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Classroom in the woods

Mike the Viking Education interns

By Heidi Wicks

Though its literal meaning is “big, gloomy and dismal,” one cannot help feel enlightened when visiting the Gros Morne region of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This year’s Parks Canada Institute for Education Interns in partnership with Memorial University will inevitably match the enthusiasm of past sessions.

“It is an opportunity to take the week and participate in a completely different kind of experience during your internship,” explained Kim Vokey, heritage presentation co-ordinator for the institute (and former classroom teacher). “Nature becomes the classroom. Outdoor, healthy living initiatives that are emphasized in school curriculum will add value to the work you will do as a teacher.”

The program’s purpose is to foster public understanding and appreciation for National Parks and National Historic Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, through hands-on programs and experiential learning that focuses on this province’s rich natural and cultural history.

“The ability to identify with national parks such as Gros Morne and national historic sites is one that is valuable as a teacher, because it’s vitally important for students to be able to connect with their natural surroundings and appreciate their history,” Ms. Vokey continued. “There is no better way to learn about Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador than through its national parks and beautifully unique landscapes.”

Throughout the week, interns do science, language arts, art and social studies, integrating nature, culture and heritage into their curriculum. All guides and park interpreters are well experienced in dealing with a variety of audiences, and recognize the value of creativity in expanding a child’s attention span.

“Also included in the week is reflection and exploration time,” said Ms. Vokey. “Through sights, smells and storytelling, interns will hike mildly around the landscape, exploring the terrain and learning valuable lessons on the history, geography and culture of how the land came to exist as it is today. They even meet those who first inhabited the area, becoming fast friends with Mike the Viking,” she concluded, noting that few children cease to revel at such a character.

Interns are guaranteed to leave the experience with a brain brimming with ideas of what to do with the kids, and how to incorporate nature and history into the classroom.

The cost of the program is $75, however this is only for the bus ride out. If interns have their own transportation, or wish to carpool, there is no charge. Once they have arrived, their meals, accommodation and bus transportation around the area is provided at no additional cost.

The accommodations (The MUN Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Arm) are just five years old, and boast multimedia facilities, a theatre, library, internet access, as well as stick-to-your-ribs food. Ms. Vokey reiterates that participants are “hardly roughing it.”

“Not the outdoorsy type? That’s ok!” she added. “If there are any dietary requirements, just let us know and we can have that catered to as well.”

At the end of the week, interns are required to submit a lesson plan that integrates their learning experiences from the institute, as well as Parks Canada messages. Former participant Sherry Lewis (who is now turning down job offers on the West coast) insists that this lesson plan is nothing to be concerned about.

“You’re so immersed in what you’re doing while you’re there, and you’re so inspired about all the possibilities and with thinking about how much the kids are going to love all these stories, you won’t be able to wait to get started on the lesson plan.

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