Thinking back on the past year, it’s easy to conclude that I am lucky. I work with fascinating people, and I get to share their stories. Experiencing that kind of trust is humbling, and for that I’m grateful.
This year, the stories immersed me into the nitty-gritty details of waste management, introduced me to the concept of “math rappers” and gave me VIP access to a black metal and tattoo festival in Bergen, Norway. Despite this diversity, a few themes emerged: sustainability, pop culture in the classroom and hands-on learning.
Jerine Pegg adamantly believes that for students to learn science, they need to do authentic science. This value resulted in her taking composting worms up to Nunavut for local students to continue learning about waste management, gardening and healthy eating. It also aligns with what the folks at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations did on their waste audit – they have to do real science to know if the university’s sustainable practices have buy-in from the campus community.
“It was amazing because I didn’t know what to do, so I just started doing things.” – Jason Wallin
“I’ve never touched any construction or woodwork, so this is a lot of firsts for me, but I’m having lots of fun and making a lot of cool things.” – Jamie Lambert-Brown
Whether it was future Career and Technology Studies educators constructing projects in a workshop, or faculty member Jason Wallin’s on-the-fly documentary film-making in Bergen, trying your hand at something new and having a great time doing it was incredibly inspiring, and something I need to try more often.
From math raps, Star Wars, Minecraft and more to graphic novels in teacher and librarian education, pop culture has a place in education. David Lewkowich uses graphic novels to help future teachers reflect on their own education experiences, while Elementary Education alumna Jessica Maloughney uses a variety of pop culture touchstones to bridge gaps with her second grade students (Lydia Menna and Jason Wallin provide expert comment).
North of the 60th parallel, surrounded by fjords and nestled between mountains on Norway’s southwestern coast, lies the rain-soaked, freezing-cold city of Bergen. On the harbour sits a massive, old sardine factory that’s found new life as, among other things, a large performance space. Inside, dozens of tattoo artists from around the globe ink patrons who are waiting for the evening’s performances.
In the midst of it is Jason Wallin, a Secondary Education professor from the University of Alberta. He stands out from the crowd with his video camera and boom mike, interviewing attendees about the city and its connection to its most famous musical export–– black metal.
Wallin is part of the four-person, all-Canadian production crew that filmed a documentary about the one-off Blekkmetal Festival in November 2015, which celebrated the origins of black metal music in Bergen. The documentary, Blekkmetal, focuses on the rich histories of Bergen, the music and the people who make up the scene. With its fast, dissonant guitars, harsh vocals and dark lyrics, black metal and its fans have been the subject of much stereotyping–– something Wallin and his colleagues saw on their first day in the city.
“When we got to the Airbnb, the host looked at us and what we were wearing and said ‘Oh, are you here to do a story on Count Grishnackh?’, which is an alias of Varg Vikernes, an avowed neo-Nazi who is infamous for the burning of Norwegian stave churches and for murdering a fellow black metal musician,” Wallin recalls.
“But Blekkmetal wasn’t about rehashing that history. It was more a celebration of an ethic and aesthetic often hidden in orthodox culture. So much of society is predicated on this idea of compulsory happiness, for instance. Black metal takes a more nuanced look at reality through its music and images as to account for a darker image of life.”
Returning to the roots and celebrating the ethic
Although it might seem unconventional for an education professor to play an active role in a documentary about black metal music on the other side of the world, Wallin’s interest in metal isn’t a recent development. Growing up, he developed an ear for the genre through his brother’s love of hair metal like Van Halen and RATT, and power metal like Scorpions. Later, during his graduate studies, Wallin started expanding his musical horizons into other subgenres from doom metal to death and black metal. For Wallin, the music became a way to destress, a pattern he sees in his fellow fans.
“A lot of people say, ‘when I listen to black metal music, it helps to diffuse the all stress that I have’,” says Wallin. “It’s a release because it does it for you. Undergoing the music is a kind of catharsis, for some.”
Eventually Wallin started bringing his interest in metal music and culture into his teaching and research as a faculty member focusing on media and youth culture in curriculum, and through his involvement with Grimposium, a touring metal festival and conference. It was fellow metal studies scholar and Grimposium colleague Vivek Venkatesh who invited Wallin to join the documentary production crew alongside mobile media scholar Owen Chapman and music video director David Hall.
While he had intimate knowledge on the subject matter, making a documentary was new territory for Wallin. With the tight turnaround between the invitation to document the festival and the crew’s departure to Bergen, there wasn’t time for more than a crash course on filmmaking –– Wallin had to sort it out on the fly.
“It’s fortunate that so much can be done in post-production,” jokes Wallin.
“It was amazing because I didn’t know what to do, so I just started doing things. I’ve watched enough film that I think I understand how one might compose a shot. I had so much fun doing it. From my sabbatical year, it was my favourite thing I’ve done, maybe in my career.”
Wallin’s trial-by-fire contributions to the documentary didn’t go unnoticed by his colleagues. Not only does Venkatesh credit Wallin for being a “particularly calming presence” during the stress of filming, but he adds that Wallin’s work on Blekkmetal is highlighted every time the film is screened.
“What Jason brought to the table, which was particularly interesting, was the way in which he conducted interviews with attendees of the festival and members of the scene,” explains Venkatesh.
“He took his camera and microphone and pretty much placed it in people’s faces and asked them a series of questions about how their conception of the music was tied to the physical location of the festival–– what the city meant to them and what it meant for black metal. The variety of the responses he got for the first 20 minutes of Blekkmetal set up the film so well and it’s really thanks to Jason’s very unique ability to get people to speak about these issues and get them to open up in a way that they might not normally feel comfortable doing so.”
Capturing the mythos of Bergen
Learning the art of filmmaking wasn’t Wallin’s only lesson while in Bergen. He also gained a deeper understanding of the city, its people and the local black metal culture. While he acknowledges that a documentary crew’s presence inherently complicates the presentation of the subject matter, Wallin suggests that Blekkmetal explores a more human side of black metal.
“Some of the documentary work and articles written about black metal focus on a particular kind of image, focusing on the violence,” says Wallin. “That’s not to say that it’s not there, however one thing that really came out of Blekkmetal was that the people who partake in it, it’s not about that for them. It’s about a connection to a particular kind of aesthetic that does something for them.”
Another aspect the filmmakers investigated was the range of the fan base and the fluidity between genres like black metal, electronica or opera. Wallin recalls visiting the Bergen Symphony and discovering that one the employees who works the rigging was also in a band performing at the festival.
“The scene is much more collaborative in terms of celebrating what is coming out of it than it is about maintaining rigid territories,” says Wallin. “Even people attending weren’t producing the signs of being a ‘metalhead’ or all the stereotypes that come along with that. The scene is much more diverse.”
That diversity extends to the performers as well. Wallin cites Ivar Bjørnson, from the band Enslaved, who does curriculum work in schools on runes, some of which are found in black metal imagery. Bjørnson teaches students about the runes, their meaning and their connection to a place as a way to rehabilitate a type of wisdom that’s been lost. Bringing the knowledge found in black metal to the classroom is also something Wallin strives for in his own research.
“I see black metal, and what it produces, as a conceptual resource for rethinking education because it is so educative, not in a standardized sense,” Wallin explains. “It shapes you and informs the way that you see things, and that’s crucial to how we navigate reality and our ways in the world.”
Wallin says he would like to work on more film projects about black metal and the scene in the future. In the meantime, he hopes that Blekkmetal audiences take home a different perspective on the relationship between Bergen and black metal.
“Bergen is a germinal place for black metal, and why?” says Wallin. “It leads people back to the importance of ecology and how places can inform upon what gets enunciated. And I hope people enjoy the documentary. It’s a spectacle. It’s immense. It’s loud and all these great things about black metal music.”
Blekkmetal will be screened at Metro Cinema on Tuesday December 6, 2016 at 7 p.m. alongside Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Following the screening there will be a Q&A with Wallin.
For some students, school can feel like the furthest thing from a “safe space.” As anyone who has gone through the K-12 system can attest, school is sometimes a site of persistent anxiety and antagonistic social interactions that can follow students from the classroom to the home—especially in the age of social media.
“The way that hate lives with students and the way it can be such a crushing and suffocating force—it becomes all consuming,” says Jason Wallin, associate professor of curriculum and youth culture in the Faculty of Education’s Department of Secondary Education.
“Forget all the other parts of school. I remember enough about being a teenager to remember that much.”
An anti-hate comic project
Hateful attacks are particularly damaging when they are made against a young person’s racial, cultural, gender or sexual identity. The large, instantly accessible audience provided by social media platforms makes things that much worse.
“What has become common sense on social media often carries underlying messages of discrimination and alienation,” says Wallin. “It also has the staying power to last forever. If someone attacks you online, there is an archive of it that can be brought up at any time. There are no take-backs.”
Although many of these conflicts take place outside of the classroom, Wallin wants to help teachers move the conversation about hate and hate speech into the curriculum with a graphic resource for teachers. Learning to Hate: An Anti-Hate Comic Project is designed to help pre-service and practicing teachers discuss tough topics such as cyberbullying, microaggressions and harmful labelling with their students.
The comics are a part of Project Someone, an anti-hate pedagogy initiative based at Montreal’s Concordia University that involves more than 20 collaborators across Canada.
After Wallin’s experience with a graduate course focusing on graphic novels, he knew he wanted to incorporate comic books into this project.
“Comic books are a successful medium in terms of reaching people with its ease of communication,” Wallin says. “Anyone can pick it up and engage with it. And that’s what we wanted for these comics––we wanted them to produce questions. That was our major intent with these comics––to create resources that would catalyze conversation around how hate lives and is encountered by youth today.”
Research produced by students in another one of Wallin’s graduate courses was ultimately translated into comic book format by artist and Faculty of Education doctoral student Jessie Beier.
“The goal was to really focus on youth experiences and what youth have to deal with daily in terms of small instances of discrimination and hate,” Beier says. “I worked with lots of different formats––for some I created infographics, some are like comic book pages, there’s a Mad Magazine-style fold-in. I drew on a lot of popular culture and things I see online, what I think youth are engaging with, the formats they’re familiar with, turning those on their heads so people have to look closer and see that those platforms are maybe not so neutral.”
Wallin plans to use the comics in his classroom with his undergraduate students in the hope that these materials will inspire the next generation of teachers to find their own ways to start the discussion with students about hate speech.
“These teachers don’t necessarily need to use the comics,” he says, “but they can take on their own process as a way to begin to uncover a curriculum that is often quite hidden in schools.”
Watch an interview with Jessie Beier and Jason Wallin of University of Alberta about Learning to Hate: An Anti-Hate Comic Project on Vimeo.
Step into Jessica Maloughney’s (BEd’11) Grade 2 classroom at St. Patrick’s Community School in Red Deer, Alta., and you may be reminded of a six-year-old’s bedroom. Minecraft posters decorate the walls, Lego figurines are tucked around the classroom, and collections of Star Wars and Frozen books populate the bookshelf.
These aren’t just classroom accessories. They’re part of Maloughney’s teaching practice. When she teaches her 18 students about math, for example, she might get them to channel their “inner Kanye” with backwards caps, spouting rhymes about numbers as “Math Rappers.”
“The basic foundation of my job as a teacher is communication,” says Maloughney. “To communicate with a student, you need to meet them where they are. They aren’t going to come up to your level at age six to meet you. You need to enter their world.”
Bringing ‘home’ into the classroom
For Maloughney, entering the world of her students means engaging with a wide variety of realities. More than half of her students speak English as a second language, and three are absolutely new to to the language. Many of the children are from low-income families and live in a variety of home situations. They have different medical concerns and a range of behavioural disorders.
Maloughney says integrating popular media her students enjoy into her classroom is one of the best tools she has available to connect with them and help them tackle challenging circumstances.
“The classroom is their home away from home,” she says. “For some of them, this is the most stable place that they know, and seeing things that they choose or enjoy, it makes them feel more welcome in our ‘classroom-home.’”
Jason Wallin, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Secondary Education who studies media and youth culture in curriculum, agrees that breaking down the walls between a student’s school life and life outside the classroom should be a major focus for teachers. When a teacher considers education as existing in a different sphere from the lives of students, students can feel alienated.
“We take this really important youth identity component that’s developed outside of school, and we largely divorce that from the classroom where we have more formal curriculum concerns,” says Wallin. “When a teacher begins to break down the false dichotomy between the informal curriculum of popular culture and the formal curriculum of the school, you’re dis-alienating the students from those identity constructs that they form elsewhere, and they can bring them into the classroom itself.”
The language of pop culture
One major potential source of alienation that concerns Maloughney is the language barrier faced by her English language-learning students. When she started integrating popular kid-friendly movies, video games and fictional characters into her teaching, she saw a marked improvement with these students.
“It’s a scary thing to come to a new country and sit in a classroom where you are just meeting the other kids and you don’t know the language,” she says. “It’s amazing to see these kids who have been in Canada for a month who can’t tell you the names of basic objects in the classroom, but they can quote things from The Lego Movie. When you see their faces when they recognize something, it’s special.”
Lydia Menna, a language and literacy professor in the Department of Elementary Education, is not surprised that Maloughney’s English language-learning students pick up television, game or movie references in English more quickly than they do some of the formal curriculum. Teachers need to provide multiple entry points into literacy learning so students can see themselves as readers and writers, Menna says.
“That whole idea of connecting with students’ interests—diverse literacy practices and cultural experiences can make for more meaningful learning,” explains Menna. “As a learner, often your most memorable learning experiences are the ones that connect to something that you are interested in.”
Bringing popular stories and characters into the classroom also makes social interaction with English speakers easier for the English language learners.
“For them, being able to gauge what their classmates are interested in and realize that it’s the same things they enjoy, it gives them a starting point,” Maloughney says. “It also gives them more language, since they might know the references in their language, but not necessarily in English. Hearing the reference in English helps them pick up the words for concepts they already know.”
Flipping the teacher-student hierarchy
All young learners can benefit when the popular culture they draw from to construct their identities outside the classroom is treated as valid curriculum content by educators, says Wallin.
“It’s important as educators that we attend to this complex life-world of students outside of the school and say ‘This matters and is deeply relevant to what we should be doing in the classroom,” he explains.
Maloughney agrees. “Kids are so much more ‘with it’ than people give them credit for. At six years old, a lot of them already understand that the adults in their lives don’t want to hear about how they got to the next level in Minecraft, or how they drew a picture of Iron Man because he’s their favourite Avenger. It’s sad. But if you give them the opportunity to talk about things that they are passionate about, they are over the moon.”
When teachers take their students’ interests more seriously, it also presents the opportunity for teachable moments where students can start questioning their consumption of media and develop critical thinking skills.
“As adults, we’re sometimes out of touch with children’s culture, and it’s important to understand the way things are marketed and how those forms carry ideological meaning,” says Wallin.
“Adding youth and pop culture into your teaching is not going to cost you more time, energy or effort,” says Maloughney. “Students know what they are passionate about and they will happily take their turn to be the teacher and teach you about something that maybe you don’t know.”
Originally posted on illuminate. Written by k.barnes and m.henderson.
Once thought of as a niche medium appreciated mostly by stereotypical middle-aged comic book collectors like Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, the graphic novel has been steadily moving from the fringes to the mainstream since the late 1980s.
De Vos has taught a course focused on graphic novels since 2001. Her favourite character is Baba Yaga, a witch from Slavic European folklore who is depicted as a villain in the comic book series Hellboy. Lewkowich, whose research interests include literary theory, young adult literature and cultural studies, currently loves the character Marlys Mullen, created by cartoonist and author Lynda Barry, because Marlys is able to look through the complexity of her older sister’s experience and tell a joke.
Responses have been edited for length.
Faculty of Education: Why did you start integrating graphic novels into your teaching and research?
David Lewkowich: It is important to me, especially on the first day of class, to help my students understand and break down the view that the “teacher” has a wealth of knowledge. Instead, it’s about creating a relationship and space where the teacher is a beginner every day. I find that comics and graphic novels allow an avenue into this world view.
Comics and graphic novels make us all beginners. There is no one right way to read them, as no one has been formally schooled in how to read comics.
Gail de Vos: As a professional storyteller, I began reading graphic novels and comics because of my research into reworkings of folktales in pop culture. After reading a lot of them, I realized that they are the closest print medium to oral storytelling and folktales. I was truly captivated by this whole idea, which led to my research and teaching on the subject.
Faculty of Education: How does the medium help you interact with students?
Gail de Vos: I often think about the importance of self-interpretation, which is something David has hinted at earlier. This is all about learning to be confident—that there is no right or wrong way to read this. Once a book is in the public domain, the author and illustrator, or sometimes just the illustrator, no longer have control over how the book is read. It becomes about how the reader responds to the illustrations. I often start my courses off with wordless graphic novels, so that there are no words to show the readers where to go.
Often people don’t know how to start reading a graphic novel. They want a “how to read graphic novels” explanation because of their previous exposure to text-based books. This is especially true when you start reading wordless graphic novels.
David Lewkowich: I agree with Gail. There is something about how we have been schooled to read language in that we think that it’s a solid structure. There is something about the interaction of words and images, and images alone, that allows us to go more inside ourselves with our reading. It allows us to inspect the connections that we are making with the text.
Faculty of Education: What are the different themes that you seek to explore with students?
Gail de Vos: Self-discovery is a major theme that I’m interested in. It can be found in all forms of literature, and it’s a theme that is repeated over and over again in graphic novels.
David Lewkowich: I love graphic novels that tend to explore themes around love, adolescence and memory. These are all aspects of human existence, where it’s all about unanswerable questions and how can we allow the text to play with us.
I’m also interested in how our past experiences in school and our early experiences with teachers can impact a teacher’s future teaching. Words alone don’t seem to fully capture the emotional complexity of these ideas or themes.
Reading graphic novels allows us to explore our emotional past in a way that words can’t. I know that when I set foot back in a high school working as a teacher, I dealt with a lot of insomnia and my own emotional frustration, both of which I didn’t expect; I see that happening again when I look at my students. Working with graphic novels allows me to help support students in their own emotional discovery.
Faculty of Education: What advice do you have for educators, librarians and other information professionals looking to integrate graphic novels into their work?
Gail de Vos: Read them for yourselves. For every class I teach, regardless of the content, I put graphic novels on the reading list. I also suggest using wordless graphic novels so students take time to appreciate the illustrations themselves. It helps students become more observant.
David Lewkowich: Encourage students to dwell on the page. It can be hard to slow down on the page, but when you do, you notice things that you may have thought were only tangential. Sometimes it’s these tangential moments that can add a lot more to the text.
Comics create a level playing field and allow for discussion where no one possesses the knowledge as to what is the meaning of the text and everyone can come to their own conclusions.
The University of Alberta is proud to be a partner of Read In Week Edmonton 2016. The purpose of Read In Week is to create a greater awareness of the importance of reading. Historically, the event has successfully promoted the school as an important place for the development of lifelong literacy. Read In Week Edmonton runs from October 3-7, 2016. Visit the website for more information.
Understanding and conceptualizing evil when learning about horrific events like genocide and war is a topic new Secondary Education faculty member Cathryn van Kessel has wrestled with since she discovered the extent of her family’s role in the Dutch Resistance during World War II.
“My grandmother’s family had resistance fighters, including the man who became my grandfather, in the basement or their barn when occupying Nazi troops would stop at their house while on their rounds,” explained van Kessel.
“I can’t imagine what it is like to make that decision. No matter what you choose to do, you’re putting your family at risk.”
The perception that youth have of the dark chapters of human history is something that van Kessel started exploring academically when she was a high school teacher covering “really disheartening things” such as the Holocaust and the Holodomor. This experience forced her to re-evaluate how she taught these topics.
“I wanted to teach for social justice and about these horrible events in history so we don’t repeat them,” she said.
“I wanted to make them feel, and not just hear cold statistics, so I’d show them things like the original footage from Auschwitz, thinking I was doing a great job. Instead I was destroying any hope they had for the future.”
Rather than repeating the same teaching method for future students, van Kessel started looking into other ways to present the heavy material and learning more about students’ conceptualization of evil.
“I was concerned about how we teach genocide, but at the heart of it, I was more interested in the idea of evil and how that can either shut down or open up thinking.”
As a PhD student, van Kessel kept busy working on this research, even presenting it in the UAlberta Three Minute Thesis competition. As a faculty member she plans to continue researching into youth’s perception of evil in social studies curriculum by collaborating with colleagues who focus on terror management theory, wisdom traditions, world views and bringing it to an educational perspective.
Transitioning from graduate student to faculty member
One of the unique parts of van Kessel’s transition from graduate student to faculty member is that she made the switch at the same institution and in the same department. She considers herself lucky to have the opportunity to remain at UAlberta and continue working with those who supported her as a graduate student.
“I keep pinching myself to make sure it’s real,” she joked.
“I just want to make sure I’m making everyone proud. It’s such an honour to be counted as their colleague and they mean a lot to me already.”
One change in particular that van Kessel is excited for is the opportunity to pay it forward to the graduate students she will work with in the future.
“It’s fun for me to think of mentoring people through the process that is still so fresh in my mind,” van Kessel said.
“I think back to when I started my doctoral degree and all the skills I built. I hope I can give them all the great experiences I had when I was mentored by other people in the department.”
Mentoring future educators isn’t new to van Kessel, however. When she was a graduate student, she transitioned from teaching high school students into educating their future teachers. Something that always surprised van Kessel’s students is her use of diverse genres of music in the classroom.
“I’ll use metal and punk, but I’ll also use really sweet, gentle and melodic stuff like The Weepies. At the end of the semester I always get asked ‘What do you actually listen to? Is it Public Enemy? Is it Rage Against the Machine? Is it The Weepies?’”
Still, educating the next generation of social studies teachers is a task van Kessel does not take lightly.
“In some ways it is more high stakes since you have a bigger ripple which can either be a really nice thing, or a really horrifying thing depending on how it goes, but I love it,” she said.
“It’s exciting to hear how these future teachers are wrestling with the these tough topics, and telling them that it’s okay for them to be grappling with those things and how they might bring that into the classroom.”
Not everyone would take a box of worms through airport security for the benefit of students learning about composting in Canada’s North, but that’s exactly what Jerine Pegg did this past spring.
Pegg, a professor in the Faculty of Education, travelled more than 2,360 kilometres to Arnaqjuaq School in Hall Beach, Nunavut, to evaluate a Let’s Talk Science program focused on supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in northern communities. When Pegg heard the students’ red wiggler worms had died, she packed more with her so they could start composting again.
“The school’s composting efforts will turn organic waste such as banana peels or paper into nutrient-rich soil for the gardening project,” explains Pegg.
“The worms will help speed up the process of decomposition in order to have good quality soil to use when school starts in the fall. This is important in a community where little vegetation grows and potting soil is very expensive to purchase.”
As a professor focusing on science education, Pegg believes the best way for students to learn is for teachers to bring realistic, hands-on science into their classrooms, even if it means taking local red wigglers onboard a plane with her.
“While I was at the school, on multiple occasions I walked past the classroom with the worm bin and students were hunched over it, watching the worms, spraying them with water, holding them, observing their movements and asking questions.”
Let’s Talk Science
Pegg originally became involved with Let’s Talk Science—an award-winning, national charitable organization—four years ago when she was looking for a context to continue her research on teacher-scientist partnerships. This trip was the first of a series of case studies she is conducting to examine the impact of these programs in various schools in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia and northern Alberta.
Over the past two years, Let’s Talk Science has been visiting Arnaqjuaq School running in-class activities with students and workshops with teachers. As a part of one of these workshops, teachers at the school decided to start a school-wide gardening project by composting and growing a few plants. Next year the school plans to grow plants in every classroom and eventually build a greenhouse.
The power of scientific inquiry
Beyond inspiring scientific thought and curiosity, the program is having an impact in other subject areas. For example, the school’s business teacher hopes to use the project to engage students in calculating the cost of growing the produce in the greenhouse versus buying it from the Northern Store.
For Pegg, this shows precisely why it is important to encourage students to get their hands dirty with authentic science.
“Science education can develop critical thinking skills, such as asking questions, making observations, inferring, analyzing and drawing conclusions,” she says. “Understanding science is also important for many decisions that students will make in their current and future lives, such as decisions about their health and their environment.”
Originally posted in Illuminate – June 2016. A special thank you to the workshop facilitators and organizers: Nicole Schutz, Laurel Nikolai, Jeremy Albert, Holly Yuzicapi and Dr. Kathy Robinson. All photos by k.barnes.
A two-part professional development workshop focused on integrating First Nations, Métis and Inuit music and culture into elementary music education had a successful launch at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education this June and is expected to return to campus in the fall 2016 term.
At the recent workshop, current Education graduate student Nicole Schutz and alumna Laurel Nikolai (MEd ‘09) showed more than 20 local music teachers and 10 current students in the elementary education program different ways to weave Indigenous music and culture into their kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms by making flutes and teaching them how to play songs.
Learning by doing
The hands-on workshop encouraged participants to decorate and play their flutes, much like they would with their students. Schutz, who is Métis herself, said that making the workshop as interactive as possible was a deliberate choice.
“We move, sing and dance all the time with our students,” said Schutz. “Why not do it with the First music of Canada? We want them to feel it and know it through the way it is supposed to be done.”
Both Schutz and Nikolai’s personal experiences teaching music in schools with large First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations provided a frame of reference when designing the workshop. It also illustrated the need to educate teachers on how to integrate First Nations, Métis and Inuit content and perspectives into the curriculum.
“As music teachers and elementary teachers, we learn through doing it and experiencing the songs and dance. We really want to connect to this through stories and [enable students to] have their own stories of making the instruments that they are putting love and time into, then pass these stories on,” said Nikolai.
“It is our job as educators to do as much as we can, share as much as we can, find accessible resources and people who can pass teachings and experience onto us so we can be comfortably educated to share this with our students,” she adds.
Responding to the Calls to Action
Workshop participants point to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’sfinal report, released last year, as well as the provincial government’s promise to focus more on including Indigenous culture and history into Alberta’s curriculum as two reasons—among many—why professional development like this is needed.
“With the release of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this workshop is a response to some of those calls by learning more about Indigenous ways of knowing and being which will translate to their students,” explained event collaborator Jeremy Albert, who is a First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant with Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB).
“We’re looking to build from here and get these teachings into our schools so our First Nations, Métis and Inuit and non-Indigenous students can be exposed to this education.”
The importance of good materials
As well as receiving a lesson in making, painting and playing Indigenous flutes, workshop participants also received a walk-through of an Edukit for music teachers, developed by EPSB. The kit consists of detailed lesson plans including songs, dances, picture books, poems, and stories that can be used throughout the school year.
“We’re crying out for materials and understanding to bring this music to our students,” said Kathy Robinson, associate professor of elementary education and workshop facilitator.
All of the workshop facilitators expressed a desire for the workshop’s positive impact to spread to classrooms across Edmonton. Event collaborator and EPSB First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant Holly Yuzicapi explained that learning about First Nations, Métis and Inuit art and culture could teach students another way to express themselves.
“Every culture has forms of expression—art, music, singing, dance—it’s really people having the ability to share feelings and stories,” said Yuzicapi.
“You hear people say ‘I’m dancing for healing’, or there is history and significance behind certain songs or stories. When we turn to those things, we are acknowledging expression,” she explained. “When we deal with traumatic things in our life, we can turn to art to help us express feelings, but we don’t teach it that way. When you think about all of our cultural songs, the songwriter is sharing their feelings. So, technically everyone is a songwriter, a dancer and an artist.”
The EPSB Edukit will be available for loan at the H.T. Coutts Education Library. Part two of the workshop, to be led by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, is expected to take place at UAlberta in the fall term and will focus on drumming and drum-making. To learn more about the course, contact Laurel Nikolai or Nicole Schutz.