Along with their report cards, Grade 5 students at Rennie’s River Elementary in St. John’s, Grade 6 students at St. Edwards Elementary in Kelligrews and intermediate students at Victoria Academy in Gaultois received something extra special on the last day of their school year this past June.
Memorial Faculty of Education professors Fred Hawksley and Alex Hickey presented the classes with forget-me-not pins, hand-sewn by Florence Morgan of Port de Grave, N.L. As part of their participation in a year-long lesson plan titled The Great War Project, the students had learned about the little blue wildflower’s significance as Newfoundland and Labrador’s flower of remembrance.
Teaching and learning
The Great War Project: Mystery of the Arvensis Myosotis, was devised and written by Prof. Hawksley and approaches teaching and learning about the First World War through a combination of drama-in-education and creative inquiry.
The Great War Project draws on the real-life experience of Arthur William Hill, a botanist who catalogued flora in a Somme battlefield in 1917, just one year after the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. His field notes become the central learning resource for the project.
“The story and the engagement in the story drive the learning.”
“How do you talk about something that is 100 years in the past? You have to go to the imagination,” said Prof. Hawksley, who teaches aspiring teachers how to use drama in the classroom. “You have to engage students in this way. Set up the imagination and dialogue and wondering and seeking as legitimate ways of learning. The story and the engagement in the story drive the learning.”
Participating students form a botanical science “company” and then receive a mysterious and weathered field notebook from a “client,” who has stumbled upon it and wants to know more—more about its origins, the meaning of the text, the original owner, and so on.
Presenting the forget-me-nots to students at the close of the school year was more than a gesture of time spent together; for the professors it represented the very heart of the project: reaching out to the community and improving lives through the power of education.
“It’s interesting to see how the university can take something directly to where it matters most—to children in the classroom,” said Prof. Hawksley, who created the project with Prof. Hickey and a number of other Memorial colleagues as part of Memorial’s First World War Commemoration Program. “There’s no buffer now between what people know in this institution and what these students know now. We’ve gone directly to the students 100 years later after Beaumont-Hamel and they came on board with no hesitation.”
“What this project has done is fulfil that mandate in spades, with students learning about something that fuelled the establishment of this institution,” said Prof. Hickey.
Profs. Hawksley and Hickey were able to complete The Great War Project with funding from Canadian Heritage, the provincial government’s commemoration program Honor 100, Memorial University’s Living Memorial Commemoration Fund and the Faculty of Education.
“The idea that education was the memorial for the future, that we should now be reaching out to young people and engaging them instead of asking them to come in, that’s a strong image for us,” said Prof. Hawksley.
The project was piloted this year at four schools—the fourth being St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s—with all four preparing to implement it once again in this fall.
The two faculty members were astounded by feedback received, and results achieved during the past year.
“It was a transformative experience for the students and for the teachers.”
One teacher was so thrilled with how students responded to the project she stopped for a quick chat with Prof. Hickey on her way to work, anxious to share her experiences.
“She was amazed at the depth of learning, the depth of students’ emotional responses and how students responded to the material,” said Prof. Hickey. “It was a transformative experience for the students and for the teachers.”