By Bev Caswell, Zach Pedersen, Larisa Lam
On Wednesday, February 8th 2017, Johnny Therriault School in Aroland First Nation hosted its first ever student-led family math night. Principal Bill Beaucage’s vision of a “family math party” involving students and showcasing indigenous knowledges was readily taken up by community members, OISE partners, teachers, staff and students alike!
As parents and children streamed into the large gymnasium, community Elder Nora Atlookan offered a smudge and prayer to start the evening event in a good way. A four-man drumming group (some of whom travelled from Geraldton, Ontario) provided a powerful beginning to the evening.
Principal Beaucage and Johnny Therriault School teachers, along with OISE partners (Bev Caswell, Zach Pedersen and Larisa Lam), prepared more than 15 tables of engaging math activities, many of which included ways of recognizing and connecting with indigenous knowledges held by the local community. For example, Steve St. Jean and his Grade 3/4 students created a grid featuring community landmarks that are important to them. They then designed challenges using coding and computational thinking to invite the audience to navigate their way to and from the various sites.
After we introduced the important historical contributions of the Navajo Code Talkers, Elder Nora Atlookan and Pauline Gagnon came up with the idea to use coding to have students recognize Ojibwe words and syllabics. Grade 5/6 teacher Melinda Rody strategically created materials to bring the idea to life in her classroom, along with Natasha Davey’s Grade 7/8 students.
Forging strong links with school and community
The OISE team spent three days in the school collaborating with Principal Bill Beaucage and educators Nora Atlookan (Community Elder and Education Assistant), Pauline Gagnon (Ojibwe language teacher), Marlo Sobush (Special Education), Aleysha (JK), Tamara (SK), Kelsey (Grade 1/2), Steve St. Jean (Gr 3/4), Melinda Rody (Grade 5/6), Natasha Davey (Grade 7/8) and their students to design math activities and to plan the well attended school-wide Family Math Party!
Over the three days, students were introduced to various math activities, many of which demonstrated a spatial approach to number. This provided an engaging “way in” to mathematics. In this time, new activities were designed, “field-tested” and revised at the school. The resulting activities were engaging and participatory, highlighting the importance of a spatial approach to math and providing examples of the beauty and aesthetics found in math and how math can be used as a tool for reconciliation (language revitalization, raising awareness of indigenous knowledges, etc.).
To Johnny Therriault School: Thank you for inviting our team from OISE (University of Toronto) to your vibrant school. Chi miigwech to Bill and all of the teachers, students, staff, parents, caregivers and families. We will always remember the week we spent with you. It is because of you that a lot of new math ideas were created – we will be writing detailed lesson plans in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned.
We’re in the news!
Our Family Math Party at Johnny Therriault School in Aroland First Nation was featured in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Times. Read the article here