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.
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.
RVS Teacher, Banded Peak School – “Wow… it feels like a business meeting is going on in here!” Our music teacher unknowingly provided the greatest compliment my students could have received last spring on an impromptu visit to our class. Her remark was greeted by cheers and smiles, but also a quick return to writing and discussions of projects and deadlines. This late-May morning in our classroom (and the surrounding hallways) featured one group of students filming a webcast they had scripted, two others interviewing our assistant principal for a magazine article, another group story-boarding their graphic novel, one writing a play to be recorded as a podcast, and others coding and writing the marketing materials for games that they would upload onto our blog, which was being designed built by yet another small team of students. Spring 2016 in 5/6B at Banded Peak School was filled with many mornings like these; working to write, script, portray, upload and publish the products that were to be displayed at the official launch of our classroom-based companies, Student Spark Media and PineCo Publishing.
The long road to Student Spark originated with a “Communication Portfolio” project in my Language Arts classroom. My vision was for the portfolios to be filled with real-life opportunities where writing, spelling/grammar, organizing and editing skills were important and worth practicing. I started by introducing different communication challenges to my class every two to three weeks, having them work through drafts towards final copies that would be put to real use. Term one’s assignments started with letter writing using the “Great Canadian Mail Race,” which was followed-up by learning how to write proper emails and choosing a professional out in the working world to contact – the goal in each assignment being to write effectively enough to receive a reply (indeed, some students did receive replies from a whole variety of other writers: from fellow students in different provinces to professional authors, the head chef at Hotel Arts, even an Olympic Medallist). In hindsight, these projects turned out to be what I now consider realistic practice, valuable for developing skill, but something short of truly real work. I choose the term realistic rather than real because as I reflect now, I see that I remained at the core of each project as creator and evaluator. It was as I began to implement my term two project in the communication portfolio that I stumbled out of realistic work and into an opportunity for something far deeper.
Ironically, the Great Canadian Mail Race was a featured article in the “Summit Speaks Magazine” that was released in June by PineCo Publishing.
The path to that “business meeting” and the end of the year launch featuring 13 unique media products stretches way back to the beginning of March, when my students (without my knowledge) took responsibility for making their learning real. I had just introduced the term two communication portfolio assignment, a letter to the editor. It was a few days after filling my classroom with local newspapers, placed there for my students to find an issue to care about and read some examples of letters written by other caring community members, that I overheard a conversation about scheduling a google hangout for a group chat after school. I was also asked if I would loan out some clipboards and iPads to a small group at recess time. Understandably, I was a little worried, but I quickly discovered that two competing (but friendly) newspaper businesses had sprung up among my students. Kids were signing up fast to work at the “Grizzly Growler” or “Redwood ‘Round the Clock.” Negotiations had even been completed to ensure that the Growler would focus on school news while ‘Round the Clock covered events in the community. This effort was pretty impressive and at first I didn’t know exactly what to do. After a little more effort by me to try to push the letter to the editor assignment forward, I gave in… I mean, jumped in and opened the door for my whole class on this real work.
A summary of the first few classes where we worked together to re-define the Communication Portfolio – this was the groundwork for what would become Student Spark and PineCo
After cancelling the letter to the editor assignment, we spent a few classes as a full group re-defining the Communication Portfolio around the student-run newspaper ideas. I introduced the definition of “media” as well a current events story about layoffs and re-organization at Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher. The entire class was on-board with the big idea of building a company and creating media products, but they were not all keen to become newspaper writers. The “Growler” and “’Round the Clock” were put on hold until every student could put some time into a proposal about how they could best spend their time working in the media. As my students set to work on their proposals, I imposed four working conditions:
- our company would be non-profit;
- every member of the class (myself included) would be equal employees of the company;
- decisions would be made through Direct Democracy (every employee would have an opportunity to have input); and
- decisions would require consensus to move forward (this was particularly interesting when it came time to decide on our name… long story short, we learned how compromise which is also a key part of consensus).
The first round of direct democracy was required after the student proposals came in. We needed to narrow the number of projects and then divide and conquer. Giving every student a one minute opportunity to comment on all of the proposed projects, whether or not they personally wanted to work on them, was a unique opportunity in learning about having an equal say. Thankfully, common interests and complementary skill sets emerged and a plan started to become clear. In all honesty though, there was a good amount of time spent experiencing how long decision making can take and how frustrating it can sometimes be when every voice is truly equal. My role evolved into finding the balance between moderating the strongest voices and encouraging the quieter ones. After eventually splitting into groups, students created their own timelines for each media project. These timelines were posted in what had become the head office of our company, and the work started.
After the initial investment in discussion and decision-making, concepts like the process of breaking down the creation of a webcast into scripting, rehearsal and filming were easy to teach. Other than occasional reminders and quality control checks, the students didn’t really need me for staying organized. The greatest challenge was simply finding enough time for the students to get the work done within the confines of our school schedule. Reflections from many students at the end of the year echoed this:
Nonetheless, the Student Spark web-based projects and PineCo printed products all took flight. For the first time in my teaching career, I honestly experienced a near total transfer of autonomy from teacher to students. A great example of this is in the variety of technologies that were used and learned by the different groups in the class. My comic novel workers, for instance, approached me with a request to use Pixton, an online comic creator, with the first chapter of their novel already complete in a trial version. With the students so invested in their work, I was able to spend time with groups and individuals developing standards for the level of quality we hoped to achieve as a team. I tried to provide exemplars of media similar to each project where I was familiar with them. For example, one student showed a lot of interest in developing short “sports tips” webcasts. After showing him a few clips of “Body Break,” he spent an entire weekend developing two segments of his own. He and I were able to collaboratively present to the rest of the class, focusing on the level of professionalism we wanted to see in all projects. The student showed a Body Break example followed by his clips, while I shared a “Pontiac World of Skiing Performance Tip” and my own video “sports tip” that I had been inspired to add to the project.
Other projects delved into areas where I had no expertise or exemplars that came easily to mind. However, the students easily took up the challenge in these cases. The Student Spark creators of “Who’s Got Dance: Teachers versus Students,” independently started their work by researching current dance contest television shows and developing a template to write their own episodes. As well, a group of students passionate in gaming and coding took their lead from a business simulator video game that had been introduced to the class through the Junior Achievement program, creating and marketing games of their own using Hopscotch and Scratch, and publishing in WordPress. In these and all of the projects, the tasks of editing and quality control were truly accepted as responsibilities in and among the groups in the class.
As we neared the end of the year, I invited a few experts in the media business to meet with my students to reinforce what “professional level” truly means. Mr. Mark Kamachi the owner of marketing and media company AdMaki, graciously spent an afternoon helping us to start on designing our logo as well as providing input on presentation and branding to each group as they put the finishing touches on their products. Likewise, Ms. Joan Kollewyn, an RVS learning specialist in technology dedicated time to our webcast and podcast groups around achieving a consistent look and feel. These opportunities provided the last bit of motivation needed to get the work to the finish line, which was our culminating launch party.
I was so immensely proud to invite Mr. Kamachi, Ms. Kollewyn as well as all of the parents and family of the Student Spark and PineCo employees to a celebration of learning in our classroom at the end of June. Each and every student stood up, introduced their projects and shared their reflections on the process of working in the media. They shared both challenges and successes honestly. For instance, the publishers of Summit Speaks Magazine acknowledged that their original goal of producing two issues turned out to be unrealistic, and they mentioned the technological hurdles that they had to overcome, “out of the blue, random pictures would be inserted and work would get deleted.” Their pride in their work however was undeniable: “we have learned many things that could help us with a future edition… and we finished a great magazine!” All of the work was unveiled in print, video, on iPad and over the airwaves. It has all been showcased on my classroom blog, which was turned over to my students as editors: www.student-spark.ca – please visit to see and celebrate the work.
As we are a combined grade school, Student Spark and PineCo will continue in 2016-17; this year’s grade 6 leaders have just welcomed their new colleagues in grade 5. As we start to uncover areas of passion and interest, and move towards new ventures, we will also connect with our mentor grade 7’s, now experienced media creators and distributors. Keep an eye on www.student-spark.ca to see what will be next!
Director of Communications – September is a magical time of the year in our K-12 education system. You can see it in the faces of our Kindergarten students as they arrive at school for the very first time. You can hear it in the chatter among staff as they catch up on their summer break. And you can feel it in the excitement of parents, because their kids are back in school!
Rocky View Schools Communications Department is hoping you’ll help capture this magic through its Face of Rocky View School campaign. Thorough to November 1, we are inviting emerging, apprentice, and professional photographers to help capture images across our jurisdiction that align to one of the four categories:
Culture, People, School Life – Humans are the most fascinating subject a photographer can choose! This category calls to photographers who can capture the face of learning through portraitures, daily rituals, and traditions in their school.
Architecture, Schoolscapes, Learning Spaces – From the buzz of a busy hallway to the serenity of a wooded classroom, photographers will aim to capture the vitality or raw beauty of RVS’ learning environments.
Action, Sports, Adventure – Energy, adrenaline, activity. Turning movement into an eternal moment. Photographers will aim to capture action and adventure in the blink of an eye.
Creative Composition – Creative digital photographers can take an average photo and transform it into an illustrative work of art. For those that think of photography as a blank canvas.
Up to 50 photos will be selected and featured on RVS’ new public website that will be launched in the spring, along with the photographer’s credits. The photos also will be mounted in RVS’ Education Centre foyer and celebrated at a “Faces of Rocky View Schools Exhibition” in 2017.
We’ve already received a number of fantastic shots from students and staff. I hope you’ll help us capture the magic!
Welcome back everyone!
BTW. Greg I’m still waiting to get paid that $1 for breaking our branding standards…..