I’ve been Education Coordinator here at the Museum since January. For four years before that, I was one of the team of animators that led our programs for school and Scouting/Guiding groups. What I’m saying is: I live and breathe our Education Programs, which may be why it’s taken me a while in this new role to realize that, by gum, there are people in this world who do not know what we do! Even Canoe Museum-lovers are occasionally oblivious, as are, truth be told, some of our very own marvellous volunteers, who see the kids come and go, but who are too busy in the galleries, workshops and Museum Store and generally keeping this place a-buzz to be figuring out why all those kids are carrying a kayak or tying on ceinture flechees.So, for any and all curious parties, and without undue evangelical fervour, here’s Part One of a series of blog posts that get up-close-and-personal with the Canoe Museum’s Education Programs.
First up: The Perfect Machine, partly because it’s one of my favourites for the way it nails Grade 2/3 curriculum while being extremely fun, and partly because we just had a group visit from Prince of Wales for this program and I have a few super-cute photos.
Just to backtrack for a moment: all of our programs are developed by educators to be hands-on, experiential, curriculum-linked, small-group-focused, and FUN! If you’re feeling thorough, please visit here for more about experiential education. For the rest of us, how about a visual:
So, what are the kids up to?
The Perfect Machine in question is, of course, the canoe, created by First Nations peoples with such knowledge and skill that, unlike with much of today’s blink-and-it’s-obsolescent technology, the original design remains unchanged yet current, many hundreds of years later. After a short museum walk-about to fire up the kids’ curiosity about shape, materials and form, we get right into it with a “will-it-sink-or-float-and-why” water activity that introduces flotation, buoyancy and surface tension through hands-on (or hands-in!) experimentation. We’ve got bottles full of “nothing” or water, cups, saucers, cork, birch bark, cedar and more to play with, ahem, to hypothesize about and test. Each student goes on to apply his or her new-found knowledge by creating a foil boat designed to a) float and b) carry other objects. And then, everyone’s favourite part: load up the boats with pennies, one by one. I never fail to be delighted by the fever pitch of excitement reached by 8 or 10 kids clustered around a little foil boat in a water-filled bin, counting out loud as the coins drop: 1, 2, 3…14, 15, 17, OHHHHHHHHHHH! (Down it goes.) By this point they are wriggling around on the carpet they are so bursting with why or why not this boat or that boat floats, stays upright, holds 32 pennies or only three.
But we’re not done yet – we’re moving (movement: always a good idea!) to the Peterborough Gallery downstairs, to gather around the “pond”, a cloth pond, created by Jenny Madden for the program, complete with lily pads, frogs, fish, and, as the kids discover when we raise it up together, dangling weeds and fish. “Deep down” under the pond, pieces of a huge wooden canoe puzzle wait to be retrieved; the students take turns “diving” through the weeds to bring a piece back “to the surface”. Each piece of the puzzle introduces part of the canoe or required safety equipment; each student shares the canoe vocabulary from his or her own piece with the rest of the class as we rebuild the canoe puzzle cooperatively, making connections with the canoes in the gallery around us. Here’s a picture of our puzzle activity from last week, with a special prize going to whomever can spot what I find really exciting about this picture:
… actually, no, I’ve just received notice that the 2012 Education Blog Prize Budget is, strangely enough, zero, but look again anyway, look where Annie’s pointing. Yes! Mais oui! Tricky to tell from a photo, and a low-res one at that, but this particular rendition of The Perfect Machine is actually going on in French, now an option for all of our Education Programs.
Time for another move through the museum for our last activity: making an origami canoe. We have several versions for different age groups, but here’s the standard one:
The grand finale, cited by many a child months – or even years – after the class visit, is the opportunity to take the origami canoe and put it down…
Now, there’s a reason First Nations peoples didn’t and don’t make their canoes out of folded wax paper – well, more than one reason, actually – but we make it clear that no one has to subject his or her new creation to the rocks and current. However, there is invariably a big enough contingent of kids desperately keen to risk a soggy unfolding that we have splendid session around the waterfall before huddling up to share and synthesize what we’ve experienced during the day together.
And then, off they go, onto the yellow bus, taking with them not just an origami canoe (soggy or otherwise) but new understanding, specific skills and a deep engagement with our Museum as a place to play, learn and explore. As one of those grade 3 kids said to me last week: “This is so awesome. I want to live here.”