“Sometimes we just have fun, and that’s okay.”
That was the response a teacher gave me as we travelled back from a fieldtrip to the Parliament building last Wednesday. A Flex class in the high school I’m observing at has formed a partnership with the parliament, and I was fortunate enough to attend their first visit with them.
My reasoning for tagging along with the class was simple: I wanted to observe how teachers organize fieldtrips and also see some out-of-classroom learning. I have fond memories of similar trips from back when I was in high school; however, I have never seen a partnership developed like this one, and it is exciting. Shortly, students will be forming groups and creating inquiry projects together based on this partnership and the topics they are exploring this year, which include Indigenous ways of knowing and food sustainability. It is expected that students will learn about provincial government throughout these visits and incorporate that knowledge into their inquiry projects, using the connections and resources at parliament to aid them in their inquiries. The teachers involved in this have been generating some ideas about potential projects (all with the aim of being cross-curricular, as is the nature of Flex), but they are staying mostly hands-off, opting instead to encourage students to pursue topics they are passionate about.
As this initial visit was the first time many students had entered the building, the majority of the afternoon was spent doing a tour. It was clear that students were engaged from the get-go — the first room they encountered was the same room that gets televised, so for any students who may have seen provincial politics on their televisions, the room had a sense of familiarity and exclusivity. Students seemed to get particularly excited when they were told they will be doing a mock debate in the legislative assembly one day; at this knowledge, questions about the assembly started rolling in, with students pointing to features of the assembly and inquiring about their purposes. They reacted with horror when they heard statistics about the (embarrassingly low) number of women in politics. They took pictures of the building with their cell phones. They eagerly crowded around the Shakespeare codex on display in the legislative library. A highlight for everyone (including a couple of lucky tourists who happened to be standing nearby) was when an MLA dropped by to chat with students about his role and answer their questions, humanizing politics for them.
Rather than concentrating on the “fieldtrip organization strategies” that I originally thought would be my focus, I instead found myself paying more attention to the students’ reactions as we entered the different rooms and approached different topics in discussion. While, content-wise, not a lot was covered in the course of the afternoon, the groundwork has been set for what is bound to be an amazing collaboration and some incredible inquiry projects.