DreamCatchers share their enthusiasm for teaching First Nations science and math

by Dawn Wiseman

Nearly a year ago, Concordia's Native Access to Engineering Program (NAEP) was mandated by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to undertake projects of national scope -- providing information to aboriginal students and their teachers about science and engineering as viable career options.

From February 9 to 12 at Concordia, the NAEP hosted its first national event, DreamCatching: Hands-on, Interactive Math and Science Workshops for Teachers of Aboriginal Students.

According to NAEP founder Corinne Mount Pleasant-Jettˇ, DreamCatching was all about empowering teachers. "We very much wanted to provide an opportunity where participants could get real experience and concrete activities they could take back to their classrooms." Teachers rotated through four workshops, each focusing on a different aspect of the curriculum: math, science, information technology and career choice.

DreamCatchersClaus Vogel, a high school math and biology teacher from the Inuit community of Inukjuak in Northern Quebec, particularly liked the math workshop run by Florence Glanfield (University of Saskatchewan). Glanfield introduced and reintroduced teachers to a number of math manipulatives (including alegtiles and graphing calculators) that are used in secondary mathematics curricula across Canada.

"This is what we need," Vogel said. "We have these tools in our classrooms. Now I know how to integrate them into my lessons."

Fifty educators from seven provinces and the new territory of Nunavut attended DreamCatching, "a remarkable group of people," according to Mount Pleasant-Jettˇ. She attributes the conference's success to the energy and enthusiasm brought to it by participating teachers.

"Their contributions underlined that despite the vast size of the country and the diversity of native communities, many of the challenges facing teachers are shared and can be addressed through the exchange of experience and wisdom."

The NAEP plans to further the networking opportunities for these teachers now that DreamCatching is over. Mount Pleasant-Jettˇ says there will definitely be another conference next year. "In the meantime, we are setting up a mailing list so our participants can keep in touch and continue to share their best practices and innovative ideas."

Anyone interested in joining the mailing list can sign up through www.nativeaccess.com/maillist

Photo: Math teacher Charlie Keep makes a "dream-catcher" in a conference workshop.

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