Engaging Kids in Authentic Research

Engaging Kids in Authentic Research

RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 3 of 4:  As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.

During Exhibition, the student’s research is authentic as they take ownership for their learning from the very start.  Once the whole grade 5 group decides on the central idea, each group/individual makes up their own lines of inquiry which decides what direction their research will take.  From here they make up questions to investigate based on each of the eight PYP key concepts.  When the students decide the path their research takes, it becomes more authentic for them and is truly something that sparks their curiosity.  The central idea, lines of inquiry, and key concept questions will help the students stay focused and on-track during their investigation.

Students are required to select and utilize a variety of strategies and resources to meet the outcomes of the inquiry.  Students should use a variety of secondary sources such as books, websites, magazine and newspaper articles, surveys, artifacts, science investigations, working models, field visits, studies, etc.  The more sources they access the deeper their understanding will be.

A huge part of the student’s inquiry is based on primary sources.  Some of the most important information is gathered from the experts who have lived and experienced the actual issues being investigated.  These interviews are always rich in knowledge and provide an in-depth look into each group’s topic of study.  The interviews can be conducted face-to-face, through Skype or FaceTime, over the phone or on-line. The students always get so excited when they get to interact with an expert and the information they obtain is so valuable.  The students develop their own interview questions which are largely based on the lines of inquiry and key concepts.  Not only do the students gain great inquiry techniques, but it also teaches them excellent communication and interview skills.

We strive for the students to engage in an in-depth, collaborative inquiry to provide them with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives.  By discovering various viewpoints, and not always ones they agree with, it allows them to see the whole picture of their issue and become even more of an expert on their topic of study.  It pushes them to go beyond simple research and look at their issue from several different angles.

During Exhibition academic honesty is emphasized.  The students are expected to correctly cite all the sources that they use for research.  This does not only include text information, but also pictures, videos, articles, interviews, etc.  It is of utmost importance that the students put all the information they access into their own words.  We want the students to be able to confidently speak about their topic so it is important that they understand and make sense of the evidence they acquire.

On-site visits or field trips also give students excellent insight into their selected issues as well.  By actually experiencing things first hand, it helps them develop a deeper understanding of their topics.  The more opportunities and exposure the students receive, the more enriched their learning will be.

Please feel free to follow along with our student’s progress as we continue to grow through the Exhibition process by accessing our blog at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/pwexhibition/   You can also find us on Twitter by following our hashtag #pwex17.

This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters Elementary School on Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 pm and Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15 am.  Everyone is more than welcome to attend and see what our students have to share.  Hope to see you there!

Who Are You? What Is Your Story?

Who Are You? What Is Your Story?

RVS Teacher, Ecole Edwards -The story of our beautiful Canada 150 Identity quilt starts with an old photograph. As the 2016-2017 school year was about to begin, and I began to review the Grade 5 program, I decided I wanted to share my learning about my Metis identity with my students. I realized that I could use my voice to ensure that my students would learn about an FNMI perspective through engaging programming.

While I researched resources for Social Studies, I was reminded of a recent visit to my parents’ place in Edmonton with my daughter. We usually have lunch sitting on the back deck in the warm summer sun. After all the greeting hugs and the delicious food, we begin our family visit. During these times we
usually talk about what is happening in our lives, tell stories, tease one another, and laugh. On this particular visit, my daughter was talking about her newest learning as a humanities student focusing on Indigenous Women in Canada. Mom brought out all the vintage photos in their collection and with that a photograph of my Great Great Grandmother, Angele Chalifoux (nee Delorme dit Lemay). Dad’s Metis ancestry is something that my Daughter and I share a keen interest in. In the photo, Angele is a beautiful Indigenous woman sitting proudly with her mustached third husband George Chalifoux. Behind them is a rough sawn log cabin with rifles adorning the exterior walls. The photograph is striking. Both my daughter and I were immediately smitten.

Old family photo

Upon researching Angele’s life through online archival research, I came to learn that prior to this particular photo being taken, she was in fact one of the infamous Edmonton Stragglers. She was one of 84 band members, mostly single women and their children who were struck from Treaty in 1877 by Timothy P. Wadsworth an “Indian Agent” negotiating the relocation of Papaschase reserve- for not being a close enough relative to Chief Papaschase. As a result, Angele left Treaty and applied for Half-Breed (Metis) Scrip, refunding the government $47 worth of Treaty payments. Angele was widowed, starving and supporting her children on her own. Being struck from Treaty made it next to impossible for her to survive, without a “reserve” community to rely on, therefore she assumed a new identity through the “half-breed” commission. All of this information was new to my family. While Angele was a familiar person in a photo, she also had a story, and a fleeting identity. A story that is well documented by government records, yet a story we didn’t know.

I thought about my connection to this information, and how it had affected the identities of my family members before me, and how it will affect the identity of those after me, and ultimately how it affects my identity now. I also considered how I came to know this. I had to search for it, I had to do the work to learn about this history. At no time in my formal schooling was there a focus on the perspective of the FNMI population and history in Alberta. My Father was taught to be ashamed of his Metis ancestry and identity. He told me that I didn’t have to tell anyone about it when we researched and engaged our Metis membership.

Any knowledge of the Metis in Alberta was not taught to me by formal school history, but through a strong connection to the land and an oral history. Fortunately, my father has always lived with a very close connection to the land. He taught us to appreciate and utilize the natural world in a respectful way. At school, I was the only 13-year-old girl who had experienced handling a hunting rifle and hunting knife, shooting and skinning an animal, and then consuming it. Dad taught us about trapping; showing us his father’s rusty old traps and pelt stretchers. My Grandfather, a trilingual man, would regale us with legends of the Whiskey Jack, tell us stories about his trap line, and talk of his days as a fiddler.

To develop an authentic understanding of a FMNI perspective, I started the journey by carefully selecting a number of historical novels written by Indigenous Canadian authors for my daily read aloud time. My first pick was Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s Fatty Legs. A story about an Inuit girl’s experience in a residential school. Students were hooked after the first chapter! We also read historical fiction about the other important groups of people existing and surviving in Canada pre and post Confederation who also suffered oppression and hardship. Many books were written from the perspective of a child in the context of hardship, collaboration and problem solving. We also looked closely at archival photos of the First People in Alberta and Canada, and the assortment of immigrant groups to help develop a context for students to make a connection to the past by comparing it to today. Learners connected strongly to the idea that their identity, like Angele’s, is ever evolving.

This rich content led to exquisite conversations and naturally scaffolded activities for highly motivating writing experiences connecting the qualities of the people of the past, the present and the future. Many students have developed a taste for historical learning and thinking far beyond my imagination. As a culminating activity we decided to make a quilt to tell the stories of Canada in the past and the present using symbols to portray the identities of important groups of people in Canadian history. Each child carefully chose a symbol to represent their identity as a young Canadian at this point in time, these are included on the quilt. Students insisted that I include my identity as a Metis person on the quilt, I chose an infinity symbol. Lastly, each physical region of Canada is represented by a symbol on the quilt.

It is the student’s wishes that our quilt is given to a child in need. Our quilt tells the varied stories of the people of Canada pieced together with a common thread of collaboration. We are currently searching for an agency that will ensure that our quilt is delivered to a child who deserves warmth, happiness, joy, hope, comfort inspiration and security. It is our hope that this quilt will deliver those things and so will our community. In my heart, I hope this child has a mother like Angele Delorme dit Lemay; a strong, determined, resilient woman.Canada 150 Quilt

Making a Documentary

Making a Documentary

RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 2 of 4:  As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection. This project is a culmination of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and gives a chance for students to demonstrate all of their attained knowledge thus far, as well as challenge them to go further in their learning. All five elements of the PYP will be on display during this inquiry: Attitudes, Knowledge, Key Concepts, Skills and Action.

As with all large student-initiated inquiries, naturally we wanted to capture the process of this wonderful student learning, but how? Fortunately for us, wonderful members of the RVS 21st learning specialists team were available to help us out with their expertise. Spending a day with Janelle Fortmuller allowed us to storyboard two different documentaries that we will focus on during the 9 weeks that will help visualize the students’ journeys. With a purposeful and deliberate attempt to capture learning each week, along with making room for the impromptu moments of learning, we hope these documentary storyboards assist us in making our learning visible.

Our first documentary will focus on the Exhibition in its’ entirety and the Exhibition as a whole process. From the first week of capturing students’ excitements and explanations of their topic, to identifying various self-management, communication, social, thinking and research skills used weekly, we dedicate each Thursday and Friday to capturing student voice about the process via weekly reflections. These powerful snippets of video allow students to tell their story as they go through the process, with the hope of capturing all of the A-Has’ and frustrations experienced by students, to be put together in a process of Exhibition documentary.

Our second documentary arose from the idea of educating parents and guests during the two Exhibition days of May 3rd and 4th. In the year’s past, we’ve urged the parents and guests to challenge students during the Exhibition to have a conversation about their learning and process they went through. As some teachers are aware, urging parents and guests to participate more can be more powerful when it comes directly from students rather than our teacher voice. We wanted to build on last year’s marginal success of a student created video that involved students urging parents to challenge them, to question them, to have a conversation with them. This documentary was influenced by Janelle’s insights as well and our storyboard has more clarity and purpose that builds off of last year’s success.

Along with making our daily learning as visible as possible through our Exhibition Blog and Twitter #pwex17, we hope our two documentaries open the doors to anyone within our division and beyond to see the growth and learning that occurs during the Exhibition and one of their final pieces of their PYP education.

What is the PYP Exhibition?

What is the PYP Exhibition?

RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 1 of 4:  Prairie Waters is one of only 11 schools in Alberta that is an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering the Primary Years Programme (PYP). One of the unique features of this program is the PYP Exhibition. In our students’ final year at Prairie Waters (grade 5), they engage in an 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.

The IB explains the purpose of the PYP Exhibition:

  • to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate independence and responsibility for their own learning
  • to provide students with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives on an issue
  • for students to synthesize and apply their learning of previous years and to reflect upon their journey through the PYP
  • to provide an authentic process for assessing student understanding
  • to demonstrate how students can take action as a result of their learning
  • to unite the students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in a collaborative experience
  • to celebrate the transition of learners from primary to middle/secondary education.

This year, under the Theme of: “Who We Are”, students developed the central idea for our Exhibition: “Actions, relationships and mindsets shape the global community.” We have 29 groups of students who are investigating 29 different issues, which they are emotionally invested in learning more about. From living a minimalist lifestyle, to gender judgement in sports. From media bias to addressing the needs of the homeless. From grief and loss to the importance of a good night’s sleep, we have a wide variety of issues that have been selected by our students, which they have deemed significant and relevant to learn about. Together with the support of their group members, their classroom teacher, their parents and a mentor, students engage fully in the research process. Mentors volunteer their time once a week to meet with their group to provide advice, support, and guidance on the inquiry process. This year we have mentors from the community of Chestermere, family members of our students, pre-service teachers, support staff, and teaching staff within our school. Exhibition certainly couldn’t be successful without the generous support of those who offer their time as mentors to our students!

Throughout their inquiry process, our students share, reflect, and connect with the world outside of Prairie Waters through our Exhibition Blog: http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/pwexhibition/ . We encourage you to follow along with our students as they embark on their Exhibition journey this year! We have visitors to our blog from almost every continent on Earth each month, through the power of Twitter and connecting with other classes around the globe who are also participating in the PYP Exhibition at the same time. You can find us on Twitter by following the hashtag of our journey, #pwex17. These avenues of sharing the Exhibition process provides our students with the understanding that their audience, their learning and their actions as a result of their learning are far-reaching and can have an impact all the way around the world. This wider authentic audience certainly encourages our students to step up their game when ensuring their information is accurate and credible. 

This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 and the morning of Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15. Everyone, far and wide is welcome and invited to attend and celebrate the accomplishments of our students. We hope to see you there!

Listening Tails

Listening Tails

Child Development Advisor – Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society (CTDS) was created in 2014 from the heart and vision of an amazing individual, Steven King. He believes that animals, particularly dogs, can add tremendous value to our lives. From this vision, several programs have been developed. The one I would love to introduce you to is Listening Tails!

The Listening Tails program is designed to help children improve their reading skills and confidence by reading out loud to a therapy dog. Each student will read for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. Prairie Waters Elementary School is so blessed to have two dogs (Shadow and Atlas) and two handlers (Tanya and Sheldon) once a week for an hour and a half. This allows for 10 students each week to participate in the program.

Listening Tails has been running strong at Prairie Waters Elementary School since the Spring of 2015. We have been lucky enough to provide this opportunity to approximately 75 students. The program’s success stems from the fact that dogs love the attention they receive when children read to them. Another key to the success of this program is that dogs are non-judgemental listeners. There isn’t an adult looking over their shoulders correcting them, and no added pressure of an audience of people.

Steven King quotes that “being a volunteer-driven organization, nothing could have happened without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers in Chestermere and surrounding areas who, from day one, have embraced the idea of help through therapy dogs. As an organization, CTDS understands that the dogs are the centre of attention, but nothing happens without the loving care of their dog handlers who give selflessly of themselves each time they attach the CTDS bandana around their dog’s neck.”

Our students absolutely love being chosen to participate in Listening Tails; choosing which child gets to have a coveted spot on the list is one of the hardest decisions to make. Every student who has participated in this program has nothing but positive things to say. Many students ask to partake regardless if they are an emerging reader. The connection our students feel towards the dog is magical.

Our school is a happier place when Shadow and Atlas are here. The dogs bring a positivity to the hallways that is difficult to describe. Prairie Waters is thrilled to have the Listening Tails program at our school and is so appreciative of the dedication and commitment that Tanya and Sheldon have for bringing the dogs once a week from September to June.

The Listening Tails program is truly a win-win situation. The students love the time they spend with the dog, the dog loves the one-on-one attention they receive from the student, and the handlers leave our school feeling they have made a difference in the lives of a child. If you have any questions about this program, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society website.

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