Inquiry Learning: What path do you choose?

Through my group’s inquiry based project I learned that:

1) There are many ways that people view inquiry pedagogies

2) Some cycles look very complex, however, they all have the same general meaning and goals.

For my visual I created my own version of, “The 5 “E”s of Inquiry” that is featured in the Inquiry—based Pedagogies PowerPoint from lecture. After viewing and researching inquiry cycles, I liked the simplicity of the wording of this one. As well, the wording has room for different interpretations and growth by the person viewing this cycle. This hit home with me as that is the purpose of inquiry based learning. We want our students to become the researchers and question their personal understandings and findings. The cycle does not have to be completed in a circular motion. There is no right or wrong way to investigate one’s learnings. This is what the tree branches depict in my visual. The branches show that there are many routes one can take to complete the Inquiry cycle. I chose leaves to represent the individual “E” words of the cycle as falling leaves float through the air landing where they may. I think this is a great metaphor to learning. Depending which route one takes while learning you never know what findings you may gather however, you will be able to grow from any of the research. It all depends on the path you choose to take.

I personally never experienced inquiry-based learning during my schooling. With that being said, as an Early Childhood Educator I have implemented inquiry based learning with my students several times. I have witnessed first-hand how crucial inquiry based learning is to students of all ages. During Dean’s presentation he said, “Open inquiry gets pushed too much and students do not know how to function with it all the time but we do want to incorporate so boredom does not set in.” I related to this statement in so many ways. As an Educator, I did a few open inquiry projects but the majority would have been considered guided inquiry. Open inquiry was done with students who I knew could handle this type of learning and needed this type of learning at the moment. My guided inquiry learning was done with younger students who needed that little bit of extra guidance from the teacher but were very capable to be the director of their learnings at various stages.

Here is an example of a guided inquiry-based project with the 5 “E”s of the Inquiry cycle.

The students were interested in everything about the farm. (Engage/Evaluate)

Found out what they knew, what they wanted to know. (Engage/Evaluate)

Explored many different areas of a farm such as: (Explore/Explain/Elaborate/Evaluate)

  • Different types of farms.
  • Various types of grain sample- what they are used for on the farm, in what types of food we eat.
  • Various animals found on a farm, purposes, etc.
  • Various machinery and uses.

Field Trips:  (Explore/Explain/Elaborate/Evaluate)

  • To a farm where they could ask their questions to a grain/livestock farmer. As well as experience first-hand the various aspects of a farm such as: feeding grain to cows, heavy work of the machinery, horses (how they can be used for work and play).
  • A trip to the local farmer’s market where they could ask questions and research on what ingredients goes into the food they eat.

Combine their learnings and share with peers, teachers and families.

Throughout the entire process I documented all of their learnings in some way. Utilizing pictures, anecdotes as well as the drawings, 3D creations, etc. the students produced. (Explain/Elaborate/Evaluate)

Thinking back to the Inquiry based learnings I have facilitated, no group of students were ever the same nor was the cycle taken to gather the knowledge the same. This made me think back to the Ontario article, Inquiry-based Learning (Ontario) philosophies where it asks, “Why now for student led inquiry”? Pauli says “If we are only teaching what we know, our children can only do as bad as we are doing, and this is the challenge we are facing- we have to go beyond it” (Pauli, 2009, TEDx). Through all of the inquiry-based learning I never once taught them what I knew. I found out what they already knew, what they wanted to know and together we built the learning from there. As well, I learned alongside my students, observing and documenting their interests and the knowledge gathered on the topic. I believe, this is a great start to “going beyond” and fitting well into the “Engage” phase of the inquiry cycle pictured.

Our job as a teacher is to meet the curricular outcomes.  However, we need to go beyond the status quo of meeting these curricular outcomes and provide deep and meaningful learnings to our students. As someone who did not experience Inquiry-based learning through my schooling years but have facilitated it numerous times since, I truly believe in its’ importance and benefits to students’ (of any age) learning. However, we need to remember not to overwhelm them with too many inquiry-based projects but to incorporate them sporadically. This will also grow as we grow as teachers and get to know our students’ needs.

What is Wilderness?

Newberry’s article, the Canoe Pedagogy, discusses how Environmental Education has become thought of in a very Canadian, western way. Instead, Newberry believes we need to be engaging our students in the colonial historic past of how our land and outdoor world came to be when teaching Environmental Education.  It is important to go beyond simply enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds us and learn that the wilderness is so much more than just the vast untouched areas far from where we live.

When I was in high school I participated in a trip where we explored Stanley Mission and Nistowiak Falls. Looking back, this is exactly the Environmental Education that Newberry says we need to go beyond. We hiked and gazed at all the natural beauty surrounding us but never talked about the rich history surrounding these sites. And truthfully, until now, I never really thought that there was anything wrong in this.

While growing up, I spent a lot of time at Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park.  My family has deep roots in this special place. As a little girl, I considered Waskesiu to be the wilderness.  It is an area six hours north from my home and is completely surrounded by boreal forest which is full of wildlife.  However, during middle school, my class participated in a Heritage Fair. My visual this week is pictures of my Grade 8 heritage fair project board.  I chose to do my project on Prince Albert National Park, how it came to be and to learn more about the boat business my Grandparents operated there in the late 1930’s.

The project allowed me to acquire a deeper understanding of the colonial history on how Prince Albert National Park was founded originally and how it became a place in which people lived, visited and appreciated.  My learning continued to be strengthened by yearly trips to the National Park, canoeing on the various lakes, visiting the museums, hiking along the Kingsmere trail to Grey Owl’s cabin on Lake Ajawaan and many more activities.  Although, my colonial learning of the outdoor environment did not come from a designated Environmental Education class, I was able to learn about past history through visiting the park, reading and talking to people about the past.  While completing the heritage fair project I was able to compare what I thought was true about the park to what colonial history actually formed this place that I have grown to love and cherish. This reflection changed my perspective of the so called “wilderness”.

The map of Saskatchewan – Prince Albert National Park is 65 miles north of Prince Albert, which is referred to as “The Gateway to the North” and often considered to be Saskatchewan Wilderness in the Western way of thinking.

Wasting Water Creates Wastewater

I grew up on a farm outside of Indian Head where we hauled drinking water from Indian Head and only used the tap water for cooking, showering, brushing teeth, etc. We had a dishwasher that eventually became a “snack holder” as our well water did not clean the dishes at all. I was taught at a young age to conserve the most amount of water as possible.  Running an empty dishwasher as pictured below or letting the water run while brushing my teeth a huge no no!

Clean water is essential to live. I had no idea that the City of Regina had done an upgrade before reading the article in advance of the field trip.  It was 181 million dollar upgrade that came in under budget. The 57.1 percent of the residents who voted felt that the upgrade through the public-private partnership will save money in the long run and Mayor Fougere agreed.

Fougere also said, “We are building for the 21st century, this is the job of city council, to provide a safe environment and the infrastructure for a growing community.”

Fougere’s comment relates to Kimmerer’s quote from his Witness To The Rain chapter in which he says, “If there is meaning in the past and in the imagined future, it is captured in the moment. When you have all the time in the world, you can spend it, not on going somewhere, but being where you are. So I stretch out, close my eyes, and listen to the rain” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 296). We need to think in a broader perspective of what will not only help us now but what will help us in the years to come. Clean water is important and after reading the article and having the tour, I realized how much more the improvements will sustain our city and residents. However, we can also help in the process of creating less water waste by doing such things as not running our dishwashers or washing machines empty, shutting the water off when brushing our teeth and many more.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

3R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

To me, embodiment in the context of climate change and ecoliteracy can be defined as:  The intrinsic feeling one has to make positive, responsible change to their everyday life, regardless of how small, in order to become more ecoliterate and to combat against climate change.

For some, the 3R’s remind them of the old expression Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.  But for most, the 3R’s bring to mind the important steps in waste reduction:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

I grew up being taught that recycling is good for the environment but that was about the extent of my knowledge.   I never fully realized that the 3R’s, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are as important individually as they are together to help reduce climate change. Growing up I learned to throw obvious recyclables such as cans and bottles into the recycling to be disposed of responsibly instead of being thrown out.  However, it was not until I began working in a variety of early childhood settings that I fully realized the potential of what I used to see as trash or recycling to simply be disposed of.  So many of these things can be “upcycled” or used to create so many other things.  Personally upcycling or recycling within our own lives teaches children the endless possibilities of what can be done to benefit the environment and the importance of the 3R’s.

Kimmerer says, “Let us put our minds together as one and send greetings and thanks to our Mother Earth, who sustains our lives with her many gifts” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 256). There are many possible ways to embody change, become more ecoliterate and to combat climate change. We only have one Earth and need to take action to protect our planet and sustain its resources and gifts.

Even after this class is over I am going to continue to embody change, become more ecoliterate and “Reduce my WASTEline!”

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Earth’s Caregiver Braid

Before enrolling in this class, my thoughts about ecoliteracy could easily have been summed up by this silly little poem I quickly jotted down.

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Trees are green

Go green too

However, after reflecting on what I have learned about ecoliteracy in class, it is obvious that this poem was a very shallow understanding of what is means to be ecoliterate.  Being an ecoliterate person is so much more than one just “living green”.  A person truly committed to ecoliteracy is someone who, is not only dedicated to improving the environment through their own personal actions, but is someone who is also concerned about educating others and contributing to a society that behaves responsibly towards the environment.  For this assignment, I created a concrete “heart-shaped” poem using adjectives that I believe embody the definition of one who loves and is dedicated to ecoliteracy.

Brehanna’s poem is similar to mine in many ways. Just like mine, Brehanna depicts love, appreciation, knowledge, education, action, vision and many more things as part of what embodies ecoliteracy. Her poem is different in the sense that it tells a story of ecoliteracy, whereas mine is created using over forty different adjectives in a heart-shaped poem describing those with a love for the environment and who embody ecolitireacy. Brehanna concludes her poem with, “Thank you for showing me your ways, I’ll hold these close for all my days”.

I feel a strong connection with these phrases as I also feel that we must appreciate our environment and show our love and gratitude by giving back to protect our earth.

Samantha’s poem offers a different perspective on ecoliteracy. Her poem is written to her parents, thanking them for her outdoor childhood experiences. These experiences shaped Samantha’s view of nature and enhanced her understanding of ecoliteracy. Initially, I felt that our poems were very different.  I did not think or write about how my experiences growing up shaped my view of ecoliteracy.  However, after reading Samantha’s poem, I realized that my childhood outdoor adventures were reflected in my poem as it was these memories and experiences that contributed to my choice of adjectives describing a person that embodies ecoliteracy.  A person who loves nature and feels a responsibility to ensure that everyone can continue to enjoy this wonderful gift by keeping it safe.  Upon reflection, I see that our poems are actually not that different, despite being written in very different styles.  Both poems depict ecoliteracy similarly by expressing such underlying themes as awareness, appreciation, education, learning, knowledge and love.

In Kimmerer’s preface he writes, “. . . old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. x). Kimmerer believes that there are a variety of ways to repair, deepen and strengthen the human relationship with earth. The land needs human interaction and vice versa. This is another form of ecoliteracy, that one might call the base of ecoliteracy and from there humans decide what themes they want to be involved in to sustain the environment thus strengthening their knowledge of ecoliteracy.

In summary, Brehanna, Samantha and I wrote poems that told very different stories but shared many of the same themes and, as Samatha wrote, “a bird’s eye view” of nature.  Reading each of these poems deepened my understanding of ecoliteracy in some way with their similar messages and themes woven throughout.  Kimmerer’s belief that interaction between people and nature is important is mirrored in all of our poems.  We too, feel it is important to love and appreciate the nature that surrounds us, and to educate others in order to sustain these earth’s gifts by wisely taking care of them.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Maple Nation

I created a flag with a Maple leaf to symbolize what Kimmerer refers to as “Maple Nation” (2013, p. 167). The feather on the maple leaf represents the importance of the Aboriginal way of thinking about nature.  The aboriginal view of the environment believes that we learn from plants, animals and nature.  This is in direct contrast to, the more commonly used scientific method, that believes that we learn about things in nature.

Kimmerer asks Mark, “What does it mean to be a citizen of Maple Nation?” (2013, p. 171).  Mark replies, “You make syrup. You enjoy it. You take what you’re given and you treat it right” (2013, p. 172). This conversation is what inspired me to create my own Maple Nation flag.  We have been provided land as a gift, along with the animals, plants, water, etc., in order to learn from and to survive.  We need to treat it with care. Unfortunately, all too often, we are no longer learning from or respecting land but are managing it in a way that is destructive.  Human growth has done a lot of damage to the environment and needs to be evaluated, “We are what we eat, and with every golden spoonful maple carbon becomes human carbon (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 172). Changing our thinking to follow the more holistic Aboriginal way will not only rejuvenate the environment, but will also make us think about life in a different light.  As Kimmerer states, “Our traditional thinking had it right: maples are people, people are maples” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 172). This simple phrase struck a chord and challenges me to change the way I think.  I will endeavor to reverse my view of nature from the traditional scientific perspective, to look at things in a more holistic way.


Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

My Favourite Outdoor Place

When asked to make a visual of our favourite outdoor spot I immediately knew what I was going to do. I created a bench from popsicle sticks to represent my grandparents’ memorial bench at Waskesiu Lake in Prince Albert National Park, along with a picture of me sitting on the bench.

Years ago, my grandparents owned a boat business at Waskesiu Lake called Brayford Boats. Their memorial bench overlooks the site of where Brayford Boats was located. My grandpa spent many summer hours taking people on guided scenic tours of Waskesiu and surrounding lakes (day trips and overnight), showing them the beauty of the National Park. His favourite trips were the guided fishing tours as he was an avid fisherman himself who spent hours on the lake.  He actively portrayed his love for the outdoors while unconsciously showing this to others as a, “’subversive science’ for its power to cause us to reconsider the place of humans in the natural world” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 218). After their children reached school age, my grandparents sold the boat business but continued to spend every summer at the lake until their deaths.  In total, my grandfather spent 67 consecutive summers in this special place, connecting with the outside environment daily and truly living the quote, “the land is the real teacher” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 222). My grandparents were a huge part of my life. Each summer we would go and visit them and other family members with cabins there as well. I, myself, have spent time visiting and vacationing in the park over 22 summers, only missing two summers in my entire life.

The plaque on their memorial bench reads:

Mel and Sheila Brayford

Looking at the view of “Brayford Boats” at the main docks circa 1950

I included a photo of me sitting on their memorial bench as I am the fourth generation of Brayfords to enjoy the park.  For us, it is a symbol of how deeply my grandparents were loved and that they will never be forgotten.  Not only does this bench represent my grandparents’ deep connection to this special place,  but also allows me to feel connected with nature just by sitting on the bench surrounded by the beauty of the National Park.  I spend time looking out onto the former site of the boat business and imagine what it was like when it was a part of our family. In those moments I feel and understand harmony” in a way I had never before or have been taught in the classroom (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 222).  I feel at peace with nature and with the memories of my grandparents.  Waskesiu as a whole makes me feel connected to my grandparents as I have so many fond memories of times spent with them there. I experience a sense of peace and calmness that I have never felt before.  In those moments, I am at harmony with myself and with the natural environment. This peacefulness allows me to reflect on the memories of the past without sadness.  I remember how much they loved me and imagine how proud they would be to see what I have accomplished and what more I will still accomplishAs Kimmerer says, “my job was just to lead them into the presence and ready them to hear” (2013, p. 222). My grandparents were my leaders.  They taught me to love, respect and appreciate the beauty of nature over many long, summer days.  Simply sitting on “their” bench today, transports me back to those memories and lessons, and allows me to once again feel and hear the messages of nature surrounding me.  

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.