Cross-curricular Connections with Aboriginal Education

Integrating Aboriginal Education Across the Curriculum

By Pat Bathurst, Maywood Community School

I am a true believer in thematic based curriculum and whenever possible I try to integrate student learning into as many subject areas as possible. I also wanted to really embrace “Stronger Together” with my students. For these reasons, Div 1 at Maywood Elementary has been immersed in experiences and projects intended to bring a greater understanding of Aboriginal Culture, beliefs and challenges. The following is a brief snapshot of what we’ve been up to.

In Language Arts, we used the district’s intermediate Residential Schools Lit Circle Kit. This is an excellent resource with novels spanning reading levels from grades four to seven. The novels portray life before and during residential school for a variety of Aboriginal children.

Students met twice a week in same novel groups to discuss the events, characters and meaning they were making as they read. Not only did the discussions indicate that my students were learning about the history of the Residential School system, it was quite evident that they were developing empathy and an understanding of how our early experiences impact our lives. Between Lit Circles, students wrote personal responses. The personal meaning students gleaned from these stories, and the connections they made with the main character’s experiences often awed me. Here are some snippets.

“Another thing I want to talk about is putting myself in the Character’s shoes. To be honest, I would hate to not be with my mom. It would suck because I would not have anyone to talk to and ask questions.”

“This novel made me have feelings. Some parts were shocking, sad and exciting. Sometimes this book made me want to do a little dance, sometimes I wanted to cry and sometimes I had this I’m done, I can’t take it feeling. There are very few books that have a big impact in my life and this is one of those books.”

“This novel has a big impact on what I think of Canadian History and life. The novel is telling me that I should go out more and enjoy nature.”

“My biggest connection is when all the kids were told ‘you can’t do this and you gotta do that and they don’t listen to them’. It reminds me when someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me more determined.”

“I can make a lot of connections with Lawrence because I wasn’t brave to start with either, but when I moved to Turkey I learned to be strong and stand up for myself. . . . I became more confident. Laurence stood up to the nun and from that moment on he was more confident with himself and he took that confidence home. Just like me.”

Two big ideas that came from our literature circle experience were resiliency and that we shouldn’t judge people, but rather come to understand their life stories.. A lesson given by Mary Hotomanie, Aboriginal Resource Teacher, on the effect of taking children from a community was very powerful and helped to initiate these big ideas..

One of the unexpected outcomes of this experience was the growing sense of community in our classroom.

In Science, we explored the Aboriginal World View. A lesson by Mary led to small groups of students choosing a cycle to explore and illustrate. These included: The water cycle, the rock cycle, the moon cycle, the human life cycle, frog cycle, seasons, the salmon cycle, food cycle, butterfly cycle and the star cycle After completing their cycle, I created a break by attaching a jagged line somewhere along the circle Students then followed the sequence of events that would occur if this cycle was broken. They were encouraged to go as far as they could with the ripple effect on all of life should this occur. Finally they presented their findings to the class. This was a great way to illustrate that:

Everything on earth has a purpose

Everything on earth is connected

Everything on earth is to be embraced

Everything on Earth is alive

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We also had the privilege of spending an afternoon at Central Park with Cease Wyss who introduced students to many of the native plants and their medicinal uses. She definitely brought my students closer to nature and evoked in them a much greater respect. I know they were fascinated and moved. They have retained a lot of their learning as it continues to come up in conversations and for many it sparked the desire to go deeper with this learning in their inquiries. My two students of Aboriginal ancestry were particularly engaged in this activity.

In Social Studies students chose a topic related to Aboriginal Peoples to conduct an in- depth inquiry which they later presented to the class in a format of their choosing. Most students worked with a partner or in a small group that was formed by their interests. The most popular format was power point with an oral script. Topics they chose included:

  • The effect of European settlement on First Nations Peoples
  • The differences between First Nations medicine and today’s medicine
  • Residential Schools
  • Aboriginal people’s participation in the Canadian Military
  • First Nations Sports
  • Comparing First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples
  • Food and hunting methods of the Inuit
  • The Moosimin Band (conducted by a student whose ancestral background is with this band)
  • Aboriginal peoples use of plants and animals and the effect of European settlement on First Nations diets
  • Challenges facing Aboriginal women

Students had a two month window of time in which to conduct their inquiry and put together their learning. Most students were fully engaged in their learning and presented their learning very well. A few were outstanding and a few needed extra support.   If I were to do a similar inquiry activity, I would love to be able to connect my students with a mentor from an Aboriginal community.   I think this would have helped them to develop their questions and take their learning deeper. Overall though, I am pleased with the experience and the results.

In Art we learned about the use of masks in First Nations Ceremonies and students created masks of their own faces using Plaster of Paris gauze. They first made drafts, thinking about what spirit/s they would like present at a ceremony celebrating them and how it could be represented on their mask. After painting their masks, students wrote a short piece describing why they wanted this mask at their ceremony and what it represented.

This was a wonderful activity. Not only was it fun, it built community and enabled students to personally reflect on who they are and what is important to them. I was awed by their engagement and effort throughout this project.Pat b 7Pat b 6Pat B 4

“I would like this mask at my ceremony because it represents me. The red cross represents aboriginal medicine which I studied for inquiry and found it really interesting. It also represents me because it has the four elements and I really like nature like Aboriginal peoples.”

“What I wanted to invite to my celebration was the symbol of peace and justice, and I thought that the perfect way to represent that was to paint two white wings that have the meaning of peace. The clouds represent the negative thoughts while the sun represents the positive. The blue background represents the calmness which means that the positive thoughts are winning over the negative.” 

“For my celebration I’m inviting an eagle with star because I’m celebrating where I’m from. On the Albanian flag (my dad’s flag) there’s an eagle on it. I wanted to represent my mom’s flag too (the Kosovo Flag) so I drew stars on the wings. I added yellow sparks to the eagle’s wings because on the Albanian flag, the wings of the eagle are the biggest things on the flag.”

Over the course of the last two terms, I have learned so much along with my students and feel like it has been a good start to bringing the gifts of our First People’s into the classroom. I know that I still have some learning to do and adjustments to make and I’m thankful for the people and resources provided by the District who I know will help me on this journey.

What’s to come.

With the help of Mary my students will develop a further understanding of the Medicine Wheel and create their own. Mary has also connected us with the Green Team Meet Up Group and on April 23rd we will be attending an invasive species clean up in Central Park.

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