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If there is one resource that I would recommend to English/Socials 10 -12 teachers who want to embed more aboriginal content in their courses, this would be it.  Seriously.  It’s a fantastic collection of poems, short stories, and essays from Canadian aboriginal authors.  If you would like to become more familiar with the themes and ideas found in aboriginal literature (especially important in light of the aboriginal competencies within the new curriculum), the best way to get started is to immerse yourself in it.  This resource is where I’d start.

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For the second year, my Adventure Co-op class is studying the idea of happiness in the English language arts component of the course.  The inquiry question that is guiding this process is, “What does it take to live a happy life?”  I’ve seen students’ lives changed in the process of better understanding this question because everyone is pursuing happiness in one way or another.  It’s perhaps the most relevant idea to study in school, especially as my students are currently laying foundations of being that will shape their decisions and interactions as they move from their high school context into other realms of life.  We started out by looking at some of the science and research that’s been done on happiness as well as some of the big ideas that contribute to a person’s level of happiness.  We are now starting to dig a little deeper.

Yesterday we delved into the importance that relationship has on a person’s happiness.  To do this, I started off by showing my students the final scene of the movie “Into the Wild” – a true story about a young man who starts a three year journey from America’s east coast to Alaska in order to fulfill his fanatic idealism.  Along the way, he cuts every meaningful relationship out of his life, including his parents who don’t hear from him for two years.  Unfortunately, when he arrives in Alaska he experiences a series of events that ultimately leads to his death, but not before he has a profound insight into what it means to be happy.

After watching the clip and having a short discussion on the connection between relationships and happiness, I got my students to record their thoughts in a journal reflection.  What I thought would take maybe ten minutes took forty.  What I thought might be a paragraph for most, turned into a page for many.  For young adults who are in a very visceral process of identity building, understanding who their friends are and the impact they have on their lives is a very real process.  One student wrote:

Even though I only watched a short part of the video, it hit me like a ton of bricks… the relevance of this story to my own life, today and in the past week has been on my mind for a while now.

Another wrote:

I’ve never had an opportunity to open my fun side and didnt get an opportunity to connect with people the way i do now, its like a whole new me i can now do things that i couldnt do before.  I make my own choices, i do whatever i want, because i found a set of friends that know what the meaning of life means, the friends that i had before didnt care about school…

It was made very clear to me in the all of the journal reflections I got that my students are very much thinking about their relationships and understanding what they mean.  They know and are surprisingly articulate about how much their friends influence their level of happiness.  For some of my students, having the opportunity to think and process some of these ideas may lead to real change.

Last week I had a student tell me that he hates poetry.  A number of other students expressed a similar sentiment.  “Fair enough,” I told this student, “but I don’t believe you.  I think you actually like poetry.”  Presumptuous?  Maybe.  Then I showed my class this video:

It’s rare for my class to be so completely engaged in something that everything else fades away – yet  as I watched my students watch this video they were captivated.  When the video finished, instead of the usual chatter of opinions and thoughts, there were a few seconds of complete silence.  This isn’t a normal occurrence in my class!  A student asked if I knew of any other videos like this one – when I said yes, but that I was going to share them at some other point, I nearly had a mutiny on my hands!

I still get a lump in my throat every time I watch this video.

This past week I’ve thrown myself (and my students) into the brave new world of inquiry.  Although in many ways I feel totally unprepared this whole new way of teaching (and learning), the time was right and my students were ready, so I made the jump!  As with all new endeavors, there are the combined feelings of exhilaration and anxiety, trepidation and boldness – all jostling for top spot.  Sounds like an adventure!  After spending only two days on their inquiries, my students left for the weekend excited.  It’s their excitement, along with my beliefs about how inquiry can change the classroom environment that are driving this new teaching initiative forward.

Before I jumped into inquiry learning, I thought it might be a good idea to do some research; after all, I’m not going to jump into the pool until I know how deep it is (just so you know – it’s deep!).  Although I’ve found many articles advocating for inquiry teaching and learning, I’ve had a tough time finding information on how to actually implement an inquiry into the classroom.  Several resources that have been incredibly useful for me in this regard are linked below:

  1. “Focus on Inquiry” “A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry based learning” developed by the ministry of education in Alberta.  Invaluable.
  2. “Inquiring Mind” is a user friendly site created by a teacher, educational consultant, and ICT facilitator in New Zealand.  This is a great place to get started thinking about how to structure inquiry learning in the classroom.
  3. “Wright’s Room” is a blog created by high school teacher Shelley Wright who is living and breathing inquiry in her classroom.  The things she’s doing with her students is inspirational and her authentic writing has helped me envision and plan out my own inquiry.

I found this video today and thought I’d pass it on to you.  Powerful stuff.

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