Elder Sanderson opened the meeting with a prayer. Deputy Director Decoux welcomed everyone on behalf of the Northern Lights and Île-à-la-Crosse School Divisions. People around the table introduced themselves.
Elder Sanderson addressed the meeting. He spoke of the many challenges students face when they attend post-secondary institutions away from home. He recalled working with students in Sandy Bay and how rarely they knew even the names of plants in their own community. He described three-day camps held for children to learn traditional knowledge, such as fishing, trapping, and preparation of foods, along with traditional technologies. Winter survival skills included starting fires and rescuing people who fall through the ice. He recalled the great interest children showed in this type of knowledge. Lastly, Elder Sanderson spoke about looking after Mother Earth, mentioning how people's resources have been destroyed by certain industrial and leisure developments across the north. He suggested that government environmental policy was 60 years behind the times.
Glen Aikenhead summarized the events that had led to the CCSTU project. A research project in 1997 with science teachers across northern Saskatchewan in provincial and Band schools revealed views about why so few Aboriginal students take up science in high school. The science teachers' views seemed to contradict the views held by Aboriginal educators who wrote on the topic. Unlike the teachers, the Aboriginal educators pointed to the cultural differences between many Aboriginal students and Western science. Glen went on to identify some of these differences. He described how Aboriginal educator Madeleine MacIvor's work, "Redefining Science Education for Aboriginal Students" (handed out), had sketched the ultimate goal for the CCSTU project. Glen pointed out that MacIvor organized her paper around 12 standards of education for Aboriginal students. A copy of these were handed out and people were asked to reflect on their applicability to the project. Also handed out were: a "Medicine Wheel" approach to teaching students, and a summary of science/art educator/author Greg Cajete's work, "Science: A Native American Perspective."
A discussion of northern Saskatchewan experiences with cross-cultural science teaching ensued. Success at some schools was attributed to (1) teacher stability and enthusiasm, (2) outdoor education programs (similar to Elder Sanderson's) which happened to turn out to be more successful with students already motivated to learn at school, (3) the community tackling social problems, and (4) Aboriginal role models of university and technical institute graduates. "Students must buy into what is taught."
Concern was expressed over the danger of students losing their own cultural identity in the quest to study science. Students need to be able to walk in both worlds (Aboriginal and Western). Examples of positive role models and of achievements in Aboriginal communities were mentioned. "There's more success than we realize."
Capturing students' curiosity to question what they see or hear was another challenge identified, as was the challenge to connect school knowledge with what students know from living in their own community (e.g. outdoor summer camps and translating Hamlet into Cree).
The issue of integrating living and learning was identified as being very important. What outdoor experiences do students need in order to make classroom instruction work (in spite of restrictions of time blocks and credit systems)? Different learning styles of students were reviewed.
The next issue identified was "learning through experience." Real life experiences can create the need to know academic content (such as, science for survival). An example of measuring the pressure of a bear trap was cited. Students built a device out of a plastic pop bottle and balloon. This created the need to learn pounds per square inch (psi) and other related concepts and skills.
The group recognized the need for individuals such as ourselves to act within their own jurisdiction to create wider change in science education. (Individual snowflakes added together can make a powerful wall of snow.)
We were cautioned not to assume that Aboriginal worldviews were similar. Some dramatic differences in meaning of a word taken from two different communities that speak the same Cree dialect were cited as example of non-uniformity among communities. One consultant emphasized the key role that relevancy played in many of the ideas discussed. Relevancy includes: identifying a northern perspective (as Elder Sanderson had done), taking the students' real world into the classroom, listening to elders, and involving parents.
In conclusion, we were reminded to think of our teaching as not only affecting the students in our immediate classroom, but as affecting the future children who those students will parent.
In the afternoon, Glen talked about other people's experiences teaching Western science to non-Western students; including the work of anthropologists observing students in schools. Their work was summarized in terms of (1) enculturation, assimilation, and playing Fatima's rules; (2) differences between students' cultural identities and the culture of school science; and (3) alternatives to assimilation and Fatima's rules - acculturation and "anthropological" learning. Examples of these alternatives were drawn from the morning's discussion of Saskatchewan experiences.
The CCSTU project was reviewed from beginning to end. The funding sources were clarified and features of the budget were summarized. It was agreed that two teachers could collaborate to produce one unit if they wished. The support for teachers preparing the units was outlined in terms of resources (books, units, teaching materials), released time (eight days), and help from Division consultants. Several interesting ideas for units were generated. To help us focus on the high standards our project has set, a distinction was made between the ease of "translating science into the students' culture" and "interpreting science in terms of their own culture." The second objective is the project's challenge. Teachers were encouraged to include students as participant/helpers in producing a unit.
The group toured the television and graphics facilities at Saskatchewan Education's Northern Branch office in La Ronge.
Glen Aikenhead summarized what Aboriginal educators had written about teaching in a cross-cultural way. The role of culture broker was described, along with several examples of how teachers could be good culture brokers for their students who needed assistance to cross a cultural border into school science. Selecting indigenous technologies to get a unit started was one example. Identifying what culture we speak in at any given moment, was another example. People identified several different kinds of borders that different students face when they learn Western science. Glen showed a couple of examples of how Western science content could be placed within the context of Aboriginal knowledge of nature. These were not templates for units, but ideas to think about as teachers made decisions on what to include and what sequence to follow.
Sample units of cross-cultural science teaching (from the US, Australia, and Nunavut) were studied. People discussed what unit they might develop and what its format would be. It was agreed that teachers would ultimately decide the format, but that Glen would send everyone two Unit Plan outlines (one used at the College of Education and one used by the Saskatoon Tribal Council). We realized that teachers who will use the units in the future will compose their own lesson plans, so individual lesson plans would not normally be needed in a unit, unless to illustrate a point. Margin notes for teachers in the units could be a way of providing culture background or other useful tips to future teachers. People wrote out requests for materials for Glen to send them.
Each teacher will present his/her "work in progress" to the group for comments, support, brainstorming, etc.
Several School Division consultants will attend some portion of the meeting to provide their expertise to the on-going development of the units.
The May and August meetings were mentioned. It was suggested that these dates be finalized by email/telephone before the March meeting.