For a just few more days, we have a unique exhibit hanging above our “Grand Portage” gallery: 56 canoes hand-made by 56 grade 6 students from Karen Kain School for the Arts, installed last June in time for the group’s overnight stay at the Museum. (Yes! 56 students sleeping over in the Museum! But that’s another story.)
To me, this exhibit — and the project behind it — is the convergence of everything awesome: students making things, exploring a topic in-depth and long-term, through a project that connects school, home and community. Bonus points that the canoe is the focus of it all.
The Canoe Project, in its 7th year, is the brainchild of Beryl Cohen, a teacher at Karen Kain School for the Arts, a middle school in the southwest of Toronto District School Board. She explains how it works: “During the project, students view a number of films related to the canoe. After a number of independent research periods where they investigate a series of websites, the students select a canoe that they’d like to create. As an in-depth, integrated project, the students are expected to use Google Earth to research a canoe route that their canoe may have traveled, they then design their map using formal cartographic details. They meticulously document their entire canoe-building process and share their research and work through a film a PowerPoint or Prezi, and an oral presentation. Students are expected to discuss their problems and how they overcame them. They are given credit in all English strands, Social Studies and Visual Arts.” In an effort to deliberately parallel the learning-from-elders in traditional First Nations communities, the students are encouraged to work with their parents when building the canoe. And their research immerses them deeply in the First Nations, Metis and/or Inuit origins of the watercraft they choose to study.
The students’ investment of time, energy and care into this project is so moving. Check out this student’s film here: