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The Northern Practicum Experience: Part 2

January 22, 2014 — 

In Part 2 of the The Northern Practicum Experience, the three Teacher Candidates who traveled to Northern Manitoba to complete their 1st term practicum (Joshua Bergmann, Parker Bouvier, and Marilena Kowalchuk) share more about their unique experiences and how those experiences have transformed them.
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Preparing For & Arriving At Our Northern Practicum Placements

Northern Practicum, Then & Now

Author: Joshua Bergmann

As I sit in the same McDonald’s booth that I sat in five weeks ago when I last passed through Thompson, I am struck by how different it feels. Five weeks ago I was all alone, had no idea what I was getting myself into, and was eating plain old fries. Now I’m hanging out with a fellow Teacher Candidate, Reid, and chatting with our students who happen to be here for a hockey tournament, looking forward to returning in March, and eating McPoutine. Time makes all things better.

So, in the same spirit of reflection (c’mon, it’s education!), a look at what’s changed in five short weeks:

After-school fun helping our friend the Grade 1 teacher set up for the holidays!

After-school fun helping our friend the Grade 1 teacher set up for the holidays!

Then: Reid and I were welcomed with open arms by the entire community, and we were incredibly grateful for their hospitality.

Now: We said our fond farewells to the great people here, and will soon have the opportunity to return that hospitality, as many of them have to pass through Winnipeg to get to their homes. (Of the many expats in Gillam, I was the only Winnipegger!)

Then: Our first Friday in Gillam was the Volleyball Zones dance, and Reid and I were asked to chaperone. The students were great, but chaperoning a dance when you don’t know any of the kids is definitely a little awkward. We got a lot of “Are you IT guys?”

A great place to be!

A great place to be!

Now: Our last day here happened to also be the Winter Formal dance, and again, we were the chaperones. This time, however, we were able to relax with the students, chat with them about their holiday plans, and pick up some autographed souvenirs from the kids selling “Keep Calm and Fiddle On” buttons. It was a great way to spend the last evening in Gillam.

Then: I arrived with a lot of questions about lesson planning, classroom management, and assessment…things that can really only be taught by example.

An appropriately titled book found in a museum in Churchill.

An appropriately titled book found in a museum in Churchill.

Now: Obviously these are skills that require a lifetime to hone, but my CTs here in Gillam have given me examples that I will follow for my entire teaching career!

Then: -20°C requires elbow-length mittens and Sorels.
Now: You should probably zip up your jacket around -40°C.

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Recreation, On the Road Again, and Missing Gillian

Author: Parker (Reid) Bouvier

Weekends and recreation
Our weekends were spent at the rec center, or on the train riding to Churchill, or being taken on adventures with my bearded friend. Because he worked for Manitoba Hydro, he was able to give us a full tour of the Kettle dam, situated a few miles from the town of Gillam. A lot of the students had parents working there, as you might all know Gillam is referred to as a ‘hydro’ town. The culture of the town definitely revolves around the dam, which also provides a lot of funding for the school and the rest of the community. It was interesting to meet people from literally all over Canada. Surprisingly, Josh and I were two of the few Winnipegers up there.

The Gillam rec center is filled with all kinds of activities and events to keep the community busy. We attended the 3 on 3 hockey tournament and the Movember Social. There was also a bowling alley, gym, and swimming pool within the vicinity. Honestly there is no reason to be bored in town, because there is always something going on at the rec center. That is a great place to run into staff, parents, and students of the school, who were all amazing.

The weekend trip to Churchill was really exciting as well. We didn’t get to see any polar bears unfortunately, we simply arrived a week or two late. So I recommend if you are situated in Gillam next year, go up to Churchill in this first few weeks of your five week block. We did however get to shake paws with a fox, and introduce ourselves to “Gypsy’s” (an unbelievable restaurant/bakery that is a must see), the Arctic trading post (awesome mukluks), and the other important historical tourist hotspots. I also absolutely fell in love with the sled dogs up there. Such beautiful creatures. I was sad to hear that at one time they had almost been completely wiped out.

The way home
As I write this I’m already missing being in that classroom or in those friendly halls. It’s great to be home, but it feels like just yesterday I was arriving there wide eyed and excited about my adventure. Although the drive to Gillam was interesting, it was nothing like the ride back. About half an hour out of Thompson, heading south on the number 6 my car started misfiring as I drove. Turns out I need some new spark plugs. To make matters worse when we stopped at the Shell, south of Grand Rapids, they had run out of fuel. Luckily I had a spare jerry can in my trunk. We pulled into Gypsumville with the fuel light having been on for quite some time. We got lucky to say the least. My advice to those travelling to and from Gillam is to take a jerry can with you in case you encounter a similar situation as Josh and I.

Missing Gilliam
These are some of the things that are both unique and at times challenging in the north. In order to persevere in the somewhat harsh living conditions you need that strong sense of community, which Gillam definitely has. It was very refreshing to be included and welcomed into the community so quickly. It definitely made it easier on my nerves as a first year Education student and teacher. The staff really helped prepare me for my lessons by steering me in the right direction of ideas, strategies, and resources that I might need. The entire time I was there I felt supported and acknowledged, and very rarely felt like I was being moved down the priority list. Regardless of where my career takes me, I will always have a soft spot for Gillam in my heart.

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Random Reflections and a Writing Project Success Story

Author: Marilena Kowalchuk

Random Reflections

Fiery sunset as seen from the HBOIERC school parking lot.

Fiery sunset as seen from the HBOIERC school parking lot.


The skies are breathtakingly beautiful and so are the trees. A wall of windows in my classroom faced the sunrise. I was in a perpetual state of awe. It’s probably a good thing that I went in the wintertime while the lakes and their rocky shores were hidden under a blanket of snow because I probably wouldn’t have come back. As a nature-lover, this was a huge draw for me when I chose a northern practicum placement.

Food is not necessarily expensive in the north. At least in Norway House it isn’t. The price of bananas at the Northern Store is $0.79/lb., which is the same as the price in Winnipeg. The cost of meat and other produce is also comparable. Occasionally, selection of more perishable produce was limited but overall I could sustain a healthy diet affordably.

Winter rosehips

Winter rosehips

Fresh wild game meat is delicious. I knew hunting and trapping is an important aspect of life in Aboriginal communities, but what I hadn’t considered was that I would have the opportunity to enjoy the harvest! The spirit of the community is very generous and my collaborating teacher and her family invited me to share meals with them every weekend during my stay. I had lucky timing as they had lucky hunting, and we ate fresh moose meat! We also ate local pickerel. Unfortunately, I had to miss out on rabbit pie due to homework.

Students skating at the local rink. Pushing each other on chairs was super fun.

Students skating at the local rink. Pushing each other on chairs was super fun.

Like any small town, the skating rink is the hub of the community in the winter. Most kids in the community participate in some sort of ice-related activity, whether it is figure skating, power skating or hockey. I joined my class for two afternoons of free skating. It was amazing to the see the students so supportive of each other, whether it was everyone rushing to aid someone who took a tumble or encouraging the wobbly ones just learning to skate. The warmth of the community is radiated by its children.

Grade 7 Writing Project: “My Christmas Wish” 
I’d like to share with you a series of lessons that were well-received by my class of seventh graders at HBOIERC school. The “My Christmas Wish” writing project integrated social studies (global quality of life), writing, print-making and the spirit of the season. Instead of fixating upon the material objects that is so typical during the weeks leading up to the holidays, I challenged the students to empathize with children that face injustices in other parts of the world and write a Christmas wish that reflected this. I followed the teaching approach offered by Regie Routman in her book, Writing Essentials. I’d like to note that Christianity is the sole religious belief system of the students in the class so using Christmas as a theme made the most sense for this project. By eliminated the word Christmas, it could be used with any group.

A teacher exemplar is a helpful teaching tool.

A teacher exemplar is a helpful teaching tool.

Lesson 1 of 4 (80 min.): We started by watching four short videos about hardships faced by children in other parts of the world – famine in Somalia, refugees fleeing civil war in Syria, violence in Sierra Leone, and child labour in India. To follow, I helped the students to connect with the children in the films by asking them to consider what they might be feeling (stressed, scared, exhausted), hearing (crying babies, mourning mothers, loud machines, gunfire) and smelling (dust, oil in the factories, garbage at the landfills). They also compared this to their own lives, which reminded them to be grateful for everything that they have.
In the second part of the lesson, I shared with them my own teacher exemplar for the project. We analyzed my writing to pick out exciting words that enhanced the tone e.g. using frolicking when I could have used play; weeping instead of crying. They bought in. Two girls even asked if they could organize a fundraiser! (We’ll work on this for the next practicum block!) After this lesson, I noticed a shift in the students’ attitudes as they became more accepting of me as their teacher. I knew that they were connecting with me.

Lesson 2 of 4 (80 min): During this lesson, we focused on our writing. We departed from the technical aspects of writing (i.e. grammar and spelling) and focused on being writers. As we wrote our rough drafts, we discussed drawing readers in, telling a story with the details, and how to make our writing more interesting with our choice of words and varied sentence structures.

I have a background in biology so I thought that being a science teacher would be the natural fit for me…but I LOVED teaching the kids how to be writers. I enjoyed helping them to connect to ideas and helping them to draw out feelings and thoughts and get them onto the paper. My CT, after the lesson, said she was in awe as to how the kids were responding and is going to try out some of the strategies that I used. This is an awesome feeling.

One of four posters Marilena created to help the students to develop as writers.

One of four posters Marilena created to help the students to develop as writers.

Lesson 3 of 4 (65 min): During this session, the students focused on revising and editing their rough draft to generate a final draft of their Christmas Wish writing piece. I had reviewed their rough drafts the night before, and picked out two aspects from their own writing (using specific examples with their permission) as the focus of a mini-lesson. We worked on reducing repetition (how fewer words can sometimes have more impact), and finding interesting synonyms. As the students worked, I circulated around the class, helping students to revise their writing, often by asking them to read their work aloud to identify where it could be improved.

The most incredible feeling is when the kids started to recognize their own growth and their pride and joy was written in their smiles. I read one seventh grader’s piece with her and I pointed to my arm to show her my goose bumps. What a special moment we shared!
writing
Lesson 4 of 4 (80 min): In this final lesson, the students printed by hand their finished work on quality paper using colourful ink markers. They cared so much that they continued to check their spelling right to the end. To enhance the presentation, each student made a relief print to further capture the spirit of the season. We celebrated their writing by hanging them on the wall.

I was so pleased that I could cause them to invest in this project from start to finish. The key aspects that I feel helped the students to find success include: connecting to the topic; ownership of their writing; and viewing themselves as writers.

We celebrated the students’ achievements by displaying their projects in the classroom.

We celebrated the students’ achievements by displaying their projects in the classroom.

See The Northern Practicum Experience: Part 1 for more on the students Northern experiences.

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