Remember Grade 6? Didn’t it suck? Looking out at the world from behind a mask of braces and zits. Awkwardness, weird body stuff. And school. The only thing I recall from my grade 6 so-called education is that each and every month we had to make an elaborate new cover for our science workbooks, for a hefty part of our mark, while the Bunsen burners gathered dust. (It occurs to me now that Mrs. K was a thwarted art teacher, but jeesh.) Now I see grade 6s and 7s coming into the Museum for our Education Programs, and my heart goes out to them, so transparent is the coolness or, sadder still, apathy, that so many try to hide behind. It is a testimony to our wonderful Education Animators here at the Museum that they can inspire kids of all ages and stages to engage in our programs. And once the students start getting their hands on soapstone, or tying tumps, or baking bannock, or building kayaks, the coolness always starts to crack and the tenacious spirits of these kids get a chance to emerge. I love that about this place and its people.
But what a different experience of Grade 6 we had down at Trinity College School, where we recently piloted our (very exciting!) new Kayak-Building Discovery Outreach Program. Oh, I’m sure it’s still no easy paddle at that time of life, but as you can pick up from the pictures below, this is a school culture where it’s cool to have suggestions, to contribute to class, to be curious, to take an active part.
We’ve been doing our Kayak-Building program for several years at the museum, but taking it out to schools is new — part of a wider initiative to develop our Outreach Education Programs. We have these fantastic kits — 1/3-size skin-on-frame kayaks modeled on the Mackenzie Delta kayak – that the students use to create a kayak themselves, start to finish. And it’s up to them how to do it. They can read the instruction book. They can just dig in and see if they can figure it out. We do take a bit of time at the beginning of the program to introduce the Arctic origins of the kayak, and to play a game to familiarize students with vocabulary they probably haven’t come across before (masik! keelson!), but the main emphasis of the introduction is that building a kayak – usually a one-person vessel — is traditionally a whole-community effort. And the students discover why, becoming small “communities” themselves as they work together with to build their kayak from this jumble of parts. At the end of the program, the debrief is always fascinating, whether we’re doing it with grade 6s or young adults, as the students share their observations and experience of what worked in their group, and what didn’t, what skills they used or learned, and what roles in the “community” they took on.
It’s a challenging and usually entirely unprecedented experience. One of the teachers at Trinity College School said that his favourite thing about the kayak-building was that it was a long process, that over the course of the 90-minute program, he saw each group reach a point when it almost gave up, but then pushed through to completion. It’s a rare counterbalance to the instant gratification that kids – and adults – are getting so used to. And that makes the sense of accomplishment so much greater: just check out their faces! I don’t think I ever smiled like that about my science notebook.