Keeping youth active has been an ongoing challenge for educators in the era of Covid-19, with physical education largely forbidden among NWT schools to prevent the spread of the virus.
But in Tsiigehtchic, kids aren’t just getting active — they’re learning valuable outdoor skills and science while they’re at it.
“The school has been doing outdoor learning to essentially replace phys. Ed,” said Chief Paul Niditchie School principal Nick Kopot. “It has given us an opportunity to really connect science and the Dene Kede curriculum.”
Having just wrapped up their wood unit, students learned how to identify dry wood from greener wood, how to build a number of types of fires, collect kindling and to cut it.
On top of that, students also learned important scientific facts, including the chemistry of fire and combustion, the biodiversity of plants, how to tell the age of trees and how trees take up moisture from the environment.
The kids also got a good workout collecting and cutting firewood.
“They practiced cutting kindling and basically stocked up our school camp,” said Kopot. “All classes have been using it for outdoor learning.”
Next, the students will be learning about the formation and chemistry of ice from water, and how the speed the water flows at affects the rate of freezing.
Coupled with learning about the science of ice, the kids will also be learning how to ice fish.
Kopot said the school’s cultural education calendar was synchronized with the traditional Gwich’in seasonal calendar to ensure the education students receive is relevant to their culture. The school was engaging in similar outdoor education curriculum for everyone from Junior Kindergarten all the way to Ninth Grade.
“Some teachers teach math concepts on the land, some use the experiences to drive English Language Arts assignments, some use the outdoors as the classroom for science or even social studies discussions,” he said. “We keep the Dene Kede and our local community culture, Gwichya Gwich’in, at the core of our focus. We also access local experts in many things. That’s a big part of it. We have local resource people out staking muskrat push-ups now for our muskrat unit in March.
“It is a holistic approach. It’s the most effective and honestly the most meaningful to the community. Parent engagement now is more important than ever. Keep them engaged and having faith that we’re doing right by their children.”
You can see further examples of the youth in action on Chief Paul Niditchie School’s Facebook page.