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Vol 40  No 1
August 9, 2007


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Education interns learn by nature
with Parks Canada
by Heidi Wicks


Education interns will explore outdoor education as part of the annual Parks Canada Institute.

This year’s Parks Canada Institute for Education Interns in partnership with Memorial University will take place from Sept. 23-29, 2007. Kim Vokey, heritage presentation co-ordinator for the institute (and former classroom teacher), said it is an opportunity to take the week and participate in a completely different kind of experience during an education internship.

“Nature becomes the classroom,” she said. “Outdoor, healthy living initiatives that are emphasized in schools 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 that focus on our 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,” said Ms. Vokey. “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 will do science, language arts, art and social studies, integrating nature, culture and heritage into their curriculum. All park interpreters are well experienced in dealing with a variety of audiences and many are former public school teachers who are former teachers, and recognize the value of creativity, which miraculously extends a child’s attention span tenfold.

Interns leave the experience brimming with hands-on ideas for engaging kids in nature and history.

Also included in the week is reflection and exploration time. Through sights, smells and storytelling, interns will hike 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 will even meet those who first inhabited the area, and get a chance to become fast-friends with Mike the Viking (few children would not revel at the knowledge that their teacher met a real live Viking).

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. Upon arrival, their meals, accommodations, and bus transportation around the area are provided at no additional cost. The accommodations (Memorial’s Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Point) are about four years old, but look like new. Boasting multimedia facilities, a theatre, library, internet access, as well as stick-to-your-ribs food, Ms. Vokey reiterates that participants are “hardly roughing it.”

At the end of the week, interns will be 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.

“This institute is a perfect example of doing whatever we can to continue our education and further our knowledge and understanding of concepts, which is something we’ve been encouraged to do. I think that having experiences like the Parks Canada Institute for Interns on a resume shows potential employers that you are eager to learn and that you go above and beyond what is required.” Ms. Lewis affirms.

Based on Ms. Lewis’ and other past participants’ level of enthusiasm, as well as Ms. Vokey’s previous experience as a teacher, doing extra seminars is necessary when it comes to maintaining and exceeding the level of enthusiasm that is brought into the classroom. When the teacher is enthusiastic, so is the student. Ms. Lewis emphasizes the vivid interest students have in the experience.

“When I was getting ready to leave, I remember telling the kids where I was going and what I was going to be doing there, and they were just fascinated. When I got back, they were bursting to find out about every single little thing I did while I was there. They were captivated.”

The Western Newfoundland and Labrador Field Unit of Parks Canada in partnership with the Department of Education, Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association (NLTA) and the Red Ochre Board also offers an institute for teachers that is held each year in August. This is the first year that two teacher institutes will take place – one focusing on environment science and the other on social studies. The institute also offers two programs a year for teachers, and is a reminder that teaching in the classroom is not the only possibility that goes with a Bachelor of Education - Ms. Vokey is a key example.

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