Feb 21

Raising awareness of drinking water advisories in First Nation communities

Exploring issues of social justice through mathematics and science inquiry

By Beverly Caswell

There are numerous boil-water advisories in effect across the country, most of which are in First Nation communities. This means the water is unsafe to drink unless it is boiled before being consumed.

Here are three examples of this social justice issue making headlines in the Globe and Mail:

Since December 2016, the Robertson Program has been working closely with groups of teachers, modeling an inquiry approach that integrates mathematics, mapping, environmental science, and language arts to raise awareness of an injustice that many First Nation communities face on a daily basis: unsafe drinking water.

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

We began our work on December 15, 2016 with a group educators from Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, under the leadership of Sherry Mattson, Jack Nigro and Indigenous educational leaders from Curve Lake First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation and Alderville First Nation.

Seven Generations Education Institute

Teachers use Ontario road maps and maps of First Nations to locate communities under boiled water advisories

On January 27th, we were invited to share our water inquiry workshop with a group of 30 educators from Seven Generations Education Institute at the Fort Frances Public Library for a day of professional development. Many educators from Treaty #3 shared lived experiences of boiled water advisories on reserves, bringing meaning and urgency to our study of drinking water advisories.

A MA class video conferencing with Jason Jones
Jason Jones (RRDSB) skypes into our math class to share Anishinaabemowin words describing water

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto)

Most recently, we provided a workshop for first-year students in the Master of Arts in Child Study and Education Program at OISE on February 13.

With their instructor Julia Cain, we further developed ideas that will provide many opportunities for teachers to engage student thinking. We also had the opportunity to learn Anishinaabemowin words describing water when Jason Jones (Native Language Curriculum Coordinator/Land-Based Pedagogy Coordinator, Rainy River District School Board) made a Skype appearance in our class.

Rainy River District School Board

Currently, our colleagues in Rainy River District School Board are working together to pilot this inquiry with a group of Grade 7/8 students to enhance and refine the lesson.

What workshop participants had to say:

  • Some of the most powerful learning for me that day came from our circle discussions about the different connections we all had to water. Hearing personal stories about local water conditions, as well as conditions of water far away, had a very big impact on me. I felt moved, bothered, and inspired after our meeting and I couldn’t stop thinking about some of the profound water issues that are occurring in our world that I had no idea about. This made me feel a sense of urgency about wanting to do something to bring about positive change, and it made me excited for the possibilities. I hope to evoke the same feelings in my students as I felt that day!
    – Teacher
  • The structure of our day is one that I will absolutely model in my classroom. We started with a circle and introduced ourselves. We then individually jotted down some ideas on sticky notes and organized them in small groups. Small group discussion followed, and then whole group sharing. I really like this model because it ensures everyone’s voice is heard and it provides a safe feeling for everyone.
    – Teacher

Lesson Plans

We’re also working to publish this series of lesson plans on our website – follow the Robertson Program on Facebook to find out when they’re available online!

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