Well, true to form, the trajectory of inquiry can never be predicted. And so it was that at the end of the couple of weeks of exploring What Happens in Winter, our students ended up quite aways beyond knowing that animals hibernate and plants die off when the weather gets colder. Following a visit from a teacher from the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, their understanding was now in the realm of recognizing how a wintery landscape not only makes animals adapt in different ways, but how it has also influenced the lives and culture of the Inuit.

The students touched sealskin, fox, and rabbit pelts; tried on an amauti (anorak), kamik (boots), and bone snow goggles; played a caribou skin drum; held seal knuckle bones which were used to create pictures during storytelling; and played Inuit games that involved strength and stability (hilarious wrestling games which they discovered are also easily played outside in the snowy school yard). Our KWL bulletin board filled up with sentence strips on which the students wrote about what they learned and liked about the visit; “I learned that sealskin is best for clothes and boots because it’s warm and waterproof.”; “I learned that Inuk live in houses not igloos.”; “I liked playing Inuit games.” At the art table, several chose to paint what they learned; “I learned how to play a drum – a man’s drum and a woman’s drum,” “I learned that fox don’t hibernate in the arctic – they change color,” and, “I learned how to tell a story using seal bones.”

In activities and centres we set up following the visit, we offered opportunities to draw on their learning.  In math, after discussing the best shape of rock to build an inukshuk, students were challenged to draw an inukshuk with more than 5 rectangles and then to tally the total number of rock rectangles they used. Later in the block centre, several students took the challenge further and built free-standing, life-sized inukshuk (which are usually not very tall). Another day during the week following the presentation, a group of students were tipping over chairs and using them as blinds while they were hunting seal and polar bear – it started to get very physical with running and squealing, so, for safety reasons,  the crew were redirected to the art table to make paper bag puppets of seals, polar bears, hunters and dog sleds. They were so excited to use the puppet theatre to act out their skit which we were later all invited to watch. Another provocation was posting the Inuktitut ‘alphabet’ on chart paper. Next to each symbol I wrote out the sound it represented. While some students recognized that there were several triangles in the alphabet, others attempted to find the syllables they could use to write their names.

Now when we are outside for our outdoor learning every day, I ask questions about the snow, the sky and clouds, and animals; “If we had to build a shelter, would this be good snow to use? Let’s find out.”; “What are the clouds telling us? What do you notice about the weather today? Is it different from yesterday?”; “Can you hear any animal sounds? Have you noticed any signs of animals?” (scat, tracks, birdsong, etc.)

The students are also now aware of the fact that, according to our local groundhog who got scared of his shadow, we are in for a few more weeks of winter. What does that mean for them? Now that they have learned a bit more about What Happens in Winter, and have explored how arctic animals and the Inuit have adapted and survived in a wintery land, my next challenge is to provide opportunities for them to show me what they will do with that knowledge. The big question is, what do I need to do to help my 5 year old students take the next step into stewardship and sustainability?


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