The TALONS meet the Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce won the Governor General's Award for English Language non-fiction in 2005.

“… a creature that seemed more at home in a myth or fairy tale: a spruce tree with golden needles.”

The TALONS classes have been beginning their study of English, Socials and Science with the Governor General Award Winning Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant, and begun their blogging year with a host of introductory blog posts – in poems, painting, prose and no shortage of personality – covering the first four chapters of a book that is about more than trees:

It is not simply a tale of a tree. It is the tale of a people, of the changes made to a land ‘west of west’ , the mixing of two very distinct cultures.  The tale of  a region, one of the most rugged and natural left in the world. Haida Gwaii exists not far from places such as Danger Island and Danger Passage, and the names were not given idly.  It is a place hard to understand for those who do not live there, and I certainly don’t.  It is the type of place you need to experience to fully understand.

Liam

I glower upwards through the murky water as the hull of a human boat passes over my head. Foolish humans, I think as I lay in the depths of a rocky and jagged bank, with my hands behind my back. So greedy,so malicious. These new comers with their intrusive floating crafts, how I despise them all.

Donya

Megan's Hecate Visions

Megan

As the days go by

do they sit and cry?

the loggers who cut

down the ancients?

Kelsey

We had begun our journey like any other ship and her crew; a group of courageous young men and a ship better than any other. We were going to conquer this wild land and use to its fullest extent. Little did we know, we were in for no easy adventure. We left our hometown over half a year ago. It was after braving Cape Horn and sailing northward for thirteen thousand kilometres when the nightmare truly began. At first, we were simply surrounded by a thick, opaque layer of fog. Then, we had to face heartless winds, uncaring currents, and frighteningly random whirlpools. My socks were the first of my belongings to be terrorized by this inhospitable environment. Then it was our ropes. And finally, our stomachs.

Iris

Donyas Wildest of the Wild

Donya's Wildest of the Wild

Every so often, an oddity is sent upon us. A twist to a seemingly identical fill of trees. John Vaillant reveals a truth to difference; that noticeable is none, unless it posses a difference which appeals to a set of human eyes.

The “golden” spruce was extremely noticeable due to its colour. Other natural monuments may be noticeable due to identifying features. But as they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In my opinion, beauty alone did not declare the golden spruce’s popularity.

Jonathan

They are gone now, the ancient chants that I used to hear, the heavy drum beats that would fill the night air with a pulse that could send shivers down your spine. It has come, and now it has gone. The houses they once occupied, bustling with life like an ant hill, have collapsed in on themselves. Now only moldering piles of wood that are giving in to the forests demands.

Megan

So now humanity (or rather, B.C.’s government) is faced with the decision of what to do with this natural resource. Do we chop it all down? (probably a bad idea) Do we leave it alone and make the mere thought of chopping down a tree a crime? (also, probably a bad idea) Personally, I think that there’s no simple answer to this question. Logging creates hundreds of jobs, and it’s one of B.C.’s primary ways of making money. However, we can’t just go off chopping down whatever we like. As you have no doubt heard before, trees are rather important to the environment, which, in turn, is rather important to us.

Nick

WikiBooks Publishing Project

Ksan, British Columbia
Ksan, British Columbia

One of the surprises of last year’s socials units was the TALONS class‘ foray into publishing with Wikibooks. After more than a year spent within the confines of our district’s SharePoint Wikis and discussion boards, Wikibooks offered our first opportunity to publish and participate in a global dialogue of meaning, history, and identity.

This collective Wisdom of the Crowd is the appeal and power of crowd-sourcing; but the rabid tenor of many Wikipedia debates and discussions – not to mention the oftentimes thoroughly vetted and polished nature of Wiki articles concerning subjects covered in high school – makes venturing into that community a difficult proving ground for young students. Unless students are to be contributing coverage or information on an as-yet-undocumented subject or event – unlikely given the topics covered during the Socials 9 or 10 curriculum – participation in Wikipedia can be a difficult place to start.

Fortunately, the range and reach of Wikimedia Foundation‘s projects extend to include Wikibooks, a subject-by-subject collection of textbooks open to user-editing. Where similar articles – concerning Louis Riel, and the Red River Rebellion, as well as information about Canada’s various First Peoples – on Wikipedia were (more or less) “complete,” I was able to find – to my great surprise – this time last year, that many entries corresponding to our mandated curriculum under the Canadian History text were blank. The class broke up into research groups and “adopted” pages on different groups of First Nations, geographic regions, or notable events and issues in Canadian history.

When we set out on the project many students were surprised that they were “allowed” to use Wikipedia at school, as in so many classrooms even touching down on the “world’s most-cited web page” is forbidden as a blanket policy to combat fears that students can too easily directly plagiarize Wikipedia’s answer to many questions asked as homework. And it is not that this never happens; students make use of Wikipedia and Sparknotes by default to answer traditional questions based around extinct modes of obtaining information.

But what if classroom projects and student research could ask “bigger” questions than when did it happen? or who was there? What if our assignments could facilitate students justifying their interpretations of history’s influence on the present moment and culture? And help them engage in this discussion with the world outside the classroom? To even begin such an endeavour, when faced with the prospect of setting out to research and discuss topics quickly glossed over in the narrow perspective of the classroom text, where would one find a better compendium of source material than Wikipedia?

Sgang Gwaay
SGaang Gwaay, British Columbia

What emerged in the course of publishing, far from an exercise in redundancy (merely copying text from the original Wikipedia articles to the empty Wikibooks pages), was a learning experience encapsulating literacy skills emerging as essentials in the evolving information landscape. Students tracked source material ranging from interviews  to academic papers, and collectively authored a first perspective in knowledge on their subjects. Students were forced to consider multiple sources in developing their own perspective on the complex questions of the Canadian Identity: the purpose of our history curriculum beyond what is written in the course’s prescribed learning outcomes.

During the project, students were not able to cite Wikipedia as a direct source, but encouraged to use it as a starting point toward authors of work on subjects referenced in the articles as a means of providing their published work with the strongest support possible. Students asked questions of experts from all over North America, read widely and were introduced to a variety of issues on the recommendation of public servants, non-profit organizers, academics, and politicians. In the end each group published theirs as a first perspective (in terms of the Wikibooks project) on the information of the day concerning a range of topics on the Canadian Identity. The work had to be cited and written in accordance with Wikibooks’ authorship guidelines, and opened the class’ work to the response and criticism, but also the benefit, of global study on the unit’s subject. From a pedagogical standpoint, the rigour and validity of the class’ use of Wikipedia (and reaching beyond the textbook in general) provided an experience richer in critical analysis and personal investment than many read-and-test units covering the same material.SGaang Gwaay

One student-solicited interview resulted in University of British Columbia Aboriginal Education professor Mark Aquash offering to spend an afternoon discussing the many tough questions surrounding Canada’s First Peoples that our texts (and oftentimes our teachers) are not well-enough prepared to confront. At the conclusion of the nearly two-hour dialogue – which covered the misunderstood labels of native, Métis, Indian, First Nations, Inuit, as well as contemporary conceptions of aboriginal land claims, reservations, education and welfare in the first person – a grade nine offered the following realization that I believe our texts are seldom equipped to facilitate:

All of [most] people’s anger and discomfort about Canada’s First Nations issues boils down to difficulties understanding the different ways our cultures view being human.

Of course, the statement is much bigger than a Canadian issue, and speaks to the extrinsic purpose of our education to teach empathy and understanding across the diverse cultures of our increasingly connected human experience. Thus the underlying purpose I hope the publishing project enables is to broaden the scope of the class’ discussion of our upcoming unit. I have been seeking classes or groups of aboriginal youth (wherever in the world they might reside, Canada or otherwise) to collaborate throughout the past year with the hope of working together to establish a dialogue or publication of student research and study of our local, yet universal history. I am excited to see the TALONS’ blogging network extend and to begin to see other examples of classes sharing their learning through social networks and blogging.

With respect to our First Nations unit specifically, I have only established a few “leads” in connecting our classroom to another in order to discuss this aspect of colonial history, something I think speaks to the pervasive lack of interaction and understanding between First Peoples the world over and European (or other) colonialist nations in the Americas, Africa, Polynesia, and Australia. Delving into the history as we are taught it with the intention of authoring a contemporary narrative of Canada’s struggle to implement a truly multicultural society seems a good place to start though, whether we have company in this endeavour or not.

Many of the TALONS students are participating in the international Student Blogging Challenge this spring, and there is a momentum building around the shared experience that modern communication can offer. With this call to action, the class’ study of its upcoming history chapters is an opportunity to produce a collaborative effort to start a global dialogue of our relationship with this place in Canada, and the world, in this moment in time.

Cultural Geography Public Service Announcements

No sign of Boo BooAs a means to delve creatively into the cultural geography in Western Canada, our socials ten students will be undertaking the creation of public service announcements on issues relating to the present states of plants and animals across several different biomes. Having practiced digital storytelling skills in writing, performing and editing a brief time-line of human history in the local area last week, their sights will be set on documenting the evolving history of human interaction with, and use of, resource species such as the Rocky Mountains’ bears, the Plains’ buffalo, and the Pacific Coast’s salmon.

They were not a nation, nor even a tribe, but a loose association of groups consisting of up to a dozen families. All were, however, united in their allegiance to Tuktu – the caribou – which, in their millions, not only furnished the necessities of life but most of whatever else these people needed. Caribou skins provided clothing (the warmest and lightest known), footwear, tents, sleeping robes, covering for kayaks, even the heads of drums. Tuktu gave meat, and fat both to eat and to fill their lamps; sinews for sewing; and antler and bone for the manufacture of innumerable hunting and domestic implements, even including children’s toys. Tuktu was life itself to human dwellers in the Barren Lands.

Farley Mowat Walking on the Land

Unesco.

Each of the animals and biomes selected by the groups this week bear a similar tradition of use that reaches back to the dawn of humankind, and I look forward to seeing the class’ representations of these ecosystems as they once were, on through their current state. Even in our suburban setting, there is still a reverence for the outdoors in many of the class’ undertakings – whether natural or urban – and the energy in class today as the groups selected their biomes and animals and set out on research stemmed from a connection many members of the class feel with their local setting. In documenting the traditions of our ancestors on this land alongside modern Canadians’ stewardship of the country’s most valuable resources, the project’s lofty purpose will be to offer a message to those who will follow in our footsteps here.

“We are all five-fingered people, the holy people. My grandfather and uncles always said that when we are taught these things, they are for the people, the children, and whoever comes to you wanting your help and the medicine of our ancestors. It is our responsibility to help them.”

Brian Payton Shadow of the Bear

Hopefully we do better than Dwight.