
“Seasonal Rounds” were used as a framework to discuss local First Nations’ culture. There were many similarities between aboriginal culture and what we have come to identify as Canadian culture. We determined that it was debatable whether students (at the grade 3 level) are aware of connections and similarities between cultures. We set out to increase student awareness and pride in both cultures.

Focus: While planning lessons based on the new BC curriculum for grade 3 Social Studies, we became aware that the “Big Ideas” were all related to culture. One of our goals in implementing Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom is to ensure that all students have opportunities to develop a better understanding and respect for a variety of cultures, both their own and others. This task was the starting point for developing our inquiry question.
Students in grade 3 were asked about their culture as well as First Nations’ culture. We wanted all students to develop a greater understanding of local First Nations’ experiences and explore the extent of First Nations culture in their lives. We began our lessons regarding culture by asking students to express their level of understanding of their own culture.

Hunch: Our hunch was: With the ‘Seasonal Rounds’ tool as a monthly reminder, and input from the First Nations Support Worker, the lessons will provide a frequent lens to view local First Nations culture. This practice should lead to a greater appreciation of local culture. The expectation is that all students will draw parallels to their own culture. This should lead to more inclusivity for non-First Nations and a greater appreciation of cultural significance for First Nations students. Introducing the concept of multicultural understanding (at a young age) will eventually lead to a deeper knowledge, appreciation, empathy and mutual respect for their own, and other cultures.

New Professional Learning: We have essentially created a professional learning community with a heightened awareness of the effects of direct cultural teaching on our students’ learning. The use of the Seasonal Rounds kept all of the lessons focussed on the local culture and samples from around the area. This inquiry ensured that the teachers involved were constantly evaluating and improving their teaching practice to ensure that they are meeting the curriculum goals and integrating aboriginal perspectives and knowledge into the classroom. The teachers also learned the Seasonal Round information and appreciated the knowledge imparted by the First Nations worker regarding culture, values and customs.

Taking Action: 1. We started with a survey asking students to describe their understanding of their own culture as well as their classmates’ cultures by outlining their experiences with tools, toys, traditions and food. There were a large number of blank spaces on the survey indicating students had little knowledge of their culture.
2. Seasonal Rounds lessons were taught in the classes with a different focus each month. Seasonal Rounds refers to the pattern of movement First Nations people followed. People would move to different areas dependant on the availability of resources. Where resources were more abundant, people would remain for a longer period and would move when resources became more scarce. Tsimshian people continue to be in harmony with their environment and apply their cultural knowledge to the gathering of food and resources.
3. Students explored their own culture by asking family members for their historical backgrounds.
4. A mid-year survey was conducted to assess student growth – it was nominal.
5. More direct and experiential lessons took place: students made a diorama of a First Nations village; students heard oral stories from the First Nations worker and an emphasis was placed on her traditional activities and ways of being; students learned how to bake bannock from First Nations elders and went on a plant walk; they also learned to drum and play traditional games.
6. Students completed review work using Venn diagrams to compare their own culture to the Tsimshian culture. The final survey demonstrated a deeper understanding and respect of the Tsimshian culture.

Checking: Students demonstrated not only pride in their knowledge of Tsimshian culture but excitement in learning anything to do with the culture that is all around them. We came to appreciate that, unless students were first or second generation Canadians, they had extremely limited background information on their own heritage.
They showed deep reverence toward all First Nations Elders and awe in the skills and learning being departed to them. First Nations students were able to discuss their own culture in a manner that established them as class experts which, in turn, helped them to become more engaged in all lessons. These children became resources for their non-aboriginal peers.
What we did not expect was the lack of connection non-aboriginal students had to their own culture. Even after having students research their familial background, students tended to define their heritage as “Canadian”. According to these classes of Grade 3 students, being “Canadian” means that all cultures create a mosaic and cultural lines are indistinguishable.

Reflections/Advice: The new curriculum suggests that students have an understanding of Indigenous cultures around the world. We suggest that students be taught that there are other cultures from other countries, provinces and within our own province however, the focus we plan for next year will be on the Nation on whose territory we are in. Grade 3 is very young to expect they can appreciate a culture they cannot readily see.

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