Experiential Education: Book Club!

Currents of experiential education at SJR.

Currents of experiential education at SJR.

This year, the Social Studies department at St. John’s Ravenscourt School has been reading Jay Robert’s book Beyond Learning by Doing: Theoretical currents in experiential education. We have hopefully done this in an attempt to critically think about what it is we do as individual teachers and as a department, and whether or not this is meaningful for our learning communities.

Roberts has made me truly think about my practice: “It is not enough to blindly praise the real or imagined laurels of experiential education, not is it productive to simply criticize the ways it doesn’t match with our ideals and values” (p. 109). Far too often, I feel that I am too likely to praise mediocrity and not challenge myself to provide transformative and educative experiences for my students. It is difficult for educators to say “I suck,” or “what I have been doing has not been productive.” I find lately that I say these things almost every night!

As such, we are focussing today on chapters 6 & 7 in Beyond Learning by Doing. These chapters, following Roberts’ analysis of the various currents of experiential education, forces the reader to contemplate on our own practice and for a bit of a gut check in terms of what he qualifies as the “neo-experiential.”

What do you, as an educator, take away from these two chapters? Do they push you? Do they anger you? How do they relate to your own practice? We welcome comments from all educators as a greater dialogue will help us construct a larger and more fluid body of knowledge.


Canada on the World Stage: Past & Present

IMG_1363In Canada and the Contemporary World, we have been discussing at great length Canada’s economic system and the concept of sustainable development. We have looked at the circular flow model, the materials economy via the Story of Stuff, and we looked at the Bruntland Report to begin thinking about the term sustainable development.

Today, Mr. Kope came to our class and led us through the Global Trade Game (Thanks, Mr. Kope!). I was blown away by how you guys were so captivated by the experience and how you immediately started to figure out how the global economy doesn’t necessarily create an even playing field. Many of you realized quickly that the World Bank (Mr. Kope) would make deals ith developing countries that seemed really unethical. Many of you realized that Canada was in a really great spot to not only profit from its own resources, but also from the resources of other countries.

Here are a couple of resources looking at Canada’s role in the world historically:

The Shaping of Canada’s Foreign Policy

Time Line

Here are a couple of articles discussing Canada’s current role in the world:

Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail

The National

Given our discussions on economics, on globalization (the Global Trade Game), on sustainable development, and on current hot spots around the world, what do you think Canada’s role should be? Has it changed based on the articles you have read? Why is this? What is your vision for Canada in the 21st century?

Reflections on Lower Fort Garry

IMG_1359Each year, we take the Grade 11 Canadian History students to Lower Fort Garry, a national historic site as it was an HBC trading post – albeit not an integral one. I always wonder about this learning experience as to its ability to transform, reinforce, or create new directions for learners. Do we just do it because we always do it, or does it allow us to solidify our understanding of how the Northwest was transformed in the 19th century?

Now that's a York boat.

No that’s a York boat.

My hope is that this experience allows us to envision many of the stories, concepts, and arguments we have been generating throughout the last few months. So, if you could, please comment below on what this experience was like for you (other than reporting on the fact that we had snow on May 14th :))


Looking at the gates where Treaties 1 & 2 were signed in 1870.

Looking at the gates where Treaties 1 & 2 were signed in 1870.


Many Roads: Three Day Road Redux

This project was created to support specific cross-curricular objectives between the Grade 11 English Language Arts and Canadian History courses. The learning activity had learners read Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road in ELA while looking at the colonial, imperial, and indigenous history that weaves throughout the story in their Canadian History class. Learners were immersed in an environment whereby they analyzed themes in Canadian literature while critically investigating Canada’s relationship, both historical and contemporary, with its First Nations people. The end product was a collection of alternate chapters of Three Day Road written from the perspective of other characters in the book. This collection is scheduled to be published nation-wide at the end of May as a means for the learners to share their knowledge with an authentic audience.

The objectives of the learning experience focussed on the understanding of specific structures of narrative through the reading and writing of fiction while commenting on their own experience in a colonial or post-colonial society. The experience sought to develop empathy in the learners while allowing them to experiment with writing and open their consciousness to a variety of stories within Canadian history.

From Library & Archives Canada

From Library & Archives Canada

The learning community began by taking the time to read Three Day Road in both course periods so as to provide meaningful time to digest that methodology and content of the book. During the reading of the book, there was a great deal of time discussing imagery, character development, symbolism, and conflict within the novel.  Also, time was spent deliberately spent making personal connections to the characters, broader historical movements, and Canada’s colonial past/present. For example, we asked students “How did Xavier and Elijah, two cree boys from the Hudson Bay, end up in the middle of a European War?” These types of questions forced our community to think at the highest levels, research primary documents (like the Indian Act), understand the cause consequence of global events, and empathize with the characters.

In the Canadian History course, students were asked to write a formal history on how colonialism, in the form of treaties, legislation, and attitudes, of the 19th century enabled the characters’ participation in the war. Learners needed to access primary documents, create an argument, and use evidence to support this argument. We heard from experts on the Indian Act, the Royal Proclamation, and the Numbered Treaties in order to understand the dynamic created at the end of the 19th century.

In the English course, learners were asked to reinvent specific chapters from the perspective of lesser characters. Learners chose German snipers, prostitutes, trappers, trench-mates, officers, and other characters to explore their understanding of the literary structures and also their understanding of the First World War.

Learners were assessed on both writing pieces and were able to rewrite and rewrite their work for publication. Following the revisions of the chapters of the book, the principal of the school was asked to make the final edits.