Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In Search of Enlightenment

This week I'm pleased to run an item by guest blogger teacher, Elaine McEachern. Elaine works at Ecole Central Elementary as a Learning Assistance teacher. Recently she has helped spearhead an exciting hands on learning opportunity for the district's Gifted program. Here's her story:
The stakeholders in 21st Century Learning are Community, Family and Schools.  Perhaps you were part of the Today & Tomorrow conversations in 2008, where participants from those 3 groups discussed education for Today and Tomorrow.  

One of the key themes from those conversations was that education should be meaningful, engaging and not necessarily constrained by the "traditional classroom."  A variation on that theme is "Problem Based Learning;" a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving.

Fast forward to 2012. Dr. Joyce McBeth, a Fort St. John girl, now working for Canadian Light Source (CLS).  (What is CLS? Mentally picture Sheldon & "The  Big Bang Theory.  CLS is a research facility with an artificial light source called a particle accelerator.)  Joyce was raised on a farm next to the Newalta Storage Tank Facility; her mother was a teacher.  Like the rest of us in the Energetic City, the dynamic interconnectedness between education, the oil/gas community and family was at play.  

Joyce and I played in the dirt together as kids.  When she joined CLS, she discovered that they have an educational outreach program called, "Students on the Beamline (SotB)." Upon discovering this, she immediately called me and asked me to connect her with FSJ students.  Now I'm a non-enrolling teacher these days, but I figure, where there's a will, there's a way.

Enter Joe Umanetz and his cohort of gifted students.  I approached him and asked if he'd be interested in taking a small herd of students to CLS to research with Canada's finest.  Naturally, he was interested, as were his students.

Fast forward again to this winter.  Joe and I went to CLS & got our Beamline Users training.  (For the record, hanging around a bunch of nuclear physicists and PhD researchers is humbling.)  CLS told us, "If you want to do a SotB project, then the research question and all aspects of the research must be 100% owned by the students.  Teachers may be guides on the side, connecting students to resources, but they may not influence, collect samples or otherwise partake in the actual research."

We came back to Fort St John and told the kids the news.  They came up with this very real life research problem regarding frac water:

"We will be working with Encana energy and Canadian Light Source to investigate frac water.  The proposed frac project is an experiment to study changes in the composition of produced frac water after it has been “recycled.” Using samples and expertise from Encana sites around Fort St. John, we will [examine] pre-frac water and samples of frac water that has been used in successive frac operations.  
"Fracking is a very important topic in our society and the positives and negatives are highly debated.  We feel that [researching] this area of the oil and gas industry is important."

And so we began the dance between our fabulous sponsors: Encana, Progress Energy, Canbriam, Probe Corrosion Services, Canadian Light Source and School District 60.  We went to Encana and toured a frac site.  We booked Progress to come and speak with us.  We talked about the nature of our Beautiful BC and our Resource Based Energetic City.  We tried to find objective information on fracking. We tapped our social networks: Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends; to learn more about fracking.

I quietly ponder our SD60 emblem - a drop of water containing an oil derrick atop a wheat field in front of beautiful forests. 

I contemplate these students, raised by families, taught by teachers, embraced by community and encouraged by all to be the best in and for the world.  

These students are trusted not to form opinions, but to search for truth and to re-imagine what is.

And I smile. If ever there was a community perfectly suited to this endeavour, it's these students and this community.  

Stay tuned as they look at the practices of today and contemplate the practices of tomorrow.  

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