Emily Longworth Award

The Emily Longworth Memorial Award provides financial support to Faculty of Education students at SFU who are in elementary practicum placements in their Professional Program.

The purpose of the Award is to help fund curriculum enrichment and/or extracurricular activities for children that promote positive social change, such as multicultural understanding, healthy lifestyles, environmental awareness, and inspiration to achieve their full potential in life.

2015 RECIPIENT STORIES

Connor Finucane

My class was multicultural as only three students were born in Canada. Throughout the year, the students investigated their own ethnic backgrounds and compared these to the indigenous people of Canada. I noticed that they began to make deep connections to their own familial and cultural histories and turned these connections into defining their own Canadian identities, and how their backgrounds affect the way they exist in a Canadian context. After observing this, I wanted to find local artists who had created a niche for themselves by using cultural artifacts that traditionally exist outside of a Canadian context.

With support from the Emily Longworth grant, I brought in two local artists, Nick Laba and Rhup Sidhu, as guest speakers to guide the discovery of their own identities.

Through music and poetry the children explored concepts of cultural identity, inclusivity, and what it means to be Canadians. Through these experiences, they developed confidence in their own interests and found new entry points into self-expression and connecting to their own culture in a Canadian context.

Nick Laba is a djembe (a traditional African instrument) artist, however, he is not from Africa; he is a third generation Canadian. This discovery was enlightening in the way that a Canadian was able to find his own connection to a foreign instrument. The students in my class were shocked to see that he was Caucasian and deeply Canadian. This was a great entry point to talk about assumptions and how they can be harmful.

Before Nick came to the class, he asked us to choose three contemporary songs to teach us.This gave students agency in the lesson and generated excitement. When he entered the classroom he immediately caught the attention of the class with an incredible drum solo. The kids were in awe of him and his talents. He gave us cultural background on the djembe and how he discovered the instrument.  My students asked questions about the instrument and his cultural connection to it and also shared their own cultural instruments and what they mean to their culture. Nick then taught the class the various songs they chose, engaging students in a collaborative sense and a musical sense. They were fascinated with the lesson as they were playing a Maroon 5 song! The djembe seemed very foreign to them at the beginning of the lesson and by the end, they wanted to find more songs to play.

The next day students came to class and wanted to talk about the lesson. I was pleased to see that students were making the cultural connections I had hoped for and many told me that they asked their parents about instruments from their own cultures and interested in playing the djembe themselves.

The most exciting part of the discussion for me was the conversation that happened around the question: What is it to be Canadian? I was pleased to see the students referencing the lesson and engaging in a debate of how that instrument can connect to a Canadian context, and how Nick found his own “Canadianess” in the djembe.

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Poetry is a beautiful way to allow students to express themselves and find a voice in language. The ambiguity of poetry allows for critical thinking and autonomy over one’s own learning. Still, the students found poetry to be relatively abstract and did not rank it as high of a literary mode as novels, papers and most other narrative writing. When I began unit planning for my grade six language arts class, I knew I wanted a working poet to speak to my class. Rhup Sidhu, spoken word poet, rapper and social activist, was the other artist to visit the class.

With Rhup, students found their own points to poetry and discovered a voice within the literary mode. They made big leaps in independent thinking and creativity.

Rhup’s enormous personality captured the students’ attention immediately. He began by speaking about his background and how he came to be a poet and rapper, and how he earns a living by doing what he loves. He opened the poetry lesson by performing one of his pieces and had  students find the various poetic tools in the rap. He combined the students’ ideas into a collaborative beat and rapped it for them. Then, he had students free write poetry and discussed how this may be the most important part of the creative process as it allows one to write and access their thoughts and feelings, unfiltered and uncensored.

Rhup helped them disconnect from assessment and overthinking their own writing. The students became excited at discovering the power of their own unconscious thoughts.and wanted to share their writing with each other. I had never seen so many hands up as I did during this lesson. Rhup empowered the students through poetry and self-expression and his presence in the class lasted until I left the classroom.

I created a ‘free write’ period after lunch each day for the rest of my practicum. Students wrote poetry for a short time without regulation, then I gave them opportunities to share their pieces.

The grant allowed me to engage students in a deeper way, culturally and emotionally. They connected to themselves, and found new ways to express their discoveries. They also found a cultural voice and a new relationship to their ethnic background and their Canadian identity. I could not be more grateful for the generous grant and the students in my class will forever be in debt for these experiences.

Joanna Lane, Tamara Polos and Bria Sallaway

We, Joanna, Tamara, and Bria, completed identity projects within our classrooms and the final product, and the use of this grant, was large portrait style photos of each of the students in our classes up on the classroom walls. Under each student’s photo was a short sentence or paragraph written by the student explaining what he or she felt they personally brought or contributed to their class community. The process through which each class arrived at this final project varied slightly but included discussions of identity, storytelling and sharing activities, and individual writing activities.

The learning that was achieved through this project is immeasurable and endless. Conversations about identity are relevant at all ages, as demonstrated by our project application with students in grades two to four, and created opportunities for students to think about their interests, relationships, and roles within and beyond their community.

Students in our classes were asked not to define themselves or others, but to recognize identity as something that is shaped by experiences and desires. After storytelling activities and discussions held within our classrooms, students were able to determine something about themselves that they liked, and that they felt contributed positively to the classroom.

These attributes, along with their large portraits, were displayed in the classrooms as a reminder that they are contributing members of a supportive community. The conversations around the portraits were positive, and the students were excited to see themselves represented within their school. Parents were also happy to see this finished project. Each student’s portrait was sent home with him or her at the end of the school year.

We are so grateful to have received this grant that enabled us to complete an inclusive and community building project during our practicums.

Yeelen Merhi

In order for me to demonstrate how the funding has helped enrich both student learning and my teaching, I must first provide you with details of my classroom setting. I worked in a combined grade three and four classroom of twenty-four students, with eighteen English Language Learners (ELL) students. With the large number of ELL students, I believe that providing them with hands on work and activities gives them a chance to benefit from language through socialization.  The Reggio Emilia educational approach is practiced in this classroom and this approach places an emphasis on play, the use of a hundred languages for students to express their learning, and places the student at the center of decision-making (inquiry based). In my initial application, I proposed creating a mission to Mars. This initial inquiry sparked different interests in my students and due to your generosity the students have now undertaken two more inquiry projects – “smart birds,” specifically crows; and sea creatures (vertebrates and invertebrates).

Mission to Mars

Creating a mission to Mars was the initial inquiry that the students had at the beginning of my practicum. The students saw an artificial environment as being integral to the colonization of Mars as food would have to be grown in order to sustain a human population. It was your generosity that allowed the students to plant and take care of kale, as well as build their own artificial environments to house the plants. The planting of their own food helped the students understand maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I also ran a play-debrief-replay lesson that looked at different plants that may be suitable to take with us to Mars to help with the colonization process. The main plants observed were catci and I chose such plants because they are durable and can be used for various reasons in space exploration. The student’s thoughts differed from mine and they decided that cacti would not be a good option to take to Mars. In the end, many students ended up creating environments that were beyond what I had thought to I could create. Their creativity and energy soared with the opportunity to construct something of their own device.

“Smart Birds”

The financial support  also gave me the chance to take the students to Bloedel Conservatory, a real life artificial environment.  The children’s understanding of what it takes to maintain and sustain a geo-dome was enriched by this experience. They were taken away by beauty and what it had to offer as an artificial environment. The students spent hours documenting what they observed and one of the things that stood out to them were the “talking” birds. This experience allowed for the class to delve into the next inquiry, revolving around “smart birds.” The class chose to study crows, which are a part of our local habitat.

We spent the next few weeks reading all about crows and exploring Aboriginal and Asian legends and Greek myths surrounding these animals. We also researched crows and went on crow observation walks with the students that resulted in beautiful work.

Sea Creatures – vertebrates and invertebrates

When the students studied the types of foods crows ate, they became interested in invertebrates (mussels). This led to the third inquiry project: sea creatures. To spark a deeper interest, my school associate and I hosted a lesson that included six different stations of different dried up invertebrates and vertebrates (one station had a dried hammer head shark).

Students were excited about the topic so we visited the Vancouver Aquarium. The field trip was an outstanding experience for the children and to ensure they were truly exploring and observing vertebrates and invertebrates, I created a journal that they completed during the visit. Students were asked to draw an image of an animal they observed and document at least three behaviours of it.  This helped them develop scientific observation skills. We had the opportunity to visit a fur seal and sea lions “backstage” and it was fascinating for us to see the animals close up.  The learning experience from this trip was further extended as students then created videos on the subject.  These students will be continuing to study sea creatures for the reminder of the school year.

Thank you so much for your support. You have truly helped in creating an enriched semester for my students. I am truly grateful for your generosity as I would have been unable to provide a learning environment that helped give rise to am emergent curriculum in my classroom.

 

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