Connecting Learning Using an Inter-Disciplinary Indigenous Understandings Inquiry Focus: “How does where one lives affect how one lives?”
At the first day of the Network of Innovation and Inquiry (NOII) Symposium, participants had the opportunity to attend break-out sessions presented by schools. One of the break-outs we chose, was that of Dover Bay Secondary School from School District 68 Nanaimo Ladysmith.
The presenters, Lynn Brown, Robyn Grey, Brett Hancock, Michelle James, Tanya Lebans, and Carson Williams told their story of how they built a framework of community values for all learners (including adults) to ensure a strong emphasis on indigenous understandings in each core subject. They used an inter-disciplinary inquiry approach to do this. The following is a summary of their story:
To begin their journey the team scanned their teachers asking, “what is going on for our teachers?”, so that they could inform their plans to build a cross-curricular inquiry project.
Focusing, hunchwork and learning
Following their scan, they used teachers’ starting points to inform the ways in which they would use and recognise indigenous understandings as an entry point for connecting interdisciplinary competencies. Teachers hunched that a cross-curricular assignment would enhance their understanding that learning doesn’t happen in isolated subject areas — that all content has connections. They then initiated their team professional learning around this theme.
Learning and taking action
Once the staff had started engaging in relevant professional learning, the team developed a clear outline for what students needed to do. They presented this in a mindmap format as a tool that learners could use — learners had choice around presentation (paper or digital). The mindmapping process defined the themes (curriculum content and concepts) to be used in the six-week interdisciplinary project.
Teachers then re-worded curriculum competencies in learner language for the project, which acted as guides for learners — helping them to connect concepts as they explored themes.
“It’s all about thinking: collaborating to support all learners”
The initial question put to learners was, “How does where one lives affect how one lives?”. Every subject area used this question, but had a different focus. This was new; the staff had to trust that this was going to work in many ways. They let their learners work, or not work at times, to encourage agency and self-regulation.
As the project continued, teachers found they had to collaborate, so that as learners moved from class to class they weren’t doing the same thing all day. For example, if learners were taking a research approach in STEM today, they would also be covering other useful content in another class.
Staff worked with learners to consider the important information needed for this learning using indigenous frames first. For example, environmental concepts were adapted to the inquiry theme and applied to the Nations that learners chose to explore. Other key points were made about the focus on indigenous understandings to frame the interdisciplinary inquiry approach:
- Staff and learners used First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) as the foundation of lessons and backbone of stories to be written.
- Learners were supported to access indigenous content, to connect to the FPPL, and then to apply these to overall learning and demonstrations of learning.
- Some courses started with a focus on day-to-day lives of different indigenous groups they were studying.
- Learners and staff played traditional indigenous games, or focused on athletic skills required to be part of indigenous societies (e.g., hunting skills like spearing and harpooning) — this brought areas like PE and humanities together as they explored the sense of pride gained by doing well (what might this have meant in historical indigenous communities?)
Staff worked together to develop performance-indicator rubrics, and mindmaps were assessed using this. Using questions like, “What tools and strategies did you use to help yourself improve as a learner?” helped learners with metacognition and analysis of their learning.
Learners used their mindmapping skills to summarise large topics and bring their thinking altogether, so they could reflect on their current lifestyles as well as culture and society in general.
Staff were continually helping learners to think more elastically so they could see that subjects aren’t separate, using clever questioning such as:
“How does the geographical information you learned in STEM impact on how societies operated or operate?”
Learner voice was gathered to assess the impact of this integrated inquiry approach to learning:
Learners liked having one main idea for every subject:
“it sort of just connect it all into one big idea”
“I am starting to learn more about aboriginal culture. I am aboriginal and I don’t know much about it, but this helped me to connect”
Mindmaps were also used to demonstrate learners making connections between what was learned in each subject area in relation to the broader theme, “How does where one lives affect how one lives?”
The presenters shared two “Final Words” in relation to how they felt when they first started this work and how they felt when they had finished the first year:
First started: proud, creative, energised, expectant, inquisitive, excited, trusting, possibilities, overwhelmed.
After Finishing: Accomplished, future, impressed, inspired, excited, grateful, next steps, amazed, proud.