Thunder Bay

New project collaboration brings much needed hands-on learning

When the pandemic hit, group and hands-on projects in classrooms changed for many students across Ontario as teaching moved to online.

Project Bineshii teaches elementary students how to build nesting boxes

Nesting boxes built by elementary school students. (Supplied by Lakehead Public Schools)

When the pandemic hit, both group and hands-on projects in classrooms changed for many students across Ontario as teaching moved to online.

But Project Bineshii, a collaboration between Lakehead Public Schools and KZ Lodge Alternative Education Program high school students, found a new way to bring hands-on learning back.

For the past few weeks, teachers and high school students at the KZ lodge alternative program have been helping to teach elementary school students how to build nesting boxes for eastern bluebirds.

"We did some live streaming on the land and throughout the whole project … we learned a little bit about the birds, the eastern bluebird and I had also done a teaching on a bird myself, but I did it teaching on the eagle," said Tanya Moses, alternative secondary school support worker at the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNFR) helped support this project, with the end goal to donate the finished nesting boxes to the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority and supporting the Bluebird Recovery Program.

A young student builds his nesting box for Project Bineshii. (Supplied by Lakehead Public Schools)

"The KZ Lodge Alternative Education Program is offered at Hammarskjold High School and is designed to incorporate specialized programming related to Indigenous land-based learning and life skill building," said a press release from Lakehead Public Schools.

Moses says it's important to have these collaborations and work with classrooms and different age groups as much as possible.

"I just think it's important that we share our culture and just … even our language. [That ties] in a little bit of our language where we had our students repeat the different birds names in the language," said Moses.

"It's just an opportunity that allowed us to engage different groups of people that maybe otherwise would not be able to experience this."

It's also an opportunity to get students to do a hands-on activity, which has been lacking in many classrooms due to online learning and has usually been a way to get students engaged with First Nations teachings and knowledge.

An elementary school student stands proud with his nesting box. (Supplied by Lakehead Public Schools)

While field trips were cancelled, Lisa McLeod, KZ Lodge Program teacher, says they were able to do some land-based learning in their school courtyard before they had to pivot online, including designing and building a fire pit and a teaching lodge as well.

Once schools went online, McLeod says they had to get creative in how they would continue teaching Indigenous knowledge and teachings.

"It was tough, but we have just found [a way] to make it work. Basically, what we ended up doing is just going out on the land, just myself and the KZ lodge team educators. And what we did is we tried to live stream things that we would normally want to do with the students at the school," said McLeod.

She believes that doing those live streams have been a huge help in keeping the students online and engaged with them.

An elementary student builds her nesting box with her father for Project Bineshii. (Supplied by Lakehead Public Schools)

"Of course, it's not the same without the students. No really good field trip can ever be the same, but it was the best that we could do. But I do think that it has helped to keep our students engaged."

As for the students, she says it's been a tough go for many and these hands-on projects are a big part of social interaction for them. Speaking for her own class, she noticed the families were also relatively excited to work on a hands-on project and is "different than looking at a screen."

McLeod says even just preparing the materials for the students was a lot of work and time, but in the end she says it was worth it.

"When you see students happy and engaging with something at home, it's a little bit more physical, something that they can work on with families. It's not just something on the screen. It's skills that you're going to use for the rest of your life," said McLeod.

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