Akinomaage’win – Bringing Anishinaabe knowledge to the classroom

sharla peltier

Dr. Sharla Peltier with the Sweetgrass Bear, a sculpture by Cree-Anishinaabe-Mohawk artist Stewart Steinhauer.

Being at the crossroads and deciding between two paths is a metaphor, and a reality, that Sharla Peltier knows well. More than once she has faced a choice between two journeys, including one on the TransCanada Highway: east to Nippissing First Nation, Ont. to work as a speech pathologist and get her Master of Education, or west to Edmonton. While she chose to go to Nippissing, she still found a way to return to the University of Alberta, her alma mater for her 1986 Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology. As a new faculty member in the Department of Elementary Education, focusing on language and social studies education, Peltier brings her knowledge of Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabe pedagogy, fusing them with her experience in curriculum development and speech pathology.

“I’m really excited about the programs here,” says Peltier, a Chippewa from Rama First Nation, Ontario.  “There is an opportunity to look at a totally different pedagogy because the University wants native language teachers from the communities to spearhead the Indigenous languages program. We know that’s going to create cultural and social economy of the language, which I think is missing.”

With her rich history from working as a speech pathologist for 30  years with Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, with Nipissing First Nation in North Bay, and with public schools in the Sudbury area, along with Aboriginal perspectives curriculum development with Ontario’s Ministry of Education, Peltier’s background gives her a strong knowledge base. It is this context that she brings to the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and to the expansion of Indigenous language education at UAlberta. As an Anishinaabemowin-learner, Peltier is excited by the growth of these programs.

“We’re at a critical point”, she explains.

“Anishinaabemowin, Cree, and Inuktitut are the three most likely Indigenous languages in Canada to survive, just by sheer population of those Aboriginal groups, but when we look at the number of speakers, it’s dwindling. It’s really, really scary. So many Aboriginal languages in Canada have been lost. There’s a lot of documentation of the languages by linguists and language keepers have made dictionaries and videos to preserve the languages, but the schools are not turning out fluent speakers.”

One strength Peltier sees with the Indigenous language education expansion at UAlberta is the potential for collaboration with communities and local knowledge keepers. Building capacity for Indigenous people  to become teachers through the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and for language speakers to gain university credits through the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute brings Peltier hope for the future.

“People don’t see the language used in the community or they don’t understand the value of it,” says Peltier.

“If we have our people working together to teach it and to bring it out, then it’s going to work. The issue has been that while it’s been in the schools, it’s been disconnected from the community. Even where I’m from, there were Anishinaabe who were in high school who aren’t fluent speakers.”

Gikendamowin – Gikinoo’amaagoowin

Peltier doesn’t just bring a wealth of work experience to her role; she also embeds her cultural knowledge into her practice and theory. She sees her family clan–the loon– and the associated symbolism as a directive in her work.

“What I’m finding out is our clan will lead us through to find out life work in the community,” she explains. “The loon flies and has a voice, so it’s exciting when you think of it in that context.”

For Peltier, sharing her Anishinaabe cultural knowledge and world views to education is only natural, even though traditionally-Western perspectives on education have a completely different paradigm and practice. Still, she doesn’t see the two approaches as incompatible.

“There’s that whole institution of education that sets up teachers to be the authority figure in the classroom and to be responsible for the children’s learning and behaviour,” says Peltier.

“When you’re in a circle of Anishinaabe pedagogy and way of being, there is no hierarchy whatsoever; everyone is equal and each person is an important part of the process that generates new knowledge, stories and experiences. Knowledge is not a tangible thing. It’s not a stack of books. It’s a lived process of coming-to-know. In that way, everyone is knowledgeable and has wisdom. When we talk about how we transmit knowledge, it’s through shared experience and stories. Everyone has a story, so if we bring that into our schools and institutions, it will naturally bring people together. It’s inclusive as no one is excluded.”

Now Peltier has the chance to share this knowledge in the classroom before the students become teachers and make a bigger impact.

“To be in this position now, and to have the opportunity to work with pre-service teachers and educate educators, I have the time, their ears and their hearts so we can start to change things up so that they realize hope – it’s okay and it’s going to work for everyone. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s amazing to be here.”


Gikendamowin – Gikinoo’amaagoowin: Knowledge – Education. Translated by Melody McKiver, Lac Seul First Nation, and Stanley Peltier, Odawa Elder and Language-Keeper.

 

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50th Anniversary of the Faculty of Education


horowitz
He was a master’s student in Education Administration (now Educational Policy Studies) who became chair of Elementary Education, the fourth dean of education (1972-75) and the University of Alberta’s vice-president before becoming the only member of the Faculty of Education to hold the campus’s highest office (1979-89). It’s fair to say Dr. Myer Horowitz has a uniquely intimate relationship with this institution.

A tireless advocate for education and students throughout his tenure and into retirement, Horowitz reflects on the significance of the 75th anniversary of the Faculty of Education, the importance of leadership in education and the impact of his own mentors. Read the full interview with President-Emeritus Horowitz.


Coutts

As the first chair of the Department of Secondary Education and third (and longest-serving) Dean, Herbert “Pete” Coutts stewarded the growth of Canada’s first Faculty of Education in the early years.

A fierce advocate for teacher education, Coutts was known as a leader in Canada and internationally. Under his tenure, both sections of the Education Centre were constructed and student numbers increased by over 500%.  His legacy has been honoured with an Order of Canada, the naming of an award from the Canadian Society for the Study of Education and the Education library bears his name.  Check out the interactive timeline on Coutts.

Smash the colonial patriarchy. Restore the Indigenous Matriarchy.

Beautiful piece by Andrea Landry

indigenous motherhood

Want to smash the patriarchy, destroy misogyny, and demolish sexism?

Smash, destroy, and demolish colonial systems from our lives.

Because ultimately colonial systems are created with the task to uphold, preserve, and maintain the longevity of patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism.

And truthfully, Indigenous systems are the weapons to use to completely smash the patriarchy, destroy misogyny, and demolish sexism from our livelihoods.

The challenge in dislocating ourselves completely from colonial systems and immersing ourselves fully in indigenous is people’s self-made limitations around what that means.

Colonial systems have become a lifeboat for some of our people. There is such a heavy reliance on them for everyday living that it has become almost habitual to live with them. Academia, legal aid, social services, human resource sectors, medical supports, and governmental systems exclusively cater to colonialism, and our people are consistently choosing these systems as their only options for daily life. There…

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Flashing through history

Originally published on UAlberta News and Medium.

Education professor Lindsay Gibson’s Canada 150 flash cards. Photo by Kateryna Barnes.

Education professor Lindsay Gibson’s Canada 150 flash cards. Photo by Kateryna Barnes.

Dry history lessons that don’t resonate with students may be a thing of the past if a University of Alberta professor can get a new, interactive learning tool into classrooms.

In advance of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, social studies education professor Lindsay Gibson is releasing a set of 150 flash cards focusing on events in Canadian history. One side of each card names a historical event paired with an archival image; the other has the date, a further description of the event and its consequences. Gibson’s goal with the cards is to discover if K-12 students’ accounts of Canadian history could be improved.

“Students have difficulty putting the various events they have learned about in their K-12 education into a meaningful narrative. These cards are a tool that will help them build some coherence and understanding of Canadian history,” explained Gibson.

“We’re storytelling animals. It’s how we make sense of the past. Is it possible, with a tiny bit of instruction, to completely change the stories students might tell about Canada?”

The concept of the flash cards came to Gibson when a friend’s six-year-old daughter invited him to play a “history game” called Timeline. The game’s cards have illustrations of a historic event on one side and the date on the other. Players correctly place cards in a timeline with the goal of getting cards out of their hands. Gibson wondered how something similar could work in a Canadian context.

Chinese-Canadian flash cards developed for teachers in British Columbia. Photo by Kateryna Barnes.

Inspired, Gibson created a set of similar cards to help British Columbia teachers bring Chinese-Canadian history into their classrooms. After the positive response, he expanded the project to cover Canadian history just in time for the 150th anniversary.

After developing a list of 150 events with the help of Canadian historians, Gibson created his first prototype. He chose to work with Grade 11 students who had finished studying the entirety of Canadian history in British Columbia’s social studies curriculum. Before he brought the cards into the classroom, he asked students to list the most important events in Canadian history and write Canada’s story. The results surprised him: only two students mentioned Indigenous peoples occupying the land prior to European contact and there were numerous historically-inaccurate claims.

“Students would make egregious errors,” said Gibson, “such as Pierre Trudeau being the Prime Minister who led Confederation and also brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms at the same time. At the end of 12 years of social studies, this is what you think?”

As part of his study, Gibson also asked the students to make their own timelines of what they thought were the most historically significant events and discuss them with classmates.

Graeme Stacey, the class’ teacher, was impressed by how the cards changed the landscape of his classroom.

“It was a totally engaging activity,” said Stacey. “There was no downtime, no kids on their phones or working on something else.”

“At the end of the day, we hope that students can tell a coherent, plausible narrative of Canadian history, but also one that is nuanced.”

The next step is for Gibson to get the cards into Alberta classrooms and discover what teachers here do with them and the degree they impact students’ ability to develop a logical narrative. Though he has already designed some accompanying lesson ideas focused on different historical thinking concepts, he recognized that there are many potential ways for a class to use the cards.

“I’m really excited to get them into the hands of teachers,” said Gibson. “What will they do with them? They are bound to come up with ideas that I haven’t even contemplated.”

While Gibson is excited to see what other teachers do with the flash cards, he also hopes students start to build their own stories of the past.

“At the end of the day, we hope that students can tell a coherent, plausible narrative of Canadian history, but also one that is nuanced,” said Gibson.

“I really want students to think critically about Canada’s 150th anniversary. Is it historically significant? With these cards, I hope to deepen their understanding of history and build this framework so they can deconstruct and or reconstruct the story they tell, rather than tell them ‘here’s the story.’”

Gibson’s flash cards will be available in mid-June through The Critical Thinking Consortium.


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Film about Edmonton’s Indigenous history no walk in the park

Originally published on UAlberta News.

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Making a film isn’t a walk in the park, but Conor McNally (BA’15) may have found a way to make it about a walk.

The graduate from the Faculty of Native Studies was in his final semester when he was encouraged to go on a river valley walk with Education professor Dwayne Donald. Donald uses the walks to paint a picture of the Indigenous history of the river valley surrounding the University of Alberta’s North Campus and tell traditional Cree stories. The film, ôtênaw, which is Cree for “a settlement” or “a city”, gives viewers the chance to explore what Donald calls “the pentimento” or layers of Edmonton.

“The thing that really struck me was the delivery,” says McNally about Donald’s walks. “Presenting that history on the land, in the locations he’s talking about and interweaving it with Cree philosophies– I thought, ‘This is the best!’”

The experience inspired McNally to pitch the idea of filming the walk to Donald. McNally sees natural similarities between oral storytelling and film-making, which is why he thought it would make a perfect documentary.

“For Indigenous storytelling, there are limitations to the written word,” McNally explains. “A lot of it is being with people and people feel it differently as opposed to reading it in bed, wearing pyjamas. There’s more respect in person.”

The film, which is screening at Metro Cinema as part of April’s FAVA Fest, was awarded the festival’s Award of Excellence for “Outstanding Long-Form Documentary”.

ôtênaw: uncovering the layers of community

otenawfilmstill

Film still of Dr. Dwayne Donald

Once he got the green light, McNally leveraged some additional resources, such as a freezer full of 16mm film and grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council.  In ôtênaw, McNally superimposes different shots of the river valley and archival images over Donald’s storytelling. McNally explains that Donald’s narration lead the way for the visuals.

“Looking at the rough edit I had, I’d say ‘it’d be great if I went down to the EPCOR power plant and shot some stuff there’,” says McNally.

McNally utilized another valuable resource while making the film– his community and their artistic skills. With the help of a friend, he reused animated painted slides from another project to emphasize Donald uncovering layers of Edmonton’s history. He also brought in other film-making friends to help him collect extra footage.

“It’s weird to call it ‘my film’ when there’s so many other people involved in every step of it,” says McNally. “The day we filmed Dwayne’s walk, I had this whole crew of people helping. My parents were watching my daughter and they invited the team  over for chili after the walk.”

McNally notes that it was easy to connect with Donald beyond the film’s subject matter, bonding over their favourite hockey team, the Oilers.

“We had this moment where Dwayne thought he’d met me before and I was sure we hadn’t, but sometimes you meet someone and you think ‘We could be old friends’,” says McNally.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much from him, especially after watching the film a trillion times!”

The feeling of respect forged between McNally and Donald is mutual.

“Conor is a pretty cool guy and I admire him a lot,” says Donald. “He’s very passionate and committed to doing work that shows connectivities. To be a self-taught filmmaker and employ the sensibilities he does in this film– I love the music, the Elder’s words and the artfullness of it all.”

While Donald wasn’t originally comfortable with the idea of making a film about the river walks and storytelling he shares, he had the sense that something good could come of McNally’s initiative, and trusted him. McNally hopes that viewers take home a little more knowledge about their city and its story.

“All my films are about Edmonton in some way– I was born here and I’m not leaving anytime soon,” explains McNally. “I just want to raise awareness about these stories, because so many Edmontonians have no clue about any of this history. While Dwayne’s walks are free and open to the public, with film, one advantage is that it can be shown across the country. In that regard, I think it’s cool to tell very local stories and share them with a global audience.”


ôtênaw will screen at FAVA Fest on Wednesday, April 19 at Metro Cinema and at Vancouver’s DOXA Film Festival in May.

Finding a path through education

Originally published on UAlberta News.

Lydia Menna outside of the historical Garneau Theatre.

Lydia Menna outside of the historical Garneau Theatre.

A mosaic-tiled rotunda caps an Italian Neo-Romaneque building and staircases wrap around four giant cedar totem poles from the Nsga’a Nation. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is an iconic building, and a childhood visit there put Elementary Education professor Lydia Menna on a path that would lead her to become a faculty member at the University of Alberta.

“I still have my very first admission token from when I went to the Royal Ontario Museum in Grade 3,” recalls Menna. “That was probably the first time I’d been to a large-scale museum. I was impressed by the monumental size of it.”

Menna’s teaching and research in language and literacy focuses on multiliteracies, a field that recognizes linguistic diversity and a variety of modes of communication, including material culture. Before she joined the University of Alberta, she worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in educational programming and exhibits, then pursued teacher education at the University of Toronto.

After living in Southern Ontario for most of her life, Menna made the move to Edmonton for Fall 2016. From the banks of Lake Ontario to the Prairies, it’s been an adjustment, but she takes it in stride.

“It’s been an exciting experience to move myself into a new situation and environment,” says Menna. “There are differences that you notice– it’s a new curriculum and it’s a different province. It’s exciting getting to know the students and work with them. That’s the part I really enjoy.”

The students are also keen to work with her by helping her explore the city, suggesting festivals or river valley trails to check out.

“When you let them know you’re new to Edmonton, it’s interesting to see what parts of the city speak to them,” explains Menna.

Learning about Edmonton isn’t the only way Menna connects with her students. She’s guiding them as they become teachers. Seeing this growth is heartening for Menna.

“You’re working with student teachers who are developing their professional practice for the work that they’ll do with many classes in many years. There’s impact.”

The Royal Ontario Museum from Avenue Road and Bloor.

The Royal Ontario Museum from Avenue Road and Bloor.

Thinking beyond the classroom walls

While Menna learns about Edmonton from her students, and her students learn about teaching from her, she is cognizant of how educators can make the learning process engaging.

“Learning exists beyond the classroom walls,” explains Menna. “We need to ask what are the kids bringing into the classroom and tap into the classroom we want it to be so we make learning meaningful to them.”

In particular, Menna thinks about the students who import their backgrounds into the classroom, and how that knowledge can be leveraged for learning.

“These students bring in other languages and experiences from other countries,” says Menna. “These are rich resources that they take into the classroom. We want to make sure there is space for that and give the students a chance to realize that these are assets as opposed to deficits. When you think of yourself as a learner, some of the most meaningful experiences were the ones you likely felt connected to.”

As an educator, Menna practices what she teaches by using her personal history with museums to show student teachers how to think about literacy beyond the confines of the written word.

“There’s an assignment that I do with student teachers, similar to an “all-about-me” book. I would present mine on the same day that the students would share theirs. Mine was a piece of creative writing that was revolved around this admission token and the first visit to the museum and how it was a catalyst for a life-long love for learning and museums.”

“It’s funny the path you take,” says Menna. “When I look at my personal trajectory, I see that education was the stream that flowed through it. I see the connection with multiliteracies and mutli-modality. Everybody takes a different path to get there.”

Students and teachers rewired for the digital age

Originally published on UAlberta News.

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According to a Statistics Canada study, there is nearly one computer per student in Albertan schools. // Creative Commons

Pop culture is full of cyborgs like Darth Vader in Star Wars, the Borg in Star Trek or Neo in The Matrix. While cybernetic organisms are a mainstay of science fiction, Secondary Education professor Cathy Adams sees them everywhere, even in classrooms. Whether it’s the smartphone in your pocket or the computer you work on, Adams says technology is a cybernetic enhancement and it functions as an extension of who we are, how we live and how we learn.

When it comes to technology in the schools, there is no shortage of debate on the impact it can have on students or if it should be there at all. Adams, who researches digital technology integration across educational environments, as well as ethical and pedagogical issues involving digital media in schools, says it’s not a simple discussion.

Can you explain what you mean when you say students and teachers are cyborgs?

Adams: We tend to think of ourselves as autonomous from our technologies and our technology-textured environment; we are free to choose this or that technology and we alone decide whether we use it for good or for ill. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that technologies are not neutral, and that we have become the human beings that we are today only in and through our relationships to our technologies. Our professional practices, our political and cultural lives, and even our personal relationships are increasingly supported by and made possible by and through our technologies. We need to see that we humans are–and always have been–cyborgs.

Actually, most theorists don’t describe us “cyborgs”; the word in the academic literature is “posthuman”, which tries to take account of the socio-materiality of our situation. When I talk about teachers and students as cyborgs, I am drawing attention to this special human-technology relationship and posing some key questions about our future with technology.

Some parents are concerned about their children having too much “screen time”. How can an educator balance those concerns with integrating technology in the classroom?

Adams: There are different ways of approaching this question. One way is through media ecology. To see a classroom in terms of media ecology means to reflect on what a healthy, balanced and diverse media environment ought to be, especially in relation to different development moments in a young person’s educational life. Of course, most teachers often don’t have a lot of choice in the types of technology they have in their classrooms, but it is still possible to be thoughtful and deliberate in choosing when and how to use it and plan to do so in a way that is balanced and developmentally-sensitive.

When a particular technology is introduced into the classroom, we need to ask: what changes does that enact? Pencils, paper, desks and a chalkboard create a very different environment than one-to-one laptops and interactive whiteboards. Clearly new kinds of activities and ways of thinking are made possible in a new media environments. But there is a basic law of media that we all need to be aware of: every technology enhances one or more aspects of our lives, but it always comes at a cost.

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Dr. Cathy Adams

What do people find surprising about this concept of technology users as cyborgs?

Adams: In my course, EDSE 577 Pedagogy of Technology: Teachers and Students as Cyborgs, one of our exercises is a 24 hour technology “fast”. Before embarking on this, we talk about which technologies we are going to abstain from using, since it’s nearly impossible to be without any technologies. We’d have to be naked in a forest somewhere! We usually limit the fast to 21st century technologies, which means not checking email, social media or even looking things up on the web. Of course, the day tends to also be interrupted by phantom cellphone vibration and periods of boredom.

In the end, it’s not unusual for one or two of our class to not make it the full 24 hours–but that is learning. But overall, the message is clear: our lives are intimately entangled in our devices.

Technology is changing rapidly. How can educators keep up with limited budgets?

Adams: I’m a strong advocate for coding in Kindergarten to Grade 12 because computing science is core to much of the infrastructure deciding and supporting almost every aspect of our lives today. Just as we need to learn mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology to understand our world, so too with computing science. I’m not talking about turning everyone into programmers, software architects or data scientists, but of developing this basic literacy for a more critically-informed citizenship. And I’m also not talking about students learning how to use digital technologies. I’m talking about learning some of the basic principles behind this powerful science, how software and hardware are designed and built, the special languages used to write software programs, about algorithms and why should we care about them, how to think computationally and more.

Some are surprised to learn that there is actually little need for any sophisticated technology or even a computer to teach some of the most basic principles of computing science. While these technologies are powerful cognitive tools that our children need to use early so they can leverage them later, there are also some good reasons for not including them in the early grades, such as developing basic literacies first and focusing on social development.

Digital technology is a very big ticket item in often very limited school budgets. We need to step back and consider when, how and more importantly why we are bringing each and every digital technology into the classroom, especially in the early years.

What are some ways educators can integrate coding into their classrooms?

Adams: Today K-12 coding is a global movement. On account of this, some excellent educational resources are out there and freely available to teachers and parents. I recommend checking out code.org for example: the online lessons are fun, current and easy to set up. Both children and adults will benefit from trying these out, and gain a new understanding of what is meant by “coding”.

A number of years ago, Tim Bell and his New Zealand colleagues developed a curriculum called Computer Science Unplugged. It consists of social games and simple practical activities for kids to try out and learn some of the basic principles of computing science without ever needing to touch a computer or look at a screen. These lessons will serve our children extraordinarily well in understanding and being able to critically assess our changing digital technology environment, now and into the future.


To learn more about Dr. Adams’ research about technology in  K-12 classrooms, check out her book Researching a Posthuman World: Interviews with Digital Objects or watch this interview with Global News Edmonton.