Tag Archives: student voice

Animals in School? Fostering empathy through civic engagement

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A special guest post by Emelie Luciani from Engage Animal Welfare Education – engageanimal.org

The Grade 6 students at Nesbitt School were lining up for their turn to greet Athena and Sofia. Having done this activity many times before, the dogs stood expectantly at our sides with their tails wagging softly. Each student would have a chance to practise politely greeting a dog with both of our canine ambassadors. We discussed the importance of steps such as asking the guardian’s permission and letting the dog choose to come to you as opposed to going into their space.

“This is Athena. She was adopted from an animal shelter,” I said to my group of eager students, introducing the 9-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier at the end of my leash. My colleague stood in the other corner of the classroom with Sofia, a happy-go-lucky Shih Tzu who stood below the knee.

Welcome to one of the workshops offered by ENGAGE: Animal Welfare Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to building empathy among youth. According to Edutopia, empathy builds positive classroom culture, strengthens community and prepares your students to be leaders in their community.engage

  1. Empathy builds positive classroom culture.
  2. Empathy strengthens community.
  3. Empathy prepares your students to be leaders in their community.

IMG_0044Youth are often drawn to animals and there is now a wealth of research linking animal-assisted programs to the successful development of empathy and pro-social behaviour. Through ENGAGE’s interactive programming, students learn how they can improve the lives of animals in their communities – something that is not only good for the animals themselves, but also serves to empower youth and foster civic engagement. Bringing Athena and Sofia into a classroom enables students to learn how to listen, understand, and respect dogs and in so doing, practise the values of compassion, cooperation, and responsibility.
ENGAGE’s humane education programming strives to create links between youth, animal shelters and the general public in order to advance animal welfare in the community at large. At the core of its philosophy is the facilitation of projects in which youth can improve the lives of animals in their communities. One such activity has students writing for an authentic purpose as they craft descriptive adoption profiles for cats waiting to be adopted in local shelters and by animal rescue groups. Written by the students from the perspective of the cat, these profiles are powerful empathy building activities that also benefit shelter cats as they are then used by these organizations to promote adoptions.cat_profile

Educators can foster the development of empathy by finding ways to integrate animal welfare into the curriculum in subjects such as English Language Arts, Science or ERC. The fact that all animals are sentient beings, with experiences and interests of their own, can be continuously communicated to students and students can be given the space to tell their own stories in various media about their relationships with the animals that surround them.


Read more

Developing Empathy in the Classroom

Edutopia: Empathy in the Classroom: Why Should I Care?

The Guardian: Lost for words: How reading can teach children empathy

*A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed the authorship of this piece to Colleen Ovended. The correct author is Emelie Luciani.

Dear Prime Minister: Writing letters for World Environment Day

CC BY-NC Sylwia Bielec

Back in 2002, when I was teaching Secondary Three English Language Arts, then-United States President George W. Bush was trying to pull together a coalition of allies to attack Iraq for (wrongly) suspecting the country of having Weapons of Mass Destruction.

As you can imagine, there was considerable discussion and debate amongst the students as to whether or not Canada should participate in the war. I had finally hit upon a topic that got my students to freely offer their opinions through talking and writing.

After a discussion around what can be done in a democracy to influence the government, the students decided to write individual letters to Prime Minister Jean Chretien offering their personal opinions. Each letter was unique, some students appealed to the heart and some focused on arguments that appealed to logic and the mind.

Whether it was the opportunity to express his or her own voice or the chance to write a letter on an authentic topic, I don’t recall once having to respond to the phrase, “I don’t know what to write”.

The process of composing the letters included:

• thinking through opinions using different brainstorming tools
• reviewing the letter writing genre
• drafting, editing and revising

We sent off the letter (we did not even need a stamp!) and a few weeks later we received a letter back from someone in the Prime Minister’s office and an autographed picture, which the class proudly displayed.

I told you that story because a few days ago I received an email from Cam Cheema who works at the David Suzuki Foundation. He is inviting students in Quebec to write letters to influential politicians, including today’s Prime Minister and Minister of Youth, Justin Trudeau.

David & Cam 2
David Suzuki and Cam Cheema


Cam would like students to send the letters to the Prime Minister’s office on June 5, World Environment Day in an effort to influence the government towards developing an environmental bill of rights.

I don’t want to spend time trying to convince you about the value of a clean environment and healthy planet. I do want to convince you to teach your students to talk about important local and global issues and write persuasive letters to decision makers about topics that are important to them. (Incidentally, other people will happily convince you to care about the environment. You will find a school guide to participating in World Environment Day here.)

Curriculum Connections

I hear the voice the in my head ringing, “how is this connected to the curriculum?”  Beyond the obvious connection to the Broad Area of Learning Environmental Awareness and Consumer Rights and Responsibilities, writing a letter to the Prime Minister has clear connections to the English Language Arts curriculum (and beyond) when we see the purpose of the letter as:

• a persuasive text moving people to act or behave in a certain way
• an argumentative text convincing people of a point of view through a logical sequencing of ideas and/or propositions

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 3.05.01 PM(Progression of Learning p.19-20)

In addition, students engage all three ELA competencies as they discuss the issue at hand, read about it across various media platforms and eventually write their own thoughts on the matter.


LEARN has produced “How-To’s” to support students in writing a letter in English and French.

Check out some activities from the David Suzuki Foundation Blue Dot to spark some discussions with your students about the issues surrounding access to clean and safe water, clean air and a healthy environment.

If you are a teacher interested in talking about the environment let us know!   Maybe you and your class are already doing a great sustainability project.  If so, you should tell Learning for a Sustainable Future.  They are offering a class a $500 award under the LSF Jack Layton Award for Youth Action in Sustainability.


Call to Action

You’ve helped your students write letters to the Prime Minister.  What do you do next?

Send the letters to Cam and someone on his Blue Dot team will hand deliver the letters to the Prime Minister’s office in Montreal or Ottawa.

Cam Cheema
Organisateur Bleu Terre / Blue Dot Organizer
Fondation David Suzuki
La Maison du développement durable
50 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
5e étage — Bureau 540
Montréal (Québec)  H2X 3V4

If you are going to participate – please email Cam to let him know the letters are on the way.  You can contact him at ccheema (at) davidsuzuki.org.  He is a really nice guy, don’t hesitate to ask him, or get your students to ask him any questions you may have.

Educators for the Environment?

Is there a critical mass of educators that want to seriously engage students from across the province in being active citizens on issues related to the environment?

If you want to keep the conversation going and share project ideas, grant opportunities and resources please share your contact information here.


Singing the Grade School Blues

Rob Lutes singing the Blues.

When I was about twelve years old I was flipping through my parent’s record collection and came across B.B. King ‎– Live In Cook County Jail, an album cover faded and textured like prison denim.

From the moment I put the needle to the record I was transported by the sounds of inmates laughing and booing in response to introductions of the prison director and chief justice of the criminal court.   Then comes the introduction of B.B. King who immediately kicks off with “Every day I have the blues”. It was at that moment that I understood how the blues easily communicates loneliness, sadness and hardships of life to an audience.

As B.B. King says “Blues don’t necessarily have to be sung by a person that came from Mississippi as I did, because there are people having problems all over the world”.

There is power in playing blues music to a group of people that seemed to have lots to be blue about. There is power in teaching students how to express their emotions through lyrics and music.

This post is not meant to be a total downer, but rather a chance to introduce Rob Lutes, an accomplished singer songwriter who has been providing a blues songwriting workshops for students in Quebec, across Canada and in Europe. What he does is work with students to learn about the intersections of history and music. The workshop shows how the blues was a vehicle to comment on important societal issues, personal feelings and emotions.

Rob starts his workshops with the story of the blues as rooted in the history of slavery in North America and extending through the African-American experience of racism, segregation and discrimination. Reflecting on the history of music in North America, he quotes the Willie Dixon line “the blues as the roots, the rest is the fruits” crediting the blues as the basis for much of the modern music that we enjoy today.

The second part of the workshop is where the real fun and learning begins. Students engage in writing and performing a blues song in 20 minutes. Rob works with students to brainstorm subjects, vote on a single topic and then facilitates the writing of a collective song using the Delta Blues style following the traditional AAB rhyme scheme. This style and the songwriting portion of the workshop as a whole is successful because “creativity flourishes within constraints”.

Some might say it’s impossible to write a song that fast!  Let me try one real quick.

Writer’s Block Blues

I don’t know what to write

I don’t know what to write

I’m begging please, don’t let it take all night

During my conversation with Rob, he tells me that he is pleasantly surprised to see students typically disengaged throw out lines that get the whole class enthused, building off each other. Encouraging students in this way has potential to provide valuable opportunity for student voice. Opening a space for students to write about issues in society or realities in their community.

Last year Rob brought his workshop to three schools in the Gaspe. Talking about important community realities (or at least the reality of 16 year-olds), the secondary 5 students collectively came up with a song called the “The Lifted Truck Blues”.

Last summer, grade 4 students at Clearpoint Elementary School wrote The Bad Dream Blues as part of the Montreal Folk Festival’s inaugural Artists in the Schools program. You can hear their song here.

The Bad Dream Blues

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

The shadow had eight arms, it was flying on a broom

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

They showed up right away with a big duster

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

It was my Mom saying it’s time to go to school

I got The Bad Dream Blues 

If you are interested in organizing a workshop or talking about education and the blues you can contact Rob at roblutes33@yahoo.ca

Rob Lutes Blues Playlist
Diddie Wa Diddie – Blind Blake
No Love Today– Chris Smither
It’s Tight Like That – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom
Fishin’ Blues – Taj Mahal
Tight Money – Bobby Rush

The Students Have Spoken: Virtual Communities & Changing Learning Styles

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/cc by-sa 2.0

Editor’s note: Happy New Year 2016!

In our second edition of The Students Have Spoken, LEARN turned once again to its online students to get their authentic voice on a few pertinent questions. This time, we asked two questions to a group of secondary IV (Grade 10) students: one about virtual communities and one about their changing learning styles in an online environment. The survey was conducted through the Twitter hashtag, #LQslowchat.

(Note, when the students talk about “BORs”, they are referring to breakout rooms: spaces where smaller groups of students can work together within their virtual classroom. “VT” is short for VoiceThread, another awesome tool for sharing content a la flipped classroom.)

Question #1: How has online learning allowed you to build community with other students around the province?

Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together. McMillan, 1976.

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own. Cesar Chavez

Question #2: Online classes have changed the way you learn. Agree or disagree? Explain!

Three principles from brain research: emotional safety, appropriate challenges, and self constructed meaning suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach to classroom instruction teaching is ineffective for most students and harmful to some. – Tomlinson and Kalbfleisch, 1998

Feeling a sense of community is big in all our students’ lives, connected as they are through social media and collaborative tools. In online classroom settings, the tools to which students have access have helped expand differentiating learning, allowing more students to construct understanding in how they learn best.


LEARN is opening “The Students Have Spoken” to all the classrooms in Quebec. If you have a class that would like an opportunity to have their voice heard by an authentic audience let us know. Contact our editor Sylwia Bielec sbielec@learnquebec.ca

Third Edition Questions – tweet @LEARNQuebec #LEARNstudents

Anyone is welcome to participate!

Q1: What digital tools do you use the most in school? Give examples.

Q2: If you were a teacher, how would you use digital tools in class? Give examples.

The Students Have Spoken: Online Classes vs. Face to Face


studen voice logoThe student’s voice tends to be the voice not heard enough in the classrooms of the world. We at LEARN decided it might be time that students were given a platform to let their voices resound. What better place to start than with the students attending our online classes!

A bit of background: we currently have students from six English school boards across the province, taking online math and science classes with LEARN. Approximately half of them are in Secondary 4 and the other half are in Secondary 5. Some of them are taking a single course and some of them are taking two or three courses. Over 60% of our students are taking their first online class with LEARN this year. The question on everyone’s mind when they hear about our online classes: “Yes, but how does it compare to traditional face to face situations?” We thought it would be interesting to let the students tell us about the differences between classes in a virtual setting and classes where they are face-to-face with their peers and teachers.

We asked our Secondary 5 students to answer two questions about online learning:

1. What are the greatest differences between online learning and F2F learning?

2. What is one thing about online learning that has surprised you?

Thanks, LEARN Secondary 5 students, for giving us an insight into how you view the differences between online and F2F learning! Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post early in 2016, where the Secondary 4 students get their opportunity to be heard.

Want to know more?



GrEau: From School Project to Business Opportunity

Freshly harvested lettuce (Photo provided by GrEau)


One of LEARN’s online students, Benjamin Collier, shares his experience with a school project developed this year by a group of students at Mecatina School in the du Littoral School Board.  We are so proud of Ben’s efforts (along with those of Chloe Anderson, Josh Boland, Brandon Leon, another online student, and teacher Chris Wong) and he was happy to write about their very  successful project which responds to a need in his small isolated community.  Ben wrote this post after harvesting on Friday.


In November, a small group of students, with the support of our science teacher, came together with the purpose to start our own business. Our group’s original goal was simply to enter the Quebec Entrepreneurial Contest 2014, but as the project grew, it started to become about much more than just the contest – and became a true business! After assessing the budget, limited resources and space, we eventually decided we would grow lettuce and herbs locally using a method called hydroponics.

Hydroponics is a different way of growing without soil. Products grown hydroponically are fresh and organic, pesticide free and herbicide free. Using this method, our community could be provided with cheaper, healthier, organic and, most importantly, fresh herbs and vegetables. This process of growing is quick and could be used all year round, even during our harsh winters. Due to Mecatina School being situated in La Tabatière, an isolated village on the Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence River, fresh produce is very hard to acquire. Seeing this as an opportunity for a successful business, we teamed up to profit on the unavailability of fresh herbs and vegetables and to provide a useful service for our community at the same time.

Once the type of business was decided, we made a business plan, sought local support and distributors, constructed the growing units, planted and transplanted, created a logo and marketed our product. Within a couple of months we went from having a small closet filled with science supplies to a room that could produce an enormous amount of fresh foods within a small time period. When the setup finally began to run at full capacity, the harvests became extraordinary: with a 48 square foot growing space, students were able to grow up to 600 plants! Our weekly harvest was about 35 bags of lettuce, 10 bags of basil, 15 bags of chives, and 15 bags of dill. Talk about production!

It’s now the end of May and although we didn’t win the contest we applied for I believe that we received things more important than the prize of the competition: we received knowledge, respect, and recognition. When this project began I knew very little about hydroponics, wiring, and the full setup in general. After we began research and working as a team, I learned many things quickly that will stick with me for life. Not only did I receive new knowledge but also the respect of my friends, family, neighbours, and people across the province.  Whenever anyone hears about our current business they are usually amazed, and commend us on the ability to get such a project up and running.  The respect is probably my favourite aspect at this point. It makes me proud that we as a group were able to achieve so much, and that people are glad we did. The last important thing we received is recognition outside our community. For such a small area, that’s something that’s pretty hard to do. Before GrEau, very few people knew what La Tabatière was and even fewer knew where it was located. Hopefully now with the variety of publicity we were able to achieve, people will know that big things really can come from small packages.

The GrEau Team: Teacher Chris Wong, Josh Boland, Benjamin Collier, Brandon Leon
The GrEau Team: Teacher Chris Wong, Josh Boland, Benjamin Collier, and Brandon Leon (missing from photo: Chloe Anderson)

Overall, I am just truly amazed how far we have come and just how supportive the people are for our business. It really does fill me with pride. Although I’m sure that people can make something much bigger and better with more resources, space, and time, it’s not the sheer size of our project but the effect that it has had on so many people. That effect, in turn, becomes compliments and admiration for us. Personally, no amount of money we could have received means more to me than what people are saying about us and to us, that’s priceless.

By Benjamin Collier


Check out the Greau website here:  http://greau.weebly.com/

Post on the CLC blog