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Land and Lab


Land and Lab

Sara General

lands and labs 5.jpg

My mind is still very much on math and science this week.  I started off the day worked up a bit about water issues, which always happens when I’m reading Maude Barlow’s books about the global water crisis that looms over all people, Indigenous and non-indigenous. I want us all to have a healthy future despite these challenges but I realize that we are not often empowered by our schools or education systems to tackle these issues in fun and dynamic ways.

A friend of mine who knows far more about environmental issues that I do made a post today on Facebook that I wholeheartedly agree with – they said,  “Six Nay provides a lot of opportunities for education and trades.  Nothing much for environmental or sciences which includes drinking water, sewage treatment, waste management, ground water, soil erosion, flood management, and natural resources management. We need educational chemistry/biology labs... And class rooms like Polytech has lol.”

This pretty much sums up my thinking about the issue.  When I left the Chiefs of Ontario, there were a few key issues on my mind: water security, climate change and food sovereignty.  I had seen that top down approaches didn’t work well for communities and that a lot of communities were lacking the kind of meaningful data that would help them make good long range environmental decisions that are consistent with our Treaty rights and responsibilities.   Think Global - Act Local is still the approach that makes the most sense to me - at least right now.

On that note, there are some questions that I have about our practices here at Six Nations and some of those came up in my class today:

1)      What happens with our recycling?  Where does it go?

2)      What is the incinerator and how or does this fit within a proactive local climate change strategy?

3)   What is happening underneath the dump?  How are we protecting the groundwater that exists underneath Six Nations?

4)   Have we conducted and gathered our own data on these subjects that would empower us to adjust our practices where we needed to?

My sense of this (which I’ll confirm as I learn more about it) is that we have not conducted vigorous research around these questions.  Not yet, anyways.  And I understand that there are a ton of pressing issues that make it difficult to focus on the broader, big picture environmental issues.  But they do still need to be looked at.

I think this creates some exciting opportunities for us to develop engaging maths and sciences programs at all levels that will help us tackle these issues, many of which will grow in complexity over the next 15-20 years.  How wonderful would it be to have a sustainability program that addresses some of these issues in practical ways but also teaches students how to conduct tests, do research, gather data and propose solutions to local environmental challenges that are also rooted in our teachings?

I just finished reading a research study that looked at why Indigenous students are under-represented in the maths and sciences at the post secondary level.  In this study the researcher explains how most research concerning Indigenous academic success in the Western education system as compared to non-Indigenous students is conducted by Western non-indigenous evaluators and is largely quantitative.

The researcher, a lady named Michelle Hogue (who also wrote this article) wanted to qualitatively understand the experiences of the members from the local Blackfoot community and to engage in the process of ‘action research’ by putting into action some of their recommendations for enabling Indigenous student success in post-secondary science programs.

The findings were very interesting but one which stood out to me and echoes the sentiments of the Facebook post above, is how Hogue explained that the students were the most engaged and the most successful in science and chemistry when they actually got to work in the laboratory, have hands on experiences and interact with the concepts that they were tackling.  The second really successful strategy was utilizing storytelling to introduce and reinforce concepts. (Hogue also wrote her Masters thesis on making a story out of the periodic table - very cool).

I know a few teachers and I'm sure there are more who have found unique ways to teach our cosmology and to explain how scientific concepts fit into our understanding of the world.  It’d be awesome to be able to do more to help support these teachers and students.  Certainly, being able to have laboratories would be a big boost to experiential learning, and even though there are key funding issues here (most First Nation schools can’t get their libraries funded, let alone a lab) – in the long run, I hope it somehow becomes a priority so that students can have these kinds of learning experiences, out on the land and in labs.

Til next time!