A Pender Harbour teacher has been awarded $2,500 for a unique science unit he devised that connected his Grade 7 students with the environment and the community around them.
The unit saw students investigate the importance of their mascot, the Sakinaw salmon, and find out how watershed changes impacted local salmon stocks.
What started with a discussion about Sakinaw Lake salmon runs in October became a year-long, hands-on investigation.
“I wanted to do something called place-based education, which is field studies, going out into the field and connecting students with the environment and the community of local specialists,” said Pender Harbour Elementary Secondary teacher Jay Walls. “So I did a lot of field trips and we met local biologists, the local DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] community advisor spoke to the students, and then we went out into the field and checked out Sakinaw Lake estuary and a couple of the salmon runs in the area to give students a better idea of what was going on.”
At the same time, the students discovered their local Pender Harbour DFO office was going to be shut down.
Concerned the DFO closure might have a negative impact on the salmon population, students were encouraged to make their voices heard.
They spoke with local MLA Nicholas Simons and MP John Weston about their concerns and wrote letters to government officials urging them to protect the Sakinaw salmon.
“So after I taught them the science, I then taught them social studies and moved toward letting them know how to have a voice and how to become socially responsible community members and see what they could do about the situation of the Sakinaw salmon,” Walls said, noting the species is considered endangered.
“It was about showing them the science knowledge and then being able to do something with it in their community in a way that was maybe helpful for a species at risk.”
The unit ended with students creating their own tiny canoes to float down a nearby waterway with notes like “save the Sakinaw” and email addresses for students to connect with whoever finds the floating messages in the future.
The year also ended with an invitation by Simons for students to attend parliament in Victoria. Walls said his students are excited about the invitation and plan to make the trip next year.
The class also plans to continue their studies and find some practical ways to help the Sakinaw salmon next year.
“It’s a part of their understanding of their community now and they’re still connected with it,” Walls noted.
The educator stumbled across a contest through Evergreen that he submitted the course outline to, and earlier this year the Sakinaw salmon project was selected, resulting in a $2,500 win for Walls.
He plans to use the money to purchase high quality scientific equipment to continue monitoring the Sakinaw salmon watershed with his class in the future.
The win by the local educator is just one example of the “innovative work being done by teachers in our district,” superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking said this week.
“Sunshine Coast students are learning in depth about their place in the world and how they can influence it.”
Walls noted the hands-on experience, used by many teachers in the district, is particularly conducive for learning.
“Getting them out of the classroom and into the environment is very effective,” he said.
© Coast Reporter