Polar Learning Flourishes!

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Einstein understood that the ability to imagine is what opens our minds up to possibilities we never considered before. When we imagine the so-called impossible and seek to discover or uncover new truths, we create new knowledge that leads us to more questions. The reality is that we, as a human race, are never finished knowing and understanding all that there ever was, is or will be. We need to keep that fire to search alive by continuing to ask questions. This habit of mind, I believe, is best developed young so that our children – our future – can grow and develop into thinkers, explorers and innovators and go beyond the acceptance of every day facts at face value. This sense of imagination and disposition for questioning is something I aim to instill in my students as young learners. Even if all I do is plant a seed…

Learning About the Inuit Peoples & Culture

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As our Polar Inquiry continued to deepen and as we looked at more and more books that contained pictures or stories about the people who live in the Arctic, the children became fascinated and we became knee deep in new questions that neither I nor Madison could answer.

 photo IMG_9415w_zpsesglel5f.jpgA few children were particularly interested in the Inuit language of Inuktitut, which was written and displayed in some of the books we read. Shown above, C was completely captivated by the unique text and wanted to use it to label his drawings. We researched the language online to try to find the correct translations. Although I am not so sure these are totally accurate, it was the process of searching and his total immersion in this project that I admired and encouraged. And boy, was he ever proud of his work!

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In the above photo, another student shows her interest in the Inuktitut language after we read, “I is for Inuksuk: An Arctic Celebration” by Mary Wallace.

After hearing from a colleague about a wonderfully-engaging Inuit guest speaker, Dion who works through the Board, I knew I had to have him in to enhance our inquiry and help us better understand the Inuit culture. Like I said, there were a lot of questions that the children were asking that, as a non-Inuit person, I couldn’t answer. What better source to retrieve information than from an Inuit, himself? I also love the interactive aspect of a guest speaker and know it’s also how I, myself, learn best. I booked our time with Dion and the children and I anxiously awaited his arrival. As anticipated, this was such an exciting and rich learning experience for both children and teachers and I couldn’t have been happier with his thorough, yet age-appropriate presentation. The entire time, the children were mesmerized by all that Dion showed and told us.

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Bottom Left: Showing us arctic fox furs. We noticed that the orange furred fox must have been caught in the summer months because his fur had not changed to white yet. The white furred fox was caught in the winter after it had changed. Top Right: Showing us traditional drumming. Middle Right: Showing us an “ulu” used for various tasks like skinning and cleaning animals, cutting food, and trimming blocks of snow and ice for igloos.

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Some children were called up to try out the drum. We learned that Inuit girls drum up high while the Inuit boys drum down low. The children also got to pass around and feel the animal furs. They were completely fascinated with this as it’s not often we have the chance to feel a real animal’s skins. At first, some children felt a little uncomfortable with the idea of feeling it but as we learned more about the intentions behind the Inuit who hunt animals and the respect that the Inuit have for animals, the children seemed to open their minds to the prospect. We noted how thick and course the fur was, which helps the arctic animals stay warm.

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Some children wanted an extra opportunity to feel the furs before Dion left and so did I! There is something about it that can make you feel spiritually close to the animal. On the right, Mr. Jesse also takes a chance to explore the arctic fox fur more closely. Ironically, he teaches adult Inuit students and really wanted to be a part of our day.

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Dion also taught us some traditional Inuit games and allowed us to try them out! Many of them are based on the skills of strength, endurance and quick-thinking. Top Left: With only my hands as support, Dion raises one girl up using only the strength of his arms and while lying on his back! Top Middle: Two boys try out a competitive game involving only their legs. Top Right: Two girls try to cause each other to lose balance by only using one arm each. Bottom Left: Mme. Margie and I clap our hands together to try to get each other to lose balance. Bottom Middle: I play the same hand clapping game with Dion and he shows me a trick to winning the game! Bottom Right: Dion shows us a cool strength-based move.

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Dion shows us his Inuit name in English (“Stranger”) and in Inuktitut. He explains that it is a language of syllables rather than of letter sounds.

Dion’s visit allowed us to answer so many of our questions and also left us with so much to think about. While Dion was with us, I wrote down as many interesting pieces of information as I could so I wouldn’t forget and so that we could discuss the ideas as a class later. I was thrilled to find out how much the children retained from the presentation. Below, I’ve included some of our key learning.

Key Learning From Dion’s Presentation:

About the Arctic…
– In the Arctic, people build their houses on stilts and do not have basements because it is too cold on the ground
– People don’t really live in igloos anymore. They sometimes still build them as temporary homes while out on hunting trips.
– No trees in the North
– The ground is always frozen

About the Animals…
– Winter fur is thicker and white for camouflage compared to snow fur
– Hooves help the caribou not sink into the snow
– Most common animals eaten: caribu (tuktu), whale blubber (maqtaq), seal (nattiq), arctic char (iqaluk)
– Inuit respect and love animals and nature. Traditionally – and still in many ways-, they relied on on hunting and killing animals so that they could eat and survive. When they did/do kill animals, they use every part and don’t waste any of it.

About the Inuit People / Culture…
– Many Inuit – particularly in the past – were nomads and were always travelling whereever the food was.
– The community was very important and everyone who was a part of a community was seen as very important – no one was more important than the other because everyone had a job.
– Traditionally, the boys went out on hunting expeditions. The boys learned how to carve up animals, prepare food, sew clothing and care for the young.
– Mothers wear larger hooded parkas so that their babies could sit on their backs and watch everything the mother was doing. The Inuit people believe that the babies learned this way since people usually learn best by watching others do things.
– When the community was walking, the men would walk behind the women, ready to protect them if they came across any fierce or dangerous animals.
– Inuit invented snow goggles out of caribou antlers to protect their yes from the glaring sun reflecting off the bright, white snow.

Clearly, Dion’s visit was something the children and I will never forget. It also opened the children up to a new culture that many of them were not familiar with. What I loved was that Dion presented the Inuit culture in a very down to earth, accessible manner that showed the children that Dion – and Inuit people – are just like them but with a few different ways of doing things in order to adapt to their environment.

Following Dion’s Presentation

In the days and weeks following Dion’s visit, the children referred back to the presentation when describing something they drew or created. vanishingculturesWe also read a few other books involving Inuit characters and the children noted observations that perhaps they would not have noticed had it not been for Dion’s presentation. For example, in the book, “Frozen Land” by Jan Reynolds, the childrensweetestkulu were able to point out the baby being carried in the mother’s hood sack.
They were also not at all intimidated by the outontheicephotographs of the animal skins (which could possibly have caused some confusion if they had not seen them in person already).
In the book we read called, “Sweetest Kulu” by Celina Kalluk, the children were able to grasp the cycle of love and care between the mother, her baby, the animals and the land.
Another book we read, “Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay” by Peter Cumming, told the story of a little Inuit girl who came face to face with a baby polar bear. The children were able to imagine the daily life of little Leah and comprehend the idea of why her father would tell her not to go out on the ice alone.

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Jesse has been volunteering in our class and he also happens to be a teacher to adult Inuit students. One day, after looking through some books about life in the Arctic, the children had more questions about the Inuit. We thought it might be neat for Mr. Jesse to ask these questions to his students and come back with answers for us. That way, we were accessing another source for our inquiry, which would show the children how many ways and places you can find answers. Here are the questions we asked and what we found out!…

More Questions with Answers from Other Inuit 

Do the Inuit people prepare the meat for food right where they have killed the animal?
“Caribou is captured, cut up on site and put into bags and tied to the front or back of a Honda four wheeler and taken in town. Once in town, the Inuit women (and also sometimes men) help with the rest of the preparation using the ulu knife.”

When on a hunting trip, where do the people go to the bathroom and how do they do it?
(Seriously, the children wanted to know! I thought it was such a genuine and legitimate question for the children to ask – especially at this age. When the children asked it, there wasn’t really any giggling behind it – they just really wanted to know and were curious! I welcome pretty well all questions and discourage few – if any – because I want the children to feel confident in asking questions and to desire asking and searching for many.)
“Inuit people take tissue and wet wipes with them when they go hunting. When they need to use a toilet while hunting, they create a hole away from where they are staying (igloo or tent, etc.) and eliminate there. Then they use wet wipes to wipe and also to wash their hands, followed by taking some snow to wash their hands.”

Do Inuit people still get around by dog sled?
Dog sleds are pretty much exclusively used recreationally like for races or fun but some very traditional Inuit – like elders – might use them alongside skidoos. Nunavut Quest is a Baffin Island wide event where dog sled races are held and there are all sorts of prizes.

What are Inuksuks for?
Inuksuks are used for indicating a hunting trail and looking through the gap in the stomach leads you to the next inuksuk. (We also learned that the Inuit will build inuksuks to trick caribou into believing it is a human. They run the other way where a real Inuit hunter is waiting.)

The response was pure fascination. Children represented what they learned or were thinking and wondering about through drawing and writing (as per usual!).

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 Creating Arctic & Antarctic Landscapes

While we were learning about the Inuit culture, we continued to learn and understand more about the polar regions in general. By looking through books and at photographs I printed out from the Internet, we learned that there are all different parts to the poles. We noticed: ocean areas, frozen ocean areas, glaciers in the oceans, ice floes in the oceans (smaller pieces of floating ice), tundra (frozen soil) on the pieces of land, moss and other interesting vegetation on the tundra, and ice sheets on top of land. It also matters what time of year it is as the summer months cause some ice to melt and more of the vegetation can be seen. The children often drew pictures of landscapes but I wanted to offer them a new way of creating landscape representations. This time I offered loose parts as tools of creation. Have a look…

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Children were offered mirrors (to mimic the ice?), sugar cubes (snow blocks?), gems (ice chunks?), plastic snowflakes and stones (tundra?).

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We also put out photographs to help inspire their construction. Images included: real arctic landscapes, sugar cube igloos they could try and replicate, and inuksuks.

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Every loose part was placed with purpose and what was amazing was that the children became quite engrossed in their work while playing here. Most of them could explain every part of their creation (i.e., this is a glacier and here is the land, etc.) but others were content simply creating with a question mark. I sure wasn’t going to stop them as often this is how masterpieces are made.

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Check out the designs that were created and this inuksuk by G!

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Top Right: G points to a diagram in an authentic igloo book to show L the process of creating an igloo. She hopes L will be able to replicate it using her sugar cubes. Bottom Left: R often creates images of beauty and this time was no different! Bottom Right: Z explains that his land is mostly rocky with a bit of snow in between.

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Mr. Jesse, Ms. Neale, Madison and myself sat with some of the children and got them talking about their creations, helping their work become intentional and focused. These were perfect times to increased oral language development and reinforce new vocabulary related to polar landscapes.

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Captured by the light, the mirrors helped their creations glow with beauty!

As you can see, the possibilities are endless with loose parts. In this activity, the loose parts allowed the children to explore their understandings of the poles and to continue to ask questions while creating artistic constructions. Working with loose parts inspires risk-taking, leads to problem-solving and encourages creativity and innovation. We will continue to access loose parts within all of our inquiries and projects for these very reasons!

Tracking our Inquiry on an Inquiry Board

As we learned more and our inquiry evolved and deepened, we kept track on our inquiry board. Take a look! Keep in mind, it’s purpose is not so much for aesthetic purposes but for making our thinking visible and to remind us of where we’ve started and where we are now.

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You can see that we started with a broader focus on animals in winter and narrowed our focus to polar animals and then to the polar regions in general.

Expressing Our Learning Artistically

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northernWhen we got deeper into our inquiry, I knew I had to introduce the students to the famous Canadian artist, Ted Harrison. He painted beautiful and colourful Northern landscapes and only recently passed away this January (2015). After reading them the story, “A Northern Alphabet” by Ted Harrison, we took some time to look closely at the pictures. We also looked through the biography book, “A Brush Full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison” by Margriet Ruurs. We noticed the following about Ted Harrison’s style of paintings:

brushfull– Everything is outlined (sometimes in black and other times in different colours)
– Wavy lines (barely any straight lines used in the landforms and sky)
– Bright, saturated colours
– Creative colour choices (i.e., Some things are not coloured realistic colours on purpose)
– Simple and not a lot of detail (mostly when it comes to people’s faces)

Some children were so inspired, they began drawing “Harrison-style” pieces at the drawing table.

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We put out prints of Harrison’s paintings at the drawing table to inspire and encourage.

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A few beautiful captures of Harrison-style art!

Learning to Paint 

We then began creating Harrison-inspired paintings of Arctic Landscapes using watercolour paints and crayons (for the outlines). We followed this procedure:

1) Thought of an idea.
2) Drew our ideas on watercolour paper using crayons or pastels.
3) Went over our lines to ensure they were dark enough.
4) Painted our pictures using watercolour paints.
5) Took our time and learned how to use the tip of our brush and to dab any mistakes using a tissue.

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Many prints by Ted Harrison were provided as well as photographs of Arctic landscapes. The children were encouraged not to copy a painting but to use it for ideas or as a starting point.

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Each painting was created with precision, determination, and purpose. The creators’ personalities are reflected in every painting, projecting the passion and vibrancy of children who have put their heart and soul into their work. I couldn’t be prouder of this magical collection of art that proves even children who don’t normally gravitate to creating or to art are capable and can excel when immersed in a supportive, encouraging and inspiring environment.

We took it slowly with this experience (it took us almost a month to complete!), spending one on one time with each of the children, coaching them through the process and teaching them techniques without hindering their artistic freedom. Now this display is all ready for their return after March Break! Behold…

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Replacing our space mural, I couldn’t be prouder of this brightly coloured spectacle of childhood imagination!

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We hung a few piece on our smaller bulletin board outside of our room.

 

During the explosion of Ted Harrison-inspired art, the children’s inquiry focus changed once more. I explained to them one day that the ice caps were melting and the thought of the beautiful polar landscapes changing, caused some major questioning and investigating. In my next post, you will see what we have learned about global warming and how powerful this topic has been in promoting consideration of world issues, even in these young children. They have really blown me away with how much they have been able to absorb and comprehend. I couldn’t be happier with how our inquiry has transformed so naturally and taken on a larger, environmentalist focus. Stay tuned!

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