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Alternative Practicum 2012

April 16, 2012 — 

B.Ed. teacher candidates practice teaching in the Klondike

Yukon Practicum Students

L-R: Alexa Mitchell, Anita Holtmann, Elliot Mcdonald, and Caitlin Malcolmson

A select group of Bachelor of Education teacher candidates are rushing to Klondike country looking to strike educational gold! The unique experience to practice teaching in Dawson City, Yukon will challenge the candidates to think about how they can be responsive teachers in a new community while developing an understanding of the Yukon and Northern Aboriginal culture. The trailblazers of this special practicum experience include Middle Year Stream teacher candidates: Anita Holtmann, Caitlin Malcolmson, Elliot Mcdonald , and Alexa Mitchell. They will practice teaching in the K-12 Robert Service School for 6 weeks. The candidates left on March 14th.

The opportunity to travel and meet new people is often met with both excitement and hesitation. Naturally, the teacher candidates had some uncertainties before leaving the comforts of home. Each student worried that their short stay wouldn’t allow them enough time to get to know the community and build the relationships necessary to cause learning. They also wondered if they may become homesick, and if they would get along well with their billets. However, despite the anxiety of the unknown, each student was eager to board the plane and meet their billets, the teachers, the students, and to see the famous Dawson City! They were also comforted by the fact that their Faculty Advisor, Dr. Brian Lewthwaite was already familiar with the community and its teachers, and that he would be available to support them throughout their adventure.

Dr. Lewthwaite is a professor in the Faculty of Education and an innovator of culturally responsive curriculum in Nunavut and the Yukon. In order to prepare this select group of teacher candidates for their northern practicum experience, he has shared his work and helped them develop their own culturally responsive curriculum. In addition, he explained that: “Each student selected for this practicum experience demonstrated, throughout their program, that becoming a better teacher requires flexibility and a desire to learn from others. Their humility gave these students the edge in the selection process.”

Together, Anita and Dr. Lewthwaite developed curriculum for a combined grade 5 and 6 classroom that could be applied to the student’s everyday lives. Anita explains: “In the Yukon most families have something called a ‘food cache,’ which is a box on stilts where they store their food so animals don’t get at it. My science lesson on simple machines will help students discover ways to load the box with large quantities of food. This hands-on lesson provides the students the opportunity to investigate a solution and make a plan to try to resolve the problem. Next, students will build their plan in order to better understand the process. Finally, they will have the opportunity to test their solution and see its effectiveness.  As a result, this lesson recognizes the students realities while still addressing important mathematical and scientific knowledge.”

In her grade 4 science classroom, Caitlin is using the Yukon Sounds and Weather unit that Dr. Lewthwaite developed; however, she adapted it to help teach the students a little more about herself and her community while providing them space to illustrate and communicate in ways other than text. She explains that, “By adding pieces of Manitoba to the unit, I am able to expose the students’ to the area I know the best which will also broaden their understanding of Canada, and help them get to know me. Still, I am ready to be flexible and do what needs to be done to engage and understand the students.”

While preparing for their northern practicum, each of the teacher candidates shared the common goal of connecting to the community and the kids in order to inspire learning. Elliot explains: “I know I will have been successful if I can build good relationships with the students in my grade 8 classroom. Dr. Lewthwaite and I worked on developing curriculum that contains authentic and relevant activities for the kids of Dawson. The content is very different from what I teach in Winnipeg, but I hope that the relationships I develop with the students will help make the lessons I will be teaching more relevant to me. Once I better understand the students’ perspectives, I feel that the students are more likely to be challenged by the curriculum and see me as a facilitator to their learning. In addition, connecting to the community means I will connect better with the kids and they will see that I’m serious about getting to know them.”

Connecting to a new group of students can be very challenging, however, Alexa has been provided the unique challenge of connecting with every student in Robert Service School. She will be teaching k – 12 Physical Education. In addition, this will be her first experience teaching in a diverse community and, as a result, she is eager to learn from her collaborating teacher and discover relevant activities in the gym that will be enjoyable for the students. She explains that, “In the north we have access to activities that are not available or as commonly practiced in southern Canada. I’m looking forward to the winter hiking trips, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and I am especially excited about dog mushing!”

The teacher candidates are expected to return to Winnipeg on April 26th, 2012, just in time to attend their Graduation Banquet and share their stories with their classmates.

To learn more about the students Dawson City, Yukon practicum experiences please see their story submissions on the Education News Blog.

For more information about alternative practicums please contact Melanie Janzen, the the Director of School Experiences, at baxter [at] cc [dot] umanitoba [dot] ca.


Jackie Duhard,
Communications Coordinator
Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba
jackie_duhard [at] umanitoba [dot] ca


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