David Ewen

Educator. Learner. Mentor

Category: Educational Blog

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.


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.


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.


Do Girls and Boys Engage with Technology Differently?

I came across an interesting article from The Wall Street Journal this morning in my news feed. The article focuses on how boys and girls appear to engage with technology in different ways. Granted, the debate on whether male and female brains are inherently different has long been debated, but it got me thinking about the use of multimodal technology in the classroom. Given the long history of perceived biases toward ‘male’ subjects such as math and science, I think it might be worth turning a critical eye toward how we use new technology in the classroom in order to ensure we’re giving equal opportunity to all students.

“Academics who study gender differences also have faced backlash for pointing out that boys and girls aren’t the same”

The article focuses on recent research published by the Pew Research Center in 2017.  In the study, led by Yale psychiatry professor Marc Potenza and a group of Chinese researchers, teenage males and females were subjected to a number of stimuli while being monitored by MRI, specifically looking for spikes in the areas of our brains responsible for reward and addiction.  In short, results showed that males were more likely to show a spike in brain activity in areas associated with addiction while gaming, while females were not. Girls were more likely to be drawn toward social networking websites as a way of forming social bonds and sharing. The takeaway from this being that adolescent girls were more prone to FOMA (Fear of Missing Out), possibly leading to increased cases of depression and anxiety.

So, what does this mean for multiliteracy as educators and why might it be significant? 

It’s no secret that savvy teachers will use the most current technology to connect with their students. However, does it matter what kind of technology we use? Recent studies have shown certain benefits of gaming in adolescent development as an educational tool, as well as the benefits of social media and social networking sites in the classroom. I took this article as a reminder that however much we introduce technology in the classroom, we must remember that not every student will receive it in the same way.

Food for thought, no?  I’d love to hear your experiences. Leave a comment if you can.

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