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Project brings students together in the spirit of reconciliation

Boardmeeting031318_news.jpgA project that challenges students to examine and respond to issues is also building intercultural understanding between high school students from different schools and different perspectives.

One Thunderous Voice brings together students from Aden Bowman Collegiate and the Constable Robin Cameron Education Complex on the Beardy's and Okemasis Cree Nation to develop friendships and engage in e-journalism projects at community learning events.

"The idea for our partnership actually comes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. One of those calls upon educators to create opportunities for students to develop intercultural understanding," Sherry Van Hesteren, an education consultant with Saskatoon Public Schools, told trustees at a recent Board of Education meeting.

"We thought, 'What would happen if we bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in our schools, but also bring together students from the city and students who live on reserve.' So we set about to do that and we were delighted that our school divisions supported us in doing that."

The two groups of students began coming together in in September 2017 to take part in activities that allow them to explore where they are positioned in culture and society and look at opportunities to make a difference.

"We focused on e-journalism because e-journalism provides the students with an opportunity to develop intercultural understanding of each other as they create," Van Hesteren said. "They actually create something that invites the broader community and supports the broader community to develop intercultural understanding as well."

The 16 students who are part of the project have attended events such as the Student Think Indigenous Conference, the 2018 Rural Education Conference and Aden Bowman's Multicultural Day. They have the opportunity to listen to speakers, engage in activities and develop their perspectives of social justice and community. They share their learning and experiences through words, images and video on the program's website

The response to the project has been positive, including recognition of One Thunderous Voice as the top project from Saskatchewan following a call by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation that asked young people to share their vision of reconciliation. Student and staff representatives will be part of a national event in Winnipeg that will see youth leaders gather for two days of sharing, team-building, and leadership development in the context of the Calls to Action. Students will deliver a speech about their project during a June 1 ceremony at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"Each of us found our own personal growth throughout this process and we all allow each other to grow too. We all have different interests that are able to come together and reach a mutual goal and it is definitely shaping us a lot," said Emma Zuck, a Grade 12 student at Aden Bowman. She said the unique experiences that are part of One Thunderous Voice help to create discussion outside of the project.

"Especially when we are learning about stuff that isn't taught within the curriculum directly, like the pass system. That is something we take back into our classrooms . . . and a lot of the work we did is going to be distributed within classrooms as discussion pieces. We are seeing a lot of direct impact within the classroom, which is really cool."

The project's name is drawn from a statement attributed to Chief Big Bear in the 1998 television mini-series about the life of the Plains Cree leader: "Who stirs in their sleep when a single buffalo runs? When a herd moves . . . we too, must shake the ground. We must speak with one thundering voice!"

Serena Gamble, a teacher from Beardy's and Okemasis, said the program provides students with an opportunity to come together, to realize they are not alone and to amplify their voices to bring attention to issues and "awaken those that are still asleep."

"The vision I had for this group," Gamble said, "is that collectively, by bringing together our students, they can create that thundering noise; that sound that is going to shake the Earth and a voice that is going to be heard across the Prairies, especially in this time right now when reconciliation is very crucial."

Reconciliation is an important part of public and policy conversation and Gamble believes One Thunderous Voice is one way in which students can build relationships, develop mutual respect and create understanding and awareness, something students are very passionate about.

"It is very important work," she said. "When we want to talk about making the change we need to see in society we need to start with the youth. We need to start with these amazing young people because they are going to be the advocates, they are going to be the leaders and they are going to start having those conversations."

The unique nature of the project has also been an opportunity for Van Hesteren, Gamble and Samantha Roberts, a teacher at Aden Bowman, to build intercultural understanding as educators as they work together and with their students.

"What really makes this a success is how we all work well together and how we all draw on each other's strengths. We are all coming together with one goal and one voice," Gamble said. "These young people are going to make change, I believe that."

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)7/18/2019 12:10 PM
Off the Grid builds leadership through focus on sustainability

offthegrid3_news.jpgConstructing a rammed-earth building or experiencing tree planting aren't the usual classroom activities, but for students in the Off the Grid program at Tommy Douglas Collegiate getting their hands dirty is all a part of the learning.

Off the Grid is a half-day, full-year learning experience for Grade 9 students that introduces students to issues such as climate change, sustainable living and social justice. Students experience school in a hands-on manner and gain insight into the complex systems that govern life.

"We have been thinking of different ways to teach the students in an experiential learning environment and trying to get them out of the class as much as possible," said teacher Mike Prebble

"Within the school, each student group within the course launches a campaign — waste reduction, composting, solar energy, and energy consumption. It has taken them off in a lot of different paths. It is a case-based class so I give them one issue, they ask a bunch of questions about it and then they run with it. It is a very inquiry-based kind of method . . . and we tie it into the curriculum."

The program was launched in September 2017 and provides students with an opportunity to spend each afternoon together as part of an integrated approach to meeting curricular goals in social studies, science, English language arts and arts. Students are exposed to experts in the fields of environment and sustainability and have the opportunity to work alongside like-minded peers who are passionate about positively influencing the school and Saskatoon community

"The idea of the course is to build leaders in the community," Prebble said. "They don't necessarily have to be around environmental issues, but we want to create leaders who can articulate their point of view, have difficult discussions with people from a variety of ideologies and be able to change the status quo."

Student Ethan Done says the approach to learning applied to Off the Grid gives students the freedom to do what they want within the parameters of the particular assignment or learning goal.

"A lot of things we cover are the traditional things that you would learn in the classroom. We have learned the Grade 9 science curriculum, the Grade 9 social curriculum and the Grade 9 arts curriculum," he explained, "but there are things that students are learning in this course that you could not have learned otherwise. Some of these things include leadership, taking responsibility and taking action toward something you are passionate about."

Student investigations have included such issues as water quality, particularly on First Nation's land, as well as issues that directly affect their school such as recycling and composting, the installation of solar panels, and a pilot project to determine the effect of reduced lighting in terms of energy consumption, cost and the learning environment.

"Many people think this program is to make us tree-huggers," student Hasan Kazmi said with a laugh, "but the main point of this program is leadership. That is one of the basic skills we need."

offthegrid1_news.jpgThe concept for the course grew out of student interest in the school's eco club. One of the program's goals is to contribute to greater overall environmental awareness within the school as students move through their high school career and illustrate ways in which students can pursue their interest after graduation.

"The target of Grade 9 students is a nice way to start the change of leadership in the school when it comes to thinking greener," Prebble said. "We don't see this as the pinnacle of what we are doing. Working toward the transformation of our school becoming a net zero school has been one of our goals from the get-go with eco club."

For Ethan Done, involvement in Off the Grid has broadened his perspective on life and community and encouraged him to consider a wider range of future career options.

"I've realized that the point of being alive is to help other people," he said. "The point of getting a job is not so that you can live a good life. it is so you can enable other people to live a good life. Before this I didn't think that way, but now that I have been in the program I do think this way."

Two granting agencies have supported Tommy Douglas over the past two years in anticipation of Off the Grid being started. The McDowell Foundation, through its teacher research initiatives attached to the course, and the Saskatoon Public School Foundation for its assistance with purchasing solar panels have both been instrumental in creating a more sustainable program. 

More information on Off the Grid is available at

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)7/18/2019 12:10 PM
Kamskénow program opens students' eyes to science learning

CE-Jan 19-3_news2.jpgDescribed as "epic, amazing, cool and unbelievable," the Nutrien Kamskénow program is bringing unique learning opportunities in science to students.

Offered by the College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan in partnership with Saskatoon Public Schools, Kamskénow has grown considerably since it begin in 2009 as a pilot program in one classroom at Pleasant Hill Community School. Last year, the program was offered in 50 Saskatoon classrooms reaching more than 1,200 students in Grade 4-11.

"Over the last number of years I have had a number of classes participate and I can't say enough about how powerful the program has been for my students," said David Buehler, a teacher at Fairhaven School. "I have watched students who had only a passing interest at best in science, technology, engineering and math walk out of this program seeing themselves as scientists. I have watched them engage with people who have made this their career and begin to see how they can do that themselves."

Lana Elias, director of the college's Science Outreach Office, said the goal of Kamskénow is to improve science literacy with the long-term aim of increasing the participation of Indigenous people in the sciences.

The program employs a team of university students who lead inquiry-based sessions at community schools during a 13-week program. During the final week of the program students visit the university campus and have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities in the teaching labs.

"The program has many impacts and is truly a win-win-win — for youth participants, for teachers, as well as our university participants," Elias said, noting the contributions of title sponsor Nutrien and the other supporters that make the program possible.

Kamskénow is based on the Saskatchewan science curriculum and the experience it provides creates a foundation that allows teachers to extend inquiry and discussion and have students reflect on the experience and their learning.

Buehler said the quality of the program's instructors, and the activities and resources they bring into schools, provides students with opportunities that may not otherwise be available and sparks interest in STEM learning among his students.

"They have grown so tremendously in their interests, in their confidence and in their capacity that I can't say enough about the importance of the program and what a great resource it has been for our school and all of the schools that have participated," he said.

For Fairhaven student Sarah Klassen, the unique, hands-on approach offered by Kamskénow instructors was an opportunity for her and her classmates to be actively engaged in their learning and "get to do it ourselves."  

"I enjoyed science going into the program. I didn't have high expectations but coming out I feel I enjoy science much more," she said. "I enjoyed bonding with my fellow classmates in way I might not have otherwise, through different activities where I was on my own, with partners or even as a group. It was enjoyable for the entire time.

"Going out of this program I now look at science with so much more anticipation for what I could be studying later on."

Buehler said the opportunity to learn from university students provides his students with role models and a look at a possible career path of their own.

"It give them the opportunity — and I can't stress the importance of this enough — to engage with people who are making these aspects of science their career," he said. "It's not just me saying 'Theoretically you could need this here or need this there,' it's somebody who is actually building their life (through science)."

CE-Jan 19-1_news3.jpgWhile elementary students learn from their instructors, Kamskénow's Elias said the program provides an important opportunity for the university students to learn how to communicate science concepts with understanding, practice employment skills and acquire an understanding of the diversity in schools and the community,

"All of those are really rich parts that we want for our students in the College of Arts and Science — I know we benefit from that as well," she said. "We also have a number of our graduate students with a masters or a PhD who have now gone into education as a result of their participation in the program, so we know your teachers and students are inspiring some of our science students as well."

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)7/18/2019 12:09 PM
Songs help French immersion students build their language skills

CE Nove 28-6_news.jpgIn order to help their students learn a new language, two French immersion teachers at École River Heights School first had to do some unique learning of their own.

Teachers Jessica Brown and Marie-Pierre Michaud wanted to use short songs to help their Grade 2 and Grade 3 students become more familiar with French, but before they could teach with music they first had to learn how to play the guitar.

"This literacy framework was born of the understanding that phonics, phonological and phonemic awareness are key to reading and writing in French," Michaud said. "Recognizing the power of music to transform learning experiences and bolster memory recall, Jessica and I decided that we would learn how to play the guitar to support literacy learning."

Michaud and Brown use 25 original songs to familiarize students with the most common sounds of the French language but the songs are only one component of the literacy instruction that takes place each day in their classrooms.

"Daily learning must be extended beyond the songs to ensure that students connect the sounds to the appropriate letter combinations," Michaud explained. "This is achieved through a variety of activities, games, tasks and explicit decoding strategies, all of which connect naturally to the rich instruction of sounds that occurs with the see-say-spell and word work components of MIMI (PWIM)."

After more than a year of using the musical approach to literacy instruction, Brown says regular assessment shows student growth in language acquisition. The collection of data allows her to track improvement, target intervention to improve mastery of the sounds on both a class and individual level and share individualized student progress with parents so they can support their child at home.

"In the classroom, student acquisition of phonics has improved dramatically in response to this responsive instruction. This year, I tested by students for 64 sounds in mid-October and again in the beginning of November . . . in that period my 21 Grade 2 students gained an average of 15 sounds over the course of October, which translates to an average 35 per cent reduction in unknown sounds," she said.

"Another way to look at this is that the average student improved their sound recognition by 114 per cent, which means that they more than doubled the number of sounds they recognize in a one-month period."

At the beginning of 2016-17 school year, nine students in Brown's Grade 2 class were reading at or above grade level while 11 students were below grade level. The year ended with students, on average, improving by 8.5 reading levels, 2.5 levels more than expected for that grade. Four students were still reading below grade level, however two of those students were just one step below after experiencing significant growth during the year.

"They were considered success stories by our staff even though they were still one level below," Brown said.

Elliot LeBlanc a Grade 3 student, said using what he's learned through the songs helps him decode words while reading.

"When I don't know a word I just use these sounds to spell the word out and then I read it."

Adds Allyson Gurney, a Grade 2 student: "It's helped me with my writing. When I am trying to sound out a word and spell it I use the songs that I learned in class to sound it out and spell it."

Vice-Principal Deena Shyluk said using music and song as a strategy to boost learning is just one example of the creative approaches used by teachers to help students learn.

"As a music lover I was so happy to hear the sounds of children singing ringing through the halls of the school. I was even more excited when I found that the songs that the students were singing were very intentionally designed to promote French language learning."

The best testimony of the effort's success at building students' familiarity with French and creating excitement about language learning comes from the parents who hear their children singing the songs at home.

"Parents and students alike have communicated to us their appreciation of this approach to literacy instruction," Michaud said. "Indeed, one of our student's infectious singing of the songs at home convinced his mother to incorporate the songs into her classroom literacy instruction. Another parent communicated to us that his child sings so much at home that her younger sister, age 3, is now singing along with her!"

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)7/18/2019 12:09 PM
Democracy in action for Grade 3 classroom at Silverwood Heights

SHStreaty_news.jpgDemocracy has an important place in Jennifer Herrod's classroom at Silverwood Heights School.

And the way in which she shares her passion for the values embodied in parliamentary democracy is helping her students learn about the importance of democracy in Canadian society, the need to show respect for others and their responsibilities as they grow as citizens.

"I have planned lessons and activities that are actively helping students become engaged members in our own democracy. Canadian government is not mentioned in the Grade 3 Saskatchewan curriculum, but what is (mentioned) is teaching what good citizenship looks like and feels like," she said.

"Our students need choice in order to feel their voices are heard and to be successful. This will help students understand and make connections, for they are our future voters, upcoming parliamentarians, potential Order of Canada winners and current and hopeful world-changers."

Noah, one of Herrod's former students, says the use of democratic principles in the classroom is one way in which students can have a say in their learning.

"You have more freedom in what you do and it is easier to learn that way. I also think when you have been given a freedom you also have been placed with the responsibility to do your job. Earning freedom is a right," he said. "Miss Herrod has a choice part during language arts and we got to choose the activities we did. We shared knowledge and understanding. We also choose what we write and read."

The participation of students in developing a classroom treaty at the beginning of the school year is a first step in the learning. The treaty is a commitment agreed to by both students and teacher on how they will learn together and teach each other.

"It is the rules and expectations of everyone in the classroom so that everyone knows their job. If you don't do your job then you break the treaty," explained Madison, adding that the treaty applies whether students are inside or outside of their classroom.

"We decided as a class what rules should be on it and we each put a Lego piece on the Lego treaty to show our commitment to it. If the Lego treaty get broken we have to rebuild it."

Herrod's passion for learning and teaching democratic principles has seen her attend a teachers' session at the Saskatchewan Legislature as well as the Teacher's Institute on Parliamentary Democracy that brought 70 educators from across the country to Ottawa in November 2017. Participants had the opportunity to visit the House of Commons and Senate, learn from parliamentarians and others involved in the democratic process and governance, and share ideas with their fellow teachers.

"Every day my brain was filled with information. Teachers got political with their questions about the issues that concerned each of us, education and Aboriginal rights being the topics of concern," she said. "This opportunity allowed us to share our thoughts in a safe environment and to be respected for our opinions, even if they differ from that of our leaders. This also needs to apply in our classrooms."

Listening to the banter and the exchange of ideas and positions among MPs during question period in the House of Commons, and having the opportunity to take part in a mock question period with fellow participants, is an experience Herrod has shared with her own students to illustrate how decisions are made.

"People in government make decisions about Canada. There are two sides that argue back and forth to help decide," said student Karina. "People in Canada get to vote for who gets in Parliament and helps to make up the government. Having choice makes life better."

The opportunity to learn from legislators and those in government while doing it alongside other teachers informs the learning that Herrod shares with her students and emphasizes the need for students, even in elementary school, to be knowledgeable and engaged about the rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy.

"We all wish for a better Canada," Herrod said, "and together we must work alongside each other to achieve those goals." 

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)7/18/2019 12:09 PM