Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Making Connections to Traditional Knowledge

My Social Studies 9 class has been working on a project off and on over the last few weeks -- an exploration of Heritage Skills. We do this as a tie-in to the Industrial Revolution and as a precursor to the full-on Heritage Research project our school's students complete in Social Studies 10.  Five of the SS9 projects stand out for me right now (still more presentations to come). I'm very proud of what they did with their guiding questions:

1. KM shared the story of Norwegian flatbread with us... krumkake... sort of a waffle cone, but rolled and stamped with careful designs. The recipe was a family favorite and helped them make a direct connection to their Scandinavian roots. Of course, she spent a few hours making up a big tasty batch for our class to try. The heritage skill lies in the preparation, use of special tools, and choice of fillings.

2. FJ put together an visual explanation of why she and her family dried fish. Everything she expressed was what she "knew" -- no obligatory internet surfing to add random details... refreshing. The traditional methods have been passed down in her family for generations, and she plans on passing it on to her kids and grandkids one day. Her smokehouse is a special place, filled with strong memories to go with the familiar smells. Two big strips of dried fish were wrapped and taped to the poster... FJ ate one and I ate one... perfect! The heritage skill lies in the options for catching, preparing, drying, curing, and smoking the fish.

3. SR shared his grandfather's passion for woodworking and the art of Intarsia -- locking in wooden elements to form an inlayed textured mosaic, a mix of clever design and skill with wood.  The examples he shared were ones that came from his house, a reminder of his grandfather's presence even though he lives a few hours away. Some of the Intarsia objects wee small and intricate, others as big as a chalkboard. The heritage skill lies in the mastery of wood and tools.

4. AC explored the history of the horse and buggy -- where, when, why, etc. Her grandmother remembered riding with horse and buggy as a kid, and we had some fun speculating what would happen to society if we had to go back to this form of transportation (pros & cons). The heritage skill lies in the care of animals and equipment. I mentioned that my dad, born in 1936, and the oldest of 8, used to get the horse and buggy set up each morning, load up his school-age siblings, and take them to school every day... as a 9-yr-old!

5. MS shared the "Portuguese Passion for Bread" -- a foray into both family tradition and a way of making bread that few people take on anymore. MS shared what she learned from her grandmother, this sparked similar stories in the class -- a quick survey found out that creation and consumption of homemade bread was more common than expected. The heritage skill lies in the attention to ingredients, process, and time, plus the careful (ancient) working of dough.

I'm looking forward to more projects this week on carving, speaking the Carrier Language, ranching, square dancing, and others.  We learned about canning today -- peaches, pears, and fish -- each one a grandmother's favourite for the three students presenting. Projects can be tricky with some classes -- the disorganized students have a hard time sticking to the timeline to get this done, but it's also a great way for students that struggle in other areas to engage with the learning outcomes and get some success. I think the key is making some connection to student identity -- in this case an interview with a family member.

Traditional Knowledge, whether it's an Aboriginal custom, indigenous way of approaching subsistence or simply an old and preserved cultural practice, comes to us like a gift from our ancestors. Who knows what skills are resting in our bones, placed their by our forebears and waiting for a trigger, waiting to be relearned and reborn for the next generation. In an educational world swamped with technology-induced urgency for change, these projects are a calm and focussed reminder of what really grounds us to each other and the dirt beneath us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just read about the student's projects on this blog. I am so impressed at the topics they picked and how deeply they probed into their ancestor's cultures. Congratulations students!
- Mrs. Wadson