For students in Charlebois Community School in Cumberland House the classroom they are most engaged in starts in their own backyards.
Science teacher Renée Carrière identified that students were struggling to attain their high school science credits. Through a McDowell Foundation grant, she explored how getting the students out on their traditional land and including Indigenous knowledge as key components within the science curriculum could both engage students in new ways and connect local knowledge to the classroom.
Presenting at this year’s National Congress on Rural Education in Saskatoon, Carrière and Bonnie Werner, the curriculum instruction support for Northern Lights School Division, describe the impact taking the classroom outside on a regular basis can have on students.
Carrière describes learning as not just a mental but a physical and emotional exercise that students can best accomplish by connecting with the land. Land-based content such as canoe trips, snowshoeing expeditions or hikes require planning and community building. These activities allow students to connect and create relationships with each other, their teachers and their communities in ways that can be built on when they return to the traditional classroom.
Carrière notes that science is not an “add-on” to these trips but an essential part of the planning and execution. Students collect plant samples, take water samples, track animal movement and engage in a host of other activities and experiments that meet the outcomes of various levels of science curricula. She notes that assessment tools are enhanced – it is just that the classroom is outdoors not just indoors; thus, the possibilities for assessing student strengths increase substantially.
In addition, Carrière works to ensure local knowledge keepers are involved in the education of the students. For many of the students, local knowledge keepers and longtime trappers are their parents, grandparents or extended family. Carrière talks of the pride she sees in students as they learn and share knowledge from their own family members and the importance of ensuring traditional knowledge keepers and elders are engaged in the students’ learning and are helping to create new science knowledge.
The focus on land-based and Indigenous-based knowledge science has impacted both the engagement of students in the classroom and the number of students receiving science credits. It has also provided potential career paths for Carrière’s students as they begin to see themselves as the geologists, environmental scientists and conservationists of the future.