Empowering First Nations Students with Technology
As a leader in Indigenous education, Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) has taken a great interest in using technology to increase engagement in the classroom and integrate it with traditional teachings and Indigenous culture. As an organization, we believe in not only embedding our curriculum with content relevant to Indigenous heritage and teachings, but driving innovation and propelling our students into the 21st century.
Throughout the past ten years, there has been a huge shift in the direction of technology in education. Through SGEI’s partnership with Fair Chance Learning (FCL), we’ve had the pleasure of providing our students with valuable experiences that get them excited about learning with tech.
Back in 2017, members of SGEI attended a meeting with Microsoft and FCL’s Dustin and Martha to discuss a potential partnership. The technology demonstrated in that meeting was a perfect blend of technological and traditional; Dustin and Martha used the micro:bit and Makey Makey Invention Kit to create an interactive display featuring the Seven Grandfather Teachings, a traditional Anishinaabe teaching that we at Seven Generations Education Institute promote.
SGEI’s First Nations Student Success Program (FNSSP), has been fortunate enough to be able to take this blend of tech and culture and share it with our surrounding First Nations schools in the Treaty Three area.
We believe that technology is very important to our Indigenous students. Involving students in technology helps provide opportunities by connecting them with the rest of the world. Technology helps to strengthen our student’s education and confidence, and helps transition them into mainstream post-secondary, if that’s the route they so choose.
On a regular basis, we can see that new technologies like coding robots, 3D printers and other tools inspire and intrigue our students and give them the ability to be creative and share their language and culture with others in a new and exciting way.
Currently, our Fort Frances campus is undergoing some exciting changes. As our staff moves into our new facility we intend to create a space that fosters innovation and provides students and community members with their very own Makerspace, a collaborative work space used for making, creating and innovating.
To help us achieve this goal, FCL and Microsoft have been invaluable resources for all things tech. From IT department meetings, tips for administrative tasks, and shoulder-to-shoulder learning sessions, to educational conferences like the Minecraft in Education conference in Mississauga and the Code to Learn training in Toronto, Fair Chance Learning has been a huge supporter of SGEI’s journey to technological advancement.
Especially helpful was the FCL-facilitated “Maker” tour we recently attended in Toronto. Select SGEI staff were able to learn what creative tools and exciting technology other city centre Makerspaces were incorporating. We saw some amazing spaces designed for post-secondary institutes, classrooms, science centres, public libraries and school boards throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
We hope that with our new Makerspace, scheduled to be complete in September 2019, SGEI can provide a hub for students and community members; a space that encourages equal opportunity for all. Not only will students be able to explore their own interests, create, innovate, and share with one another, they’ll be able to make by doing. They can participate in workshops or work at their own pace and explore the resources at their fingertips.
We believe that technology can help even the playing field. Our partnership with Fair Chance Learning and Microsoft has provided Seven Generations Education Institute the opportunity to show our First Nations students that there is room for both culture and technology. You can be both traditional and inventive, knowledgeable about your heritage and well-rounded in new technologies.
About the Authors:
Christine Woolsey is an IT Director with Seven Generations Education Institute in Fort Frances, Ontario. She brings 17 years of experience with networking, administration, and integrating technology into education for First Nation students. Christine’s focus is working on First Nation connectivity, and bringing technology into the classrooms for First Nation students to be given equal learning opportunities. Working with a team of SGEI staff, Christine is focusing her efforts on opening their first Makerspace coming September 2019.
Kim Kirk is the Associate Director of Student Success and Program Support Teacher at Seven Generations Education Institute and a mother of four. Kim, along with her First Nation Support Program team, provides literacy, numeracy and retention supports to education staff at five First Nations schools in Treaty Three. Kim is very passionate about using technology to enhance education and intends to lean on that perspective as she works towards her principal’s qualifications.