Cross Curricular Connections: Woodland Art Meets Ecology


Last week two classes took advantage of the beautiful weather and went for walking field trips exploring Woodland art and Ecology.

The Indigenous studies class visited a mural by the woodland artist Philip Cote called The Original Family. After recording their descriptions of the mural, through audio notes and sketches, the class identified features of Woodland art, and learned about the history and significance of the art form. The class then sauntered over to Allan Gardens and applied their newfound knowledge to sketching native species in the woodland art style.

The science class is currently studying biology and we recently learned about the levels of ecology. We wanted to connect our learning to real life so we went on a mini adventure to identify levels of ecology in our own surroundings. We walked to Allen Gardens in order to observe the living organisms and non-living matter. We admired the scenery then categorized what we saw into either an organism, population, community, ecosystem or biosphere.

The science class and the Indigenous studies met up after they finished their respective activities and shared what they learned. As a final cross-curricular learning challenge the scientists identified the level of ecology of each species the artists had sketched.

Digital Aristotle: A Reflection of Virtual Learning

It’s somewhat hard to believe that a year in lockdown has already gone by. To say it has been an interesting year would be an understatement. After all is said and done, and this human experience is in the rearview mirror, there is a lot that will be looked back upon and analyzed. One of the major realms that will undoubtedly receive a lot of attention will be education, particularly virtual learning.

Virtual learning is by no means a new idea or phenomenon. Virtual schools have existed for years now, but such schools were created for educational reasons and designed for specific situations. The pandemic, however, has thrown the vast majority, if not all of the world’s education systems into some form of virtual learning. Those who choose to attend virtual schools do so (for the most part) of their own volition. Over the last year, everyone has been thrust into virtual learning whether they wanted to or not, whether they thrive in such a situation or languish.

There is a notion in education as to whether or not the growth and implementation of technology will one day lead to a future where students can learn solely from an artificial educator. The current education system is built on top of a framework that was designed to educate students to have the skills and knowledge to be effective and efficient factory workers. In the early days of education, students would sit in desks and listen to a teacher at the front of a classroom. The teacher was a source of information that they would disseminate to their students, a sage on the stage. Fast forward to today, and the only difference in many of today’s classrooms is the colour of the board at the front of the room.

Education has gone through many “revolutions” where this, that, or the other thing was going to radically change how students learned. From radio to television and tablets, no one invention or innovation has really changed education in a fundamental way. The internet, however, offers one place that holds more information than anyone can ever hope to consume, and essentially renders the idea of a person at the front of a classroom who knows a lot of information obsolete. So who needs teachers? Are they commodities who will one day be completely replaced by screens and algorithms?

In my estimation, the past year of learning mostly online – which has had teachers using a lot of digital resources such as videos, podcasts, and the like – has shown us that replacing a classroom teacher with digital content is not a scenario that leads to optimal learning environments. Granted, our small school full of dedicated and passionate teachers has been able to make the best of the world’s current situation; it is likely that many students have found virtual learning less than ideal. Although having one-on-one guidance for each student would be the ideal scenario, even if you could fabricate a digital Aristotle to tutor every student based on his or her individual needs, it could never replace a real – in the flesh – educator. As technology continues to advance, the sage on the stage needs to transform into the guide on the side, helping students navigate the world wide web of information overflow and teach them how to learn and not necessarily what to learn.

Battle Bots in STEAM

Students in the YMCA Academy middle school recently completed a mechanical system design project as part of their most recent unit in the school’s Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) program. During this project, students shared and extended each others’ ideas as they applied knowledge of simple machines to build complex mechanical systems. Along the way, they developed practical understanding of fluid properties that could be used to improve their designs through inquiry-based use of hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Instead of battle bots, students participating in online-only learning engineered their own mousetrap-powered cars, developing the same understanding and skills while completing these devices. In the end, each student engineered a unique machine, their own complex system designed for friendly competition.

Stop Disasters Game

It’s no secret that natural disasters have a huge impact on people’s livelihoods and the surrounding environment. Although millions of people are affected every year, we can reduce the human, physical and financial cost of disasters by understanding the risks of applying the best methods of prevention and mitigation.

In our unit on natural disasters, students played a game that tasked them with managing the impacts of a natural disaster of their choice. They played realistic disaster scenarios and their role was to plan and construct a safer environment for their town in order to minimize the damage of the natural disaster.

Students needed to know how the natural disaster formed and the risks it posed in order to prepare for what was to come. They started out with a set budget and had to determine where to spend it. It’s not hard to spend money, but it is difficult choosing which areas to protect, where to place your defences and how to save as many lives as possible.

With multiple playthroughs, students gained a better understanding of the logistics and factors involved in preparing for such terrible events. They began to realize that they didn’t have an infinite amount of money, they had to carefully consider all options, and they often had to make very difficult decisions. Overall, it was an engaging experience that forced students to think about the consequences their actions carry and how the decisions they make directly involve the people they are trying to save.

At-Home Science Projects

The grade 9 science class has been busy so far this octomester! In our first unit we learned about the steps of the scientific method and how we actually use these steps to conduct scientific experiments in our daily lives (i.e. Why isn’t my toaster working?). We practiced designing experiments, making sure that only one variable was changed so that it would be a fair test.

For our chemistry unit we learned about physical and chemical properties. We examined different foods in our kitchen, using our senses to describe them and completed density and viscosity tests. Students also conducted their own solubility experiments. When discussing chemical properties we explained reactivity with the classic vinegar and baking soda demo and tested the acidity of various household products using red cabbage as a pH indicator.

To bring these units together, students had to design an experiment to test products at home. They came up with a testable question, described the properties of the products involved, went through all of the steps of the scientific method and shared their results with the class. We had a wide range of questions, including “Which glue dries faster?”, “Which chip is the spiciest?”, and “Which car will go farther?”.

Students enjoyed completing their experiments at home, but are happy to now be back in school every other day where we can do more engaging activities together (but still 6ft apart!).