David Ewen

Educator. Learner. Mentor

Author: dmewen (page 1 of 2)

Elder Earl Claxton Jr.

In my observations of classes at Belmont Secondary, I’ve had some amazing experiences and opportunities to see real learning in progress. Some weeks ago, I chose to observe Mr. Feser’s English 11 class, not knowing what would be in store. I was in luck. On that day we had the privilege of having Elder Earl Claxton Jr. from Tsawout First Nation visit the class and present his knowledge and experience.

I had heard the name Claxton before, and I realized that I was remembering Earl Claxton Jr.’s father, Earl Claxton Sr., who was a widely respected Tsawout storyteller, educator and preserver of the Sencoten language. Earl Jr. has continued to advocate for west coast Salish First Nations and he proceeded to give us a glimpse into the past of his nation and why he continues to advocate.

To begin, Mr, Feser had already arranged the classroom in a circle so that we could all engage with each other face to face. Elder Earl brought in an authentic wood-carved Thunderbird talking stick. We began by passing around the talking stick and stating who we are and where we come from. This was the first revelation for me as I counted no less than 10 countries represented in Mr. Feser’s class. I love a diverse classroom and love the fact that Elder Earl Jr.’s talk would be something entirely new to them.

Elder Earl began by explaining one his nation’s creation stories, that of the Thunderbird who lived atop the mountain. As a child, it was said that one might encounter the Thunderbird while hiking the mountain alone. Elder Earl told us that this story was enough deterrent and he never hiked the mountain alone.

This led into his story of how, as a young man, he actively participated in protest against a proposed resort development on Tsawout land. A land developer attempted to build a mega-resort on First Nations territory, and the band attempted to seek an injunction in court. As that was being processed in court, the development company started to move its massive machinery into the bay and dredge the seabed. Earl recounted how he and a group of band members, in -12 temperature weather with snow blowing sideways, took their boats out to meet the machinery, illegally climbing onto the rigs to halt the process. In his measured and matter-of-fact way of speaking, he told how his eyes met an RCMP officer on the rig, and there was a moment of humanity and understanding between the two. In the end, he was arrested. What was particularly interesting about the story is that the RCMP had warned his father, Earl Sr., that he would be arrested if he protested. His father’s response, “Arrest him then…do what you have to do”. Earl Jr. told us that he became a warrior in his band that day.

This was an incredibly powerful lesson and judging from the students’ reactions, they received it well. I have thought about my own approach to the classroom and I believe having authentic Indigenous voices in the classroom is absolutely necessary. I consider myself lucky. I grew up with a wealth of First Nations learning, but have never considered how I could use it in the classroom. My goal now is to dig deeper and bridge that gap.

 

VR in the Language and ELL Classroom

Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom

Welcome to my group inquiry project on the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in the ELL or language classroom. As an ESL / ELL teacher, I’m particularly interested in how we can overcome the problem of relying on textbook-based learning in teaching a foreign language. To me, the main problem is that language textbooks heavily focus on  contrived material, which often has no practical use for learners with a specific need or goal in mind. Students are routinely required to learn (and are tested on) large amounts of material that they view as irrelevant. The result is that they learn a lot of vocabulary, but rarely gain fluency. Also, textbook role-play exercises tend to lack any kind of authenticity as roles are usually generalized, focused on grammar, and do not allow for spontaneous response. In researching Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), it’s amazing how current immersive simulations can much better imitate real-life situations, forcing students to improvise and adapt their language skills as they go.

Here’s a little presentation my group put together for class. I think the embedded video showing a VLE of a Colombian cafe is a great example of the potential use of VR in the language classroom.

Ed Tech – Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom

Welcome to my group inquiry project on the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in the ELL or language classroom. As an ESL / ELL teacher, I’m particularly interested in how we can overcome the problem of relying on textbook-based learning in teaching a foreign language. To me, the main problem is that language textbooks heavily focus on  contrived material, which often has no practical use for learners with a specific need or goal in mind. Students are routinely required to learn (and are tested on) large amounts of material that they view as irrelevant. The result is that they learn a lot of vocabulary, but rarely gain fluency. Also, textbook role-play exercises tend to lack any kind of authenticity as roles are usually generalized, focused on grammar, and do not allow for spontaneous response. In researching Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), it’s amazing how current immersive simulations can much better imitate real-life situations, forcing students to improvise and adapt their language skills as they go.

Here’s a little presentation my group put together for class. I think the embedded video showing a VLE of a Colombian cafe is a great example of the potential use of VR in the language classroom.

Ed Tech – Virtual Reality

 

The Camas Project Post #5: Planting the Bulbs

Now that I finally have everything I need, the last step is to transfer my camas bulbs and buttercup to the larger planter that will stay on my balcony through the winter.

Following the advice of the staff at Saanich Native Plants, I planted the bulbs about 10 cm. down from the surface, giving lots of space underneath. Apparently, the camas roots love to grow deeply in the soil, so hopefully they have enough room. I planted the buttercup alongside. I was also worried about frost, but the staff in Saanich assured me that camas plants are tough and will survive the winter no problem.

Lastly, as an addition to our family, my wife had to give the plants names. I suggested ‘Rocky Bulb-boa’ for the camas and my wife mistakenly (and hilariously) called the buttercup a “butternut”, and so here we are…welcome to the family ‘Butternuts’!

Well, that’s pretty much all I can do for now. The next steps of my project will take a few months to reach so I’ll periodically check in and document any changes that I notice. In the meantime, we’ll let nature do its thing and hopefully we’ll have some beautifully blooming camas come spring!

 

 

The Camas Project Post #4: The Search for Bulbs

After a quick Google search for camas bulbs for sale in Victoria, one of the first hits I came across was GardenWorks on Oak Bay Ave. I wasn’t sure if they had what I was looking for, but I decided to pay them a visit anyway and see what they could tell me about growing camas. After a look around the store, I found camassia quamash (common camas) bulbs for sale, but decided to ask the staff in any case. Good thing I did. It turns out that common camas is more ornamental than edible. Also, I found out that growing camas from seeds takes upwards of 7 years! Bulbs it is. This might have been a dead end, but luckily the staff recommended an alternative, Saanich Native Plants located at the Haliburton Community Organic Farm in Saanich.

I started by emailing Saanich Native Plants, telling them about my inquiry project and my hope of getting ahold of edible camas bulbs. I immediately got a reply from Kristen, informing me that they indeed had what I needed on site, nice! We exchanged a few emails and she let me know that I would have to grow the plant outside, but in a planter on the balcony would be fine. All set.

I drove out to Haliburton Organic Farm on Tuesday morning and talked to Andrea who took me to the camas bulbs, helpfully already in small planters. There were two sizes, small and large, two bulbs to a pot. Naturally the bulbs had not started to flower yet, but she broke one pot open and showed my how the bulbs had already begun to grow shoots beneath the soil, cool. I chose the larger of the two bulbs, and on Andreas advice, also bought a small buttercup which she said was a natural compliment to camas. First Nations traditionally planted the two plants together, the buttercups also helping mark the camas fields with their bright yellow colour. Saanich Native Plants is a wonderful business and the staff knowledgable and helpful.

My final stop on the way home was Canadian Tire, where I bought a tall flower planter, regular planting soil, and cheap garden tools. Next step: wait until the weekend and plant those bulbs!

The Camas Project Post #3: Research

Well, now that the ball is rolling, I did some digging online to find out what I could about camas. Firstly though, I want to expand on  what I already learned about camas through both the Canadian Geography and Canadian History classes I took last year. Secondly, I will share what I uncovered about growing the plant in an urban setting.

Camas and Vancouver Island History

What really set my interest on camas was reading UVIC History professor John Lutz’s book Makuk (2008) and seeing him lecture on the inadvertent role camas played in the choosing of Victoria as the Hudson Bay Company’s headquarters. In his book, Lutz argues that while the Coast Salish peoples were though of as “salmon people”, they were actually “camas people” as the plant was the primary source of starch in their diet. Actually, the plant was cultivated in fields (by Indigenous women)  and the land terraformed in many areas, including what is now downtown Victoria. According to common lore, these fields were what impressed James Douglas most about the site (reminded him of the fields of home) and so led to him choosing Victoria as the new HBC headquarters site. The irony of Douglas not realizing these fields were essentially well maintained gardens is one of those historical facts that makes you appreciate how random chance can have huge historical impacts.

How Hard Is it to Grow?

I began by looking up information on planting and growing. The BC Living website provided some useful information on both planting as well as harvesting and consuming the bulbs. Here’s what the site had to say:

  • there are two main types of edible camassia: common camas and great camas
  • camas bulbs are planted in the fall and bulbs are harvested in summer (seeds can be collected for replanting)
  •  bulbs should be planted fairly deep (~10 cm.) in rich, fertilized soil, ideally in lots of sun or bordering shade
  • camas is exceptionally easy to grow! (this is great news as I’m no green thumb!)
Alright, now my next step is to go out and find some bulbs.

 

 

Guest Speaker: Dominique Rochefort

I meant to post this earlier, but couldn’t find the time.

On October 10th, we were treated to a talk by former program alumni and current TOC in two districts, Dominique Rochefort. Dominique’s talk centred around teaching tolerance in the classroom, particularly at the elementary level. Dominique started by telling us that she identifies as Metis, but only learned about her Indigenous heritage later in life. As one could imagine, this created a sort of cultural identity crisis, as she had been raised to identify as French Canadian. In response, she eventually embraced her Indigenous heritage and now strives to educate young learners on Canadian First Nations and Metis identity.

A number of things Dominique told us resonated with me. Firstly, she stressed the fact that First Nations students are less likely to pursue STEM fields and enter higher education. For her, there is a key component of our education system missing that appreciates the importance of  First Nation story telling and learning, and I completely agree.

After coming home from the talk, I decided to Google my own elementary school, Carney Hill Elementary,  in Prince George, BC.  The first hit I came across was this article from 2010, https://www.pgfreepress.com/carney-hill-b-cs-lowest/

Apparently, my elementary school ranked last provincially in the 2010 Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests, assessing reading, writing and numeracy. Last means last in a ranking of 876 schools provincially. In 2011, my elementary school was renamed  Nusdeh Yoh elementary school and curriculum was changed to focus on First Nations culture and learning. I’m very happy to see this kind of recognition of Indigenous culture in education and I can only imagine that students are more comfortable there. In any case, Dominique’s talk highlighted the importance of including First Nations learning in the early years of BC education as a way to promote tolerance and understanding in the highly culturally diverse classroom. This is a lesson I plan to take forth in my future educational career.

 

 

Visit to The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry

On October 15, our entire Ed-tech class had the chance to visit the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII) in downtown Victoria. I had heard of the school before and its founder, Jeff Hopkins, as I had worked for a language co-op that had adopted the Project / Portfolio Based Learning (PBL) method. I have witnessed and can attest to how a PBL approach can rapidly speed up second language acquisition, and so I was particularly excited to visit the school firsthand and see what the learners were up to. It did not disappoint.

Common Study Space

We began with Jeff giving us a talk about his past as a teacher, principal and area superintendent, and how he came to open his own private school. In explaining the school’s approach to curriculum, one thing he said struck me, “Subjects here are not covered…they are uncovered“.  This means the school curriculum is based on learners’ own curiosity and they are encouraged to choose their own learning paths with the guidance of teachers. Subjects are integrated and learners can approach their inquiry projects from a number of angles within the traditional curriculum (science, socials, math, etc.).

Learning Path

 

In the end, learners are encouraged to create real projects that can be introduced to the public or even marketed. After Jeff’s talk, we were free to explore the school space and talk to the learners. One learner was particularly keen on telling us about her ambitious project. Having to rely on a wheelchair, this young woman’s inquiry arose from the lack of accessibility for the disabled in and around Victoria. As such, she designed a computer mapping system, and has been visiting businesses in the city, ranking them as Green (accessible), Yellow (somewhat), or Red (not accessible). She then drops a pin with corresponding colour into the virtual map. She said she hopes to take the project public and in fact has a meeting with mayor Lisa Helps scheduled this month. How cool is that?

In talking and listening to the learners, they all seemed to repeat the same point again and again. Having choice in their learning leads to happy and highly motivated learners. Many of them noted that they truly hated traditional school, and that PSII ‘saved’ them from the public education system. Both learners and Jeff noted, however, that an open inquiry and project based approach may not be suitable for all learners, with Jeff noting that it often takes learners time to become comfortable with their new sense of autonomy and choice in their paths. But once they do, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

In any case, it was wonderful to finally see the school, meet Jeff, and hear from the students themselves. I think there is a lot we as future high school educators can do to use inquiry and project based learning in the classroom, and I look forward to seeing students push their own limits of learning.

 

The Camas Project Post #2: Forming a Plan

Well, now that I have my topic and inquiry question squared away, it’s time to start planning the steps I’ll need to take in order to see it to the end. I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I think that really is the point of an inquiry project. This is really about my own curiosity and whatever the outcome, all I can hope is that I’ve learned something of value along the way.

Here are the steps I plan to follow in my inquiry:

  1. Research the History of Camas on Vancouver Island:  before diving into the project, I think it’s important to have a clear rationale on why this project is meaningful to me and why it’s important to explore it from the perspective of a Vancouver Island resident.
  2. Find Out How to Grow the Plant in an Urban Setting: living in a condo with a balcony, will I be able to successfully plant, grow and harvest the plant? Is the plant only suited for natural cultivation? If so, I’ll need to find an alternate space to proceed.
  3. Where Can I Find Seeds? What Kind of Soil Do I Need? Do I Need any Special Tools or Equipment?: I need to visit my local gardening businesses, hopefully knowledgeable about Indigenous plants, and inquire about how I might go about growing camas indoors.
  4. Document the Growth: from what I’ve read so far, camas is typically harvested in the spring or early summer (I may be wrong on this). But in any case, I’m hoping that I can document through video the progress (or failure) that I encounter during the process.
  5. Harvest: if the crop is sufficient, I want to harvest it and find a traditional First Nations cooking method to prepare it.

Next post will be on my research on the history of camas and where to find the necessary resources to get things going. Honestly getting kind of excited about this now.

 

Using Student Created Comic Books in the Classroom

We had a very interesting workshop in class on creating of comic books using the application Comic Life .

Physical comic books were a huge part of my upbringing and I honestly think they played an important part in bridging the gap for me to higher literacy. The absolute wealth of diverse comic and graphic novel content available nowadays means that nearly every student can find something that resonates with them. For me, it was Marvel comics, and I loved the way the images and narrative tied together to form engaging stories.

My Collection

My Collection

In the workshop, in groups of five we were given a set amount of time and had to create a comic.  This was a great exercise in several ways: we had to collectively brainstorm a situation in a group, lay out our ideas, and present it in comic form.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the second workshop, but I was able to send some pics to my group and they did an amazing job putting together the story.

Great Job Group!

There are several reasons I think that having students create comics can be useful in the classroom. Firstly, some students simply hate writing and may even fear having to write in class. Creating a comic can help these students by adding the extra element of visual representation, allowing students to engage in writing in a more creative and dynamic way. Second, comics can be a great way to visually represent knowledge in a clear and concise way, perfect for study notes or condensing complicated material into more manageable chunks. Finally, I’ve seen first hand how useful creating comics can be in the ELL classroom. Many English learners struggle to produce any written language, but given the chance to create, they feel less pressure and begin to enjoy writing.

Anyway, this is another interesting tool and I look forward to actually testing it out in the classroom in the future.

 

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