As I continue to explore learning through the lens of inquiry, this week I was humbled and empowered through the contributions of my students. This week, they left me thinking, questioning, and reflecting. They truly are incredible ‘teachers’ in their own rights.
Our learning this week has centered on Social Studies and the unit: “Canada’s Trading Partners” (or Canada’s Interactions with the Global Community, 2013). I honestly thought there could possibly be no dryer curriculum to cover. Let me tell you how my thinking changed:
Following our Remembrance Day assembly, we returned to our classroom, all somber, grateful and incredibly reflective. That was when we started our learning journey. I posted the following three quotes around the classroom and asked the students to choose a quote that they thought was personally meaningful:
- “There is a potential that exists in each of us to make our voices heard and to make a difference on pressing social issues.” – Dr. Samantha Nutt
- “We are obligated to come to the assistance of those less fortunate than us, no matter where in the world they live.” – Ben Peterson
- “Since I was a little kid I’ve believed that I make a difference in the world, and that difference, I decided, had better be positive.” Severn Cullis Suzuki
The students thoughtfully read each quote and then moved to stand beside the one they connected to the most. Then the discussion began. What do the quotes mean? What do they mean to us? What is happening in the world right now? The students were filled with a wealth of information: Reflecting on world history, current political situations and giving thought to Typhoon Haiyan that had devastated the Philippines a few days earlier.
Then I added some facts about global issues to the discussion. This time I invited students to read the facts and respond by writing questions they had on ‘stickies’ and posting them on the facts. Here are some of the facts I posted:
- More than 30 wars are raging all over the world
- 90% of the victims of war are women and children
- 770 million people still can not read or write
- 218 million children aged 5-17 work
- There are over 300,000 child soldiers fighting in wars, many are 8 years old or younger
- 115 million children are not in school
- (* all quotes and facts were from the following video: Youth Speak Out on Global Issues)
My students astounded me with their thoughtfulness, their genuine concern and their ability to apply what they already knew about global issues in order to generate questions. The asked things like:
- Why are women and children going to war?
- Why do the children have to work? What kind of work do they do? Do they choose to work?
- How do they learn if they can’t read or write? How is it possible that almost 1/8 of the population of the world can not read or write?
- If they are not in school, where are they? Are they all girls?
- Where in the world is this happening? Why does this happen?
That’s when I decided to share the ‘personal narrative of my life’ with them. I told them briefly about the reasons my family had decided to leave our country, Grenada. I told them of the communist government we were facing, the limitations that were set on my father and his business, and the daily dangers that he faced. I explained how my parents had worked diligently for two years to have a sponsor, a job and a place to live, thus acquiring enough ‘points’ to earn the privilege to become immigrants in Canada. I told them of the adventures we faced when we finally left. They were spellbound. They listened intently. They even groaned when the bell rang and they needed to go outside for recess. That night, their homework was to ask their families about their own ‘personal narratives’. How did they come to be in Canada? How did we all come to be in this same place together?
There was nothing that could prepare me for the next day. As my students gathered in small groups they began to tell the narratives of their lives. I stood speechless as I listened to my students telling stories of war, of bravery, and of extreme selflessness. Many of my students are first generation Canadians, and recalled their own memories as they entered Canada; others told stories of generations from the past. I held my breath as one student told of his father’s need for political asylum as a freedom fighter and activist in another land; one student told of a time her mother was robbed at gunpoint; grandparents who were survivors of Auschwitz; brave young men who boarded boats unsure of their final destinations. Families moving for opportunities, education, employment, freedom. Their stories were genuine, sincere and touching. They moved me. They moved us all. There we were, all united in this classroom, here because our families had all wanted the same things: safety, opportunity, freedom. The rights we take for granted as Canadians, suddenly seemed like privileges.
In the previous week, we had talked about ‘commodities’ and resources of Canada. Can a person be a resource? Can a person have an influence on a global issue? As a class, we brainstormed a list of influential Canadians – and identified the prime area of influence (and whether they were a positive or negative influence). I introduced students to five Canadians who have been influential in various ways:
…and then, unfortunately, the week came to an end. They have left me thinking, reflecting and committing to dig deeper into the role Canada plays in the world. My students’ stories have inspired me to appreciate the people who have come before us and the people who surround us.
I have left my students ‘discovering’ who these Canadians are and how they have impacted the world. From this, I am hoping that we will identify global issues that my students can inquire further about: Child rights, Disaster relief, Health care in developing nations, research and development, and the environment. But, I am hoping that they will not be limited to these issues. I am confident that my students will be able to identify other global issues that they want to learn more about.
Why have I decided to take this route to learning? I want my students to understand Canada’s role in the world, not only our economic partners but our role in global issues; issues like the environment, relief aid and peacekeeping, health, education, equality, resources and energy and more that I’m sure my students will ‘discover’. And within that, I want them to understand what they as citizens and civilians can do to play a part in the world. While we may not be able to end world hunger, or bring peace to a warring nation, we can become environmentally responsible, we can contribute to relief efforts when there are natural disasters, we can take school supplies with us to share with communities in developing nations when we travel on vacations, we can collect items as donations for organizations that distribute resources to others, and there are countless other ways that we can be global citizens. I am proud to be Canadian! I am proud of the part our nation plays in most global issues.
Stay tuned, we all have a lot of learning to do – and I’m certain that my kids will teach me a whole lot more than I could ever dream of teaching them! Inquiry is like a journey into the unknown… you never know where the questions your kids ask will take you.