Little scientists

“Hands-on learning always works better”



Students in Iqaluit wrinkled their nose and giggled as they passed a giant yellow cane toad called Madamoiselle Peepee around their classroom, watching a clear liquid drip to the floor.

Sometimes, science class can get a little messy.

But teachers gambled in Iqaluit last week that hands-on learning, complete with poisonous frogs, deadly snakes, and fuzzy spiders, is the approach their students need to get excited about animals, and the science that goes with them.

To accomplish this, a video crew for the Nunavut Bilingual Education Society brought dozens of reptilian guests to four schools in Iqaluit from March 7-10. During the week, the group brought in cameras and lights, and boxes full of zoo animals to transform several classrooms into the setting for the first-known bilingual science video done by Nunavummiut, for Nunavummiut.

“Hands-on learning always works better,” said Neil Christopher, a Nunavut Arctic College teacher who headed up the project. “Kids are excited and curious about these strange life forms… that are like nothing else up here.”

“This gives youth the idea that they too can be the science specialists.”

The series is a pilot project launched by the society, sponsored by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Heritage Canada. Canadian North chipped in with special handling services.

Entitled Nunavuumi Qaujisaqtiralaaq: Nunavut Little Scientists, the video is aimed at capturing students’ imaginations in the classroom in ways that books and blackboards couldn’t.

Christopher pursued the project because kids in Nunavut are usually limited to seeing tropical animals on television. Only a handful of students get to visit a zoo in the South.

But Christopher believes Nunavut kids should get the same opportunities as their southern counterparts.

And once that opportunity is set up, he said organizers should make the most of pushing Inuktitut as a language of instruction.

“We wanted students to be excited about using Inuktitut,” he said. “And, we wanted them to see it being used in a non-traditional setting.”

Christopher came up with the idea of making a video after teaching in Resolute in the late 1990s. While looking for ideas to spice up his science class at Qarmartalik school, Christopher realized that his own interest in science came from his childhood years of chasing frogs and salamanders — a hobby that doesn’t come very easily to students in the High Arctic.

He started importing crickets, rats, a flying squirrel, and even African claw frogs. The students were scared at first, but eventually got used to handling them, and even breeding them in some cases.

The video crew saw the same transformation in Iqaluit.

Paul “Little Ray” Goulet brought the long list of beasties from his zoo in Ottawa, where he teaches children about local animals like garter snakes, or more exotic animals, like tarantulas.

Goulet said the Nunavut students were more hesistant than southern students, when it came to getting close to the animals.

But eventually, students were comfortable enough to let a tarantula or scorpion crawl over their hands. During assemblies, they let a boa constrictor slither around their arms and neck.

Once students are at ease, Goulet said they can learn about these tropical and southern animals, in a way that gives them added appreciation for animals in Nunavut, like caribou and polar bears.

“It makes them aware that it’s a pretty big world out there,” Goulet said.”And there’s some pretty cool stuff to see.”

Students weren’t the only ones excited to have a mobile zoo come through the classroom. Shortly after video recording started, teachers were already asking when the animals would come back.

Rodney Corkum, a Grade 4 teacher at Nakasuk school, said he jumped at the chance to help the video project because his students learn better through first-hand experiences.

“Where else are they going to get this sort of opportunity?” Corkum said. “We’re usually doing pencil and paper activities.

“This makes school a pretty special place to be.”

The group plans to make a DVD of classroom recordings and distribute them for free to any interested teachers around Nunavut.

Goulet and the others expect they’ll be back to Nunavut as early as next year.

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