Teaching the teachers

Farm tour enlightens | Conservation, grazing and stewardship among topics discussed

FILLMORE, Sask. — Field trips are usually for students, but Sask­atchewan teachers recently took one of their own to learn about sustainable development.

Some were surprised to find out how much they didn’t know about how people use the land and re-sources.

Bill Sherven grew up in rural Sask-atchewan and teaches at St. Augustine school in Wilcox.

“I’ve been on the land all my life in southwest Saskatchewan and I never thought about grass like that,” he said after listening to rancher Les Johnston on his Fillmore farm.

Johnston told the teachers about cross fencing and rotational grazing, remote watering and swath grazing. He talked about holistic and organic proponents who imply that the way he ranches is harmful or wrong.

Much of Johnston’s acreage was cropped until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was reseeded to grass. He used the fence line along the ditch to show how grazing is actually better for grass than letting it sit unused.

The Johnston farm also contains native prairie, where the tour participants got a quick lesson in plant identification.

The trip was the first organized in Saskatchewan by the Alberta-based Inside Education, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting teachers and students to the environment and natural resources.

Program manager Kathryn Wagner said the idea is to provide information in these areas, which change so often and so quickly that the curriculum can’t keep up.

The tour also included presentations about the oil and gas sector, carbon capture and storage, water resources, conservation, species at risk and wind power.

A final workshop discussed how teachers could bring the information into their classrooms.

Sherven said he took two concepts away with him: stewardship and sustainability.

“We need to look at our future with our resources and our environment,” he said. “At the same time, you’ve got to have that balance of people being stewards and people making a living.”

He incorporated some of what he learned about water in his first science class after the tour and said he intends to invite farmers to talk to the students about why they do what they do.

Shirley Jones, who teaches in Elrose, said stewardship and sus-tainability stuck out for her, too.

“The biggest thing I came away with was how little I know about my own backyard,” she said.

That is something she intends to change for her students.

Jones said they need to know about the larger world, but they also need to know about Saskatchewan. The type of information she gained from the tour can be added to the existing curriculum and still meet the required outcomes for each grade.

Elrose School hopes to undertake project-based learning next year, and Jones thinks the projects can also include more about Saskatchewan.

Landis teacher Dani Vavra arrived in Saskatchewan four years ago from British Columbia and said she learns about the province from her students every day.

She appreciated the big picture approach that Inside Education took during the tour and professional development sessions.

“I think that’s important to do with our students as well — provide them with all kinds of perspectives so that they can use critical thinking to sort of develop their own picture of our world,” she said.

Vavra said one of the things that stuck with her was the suggestion that teachers ask students what they are for, rather than what they are against.

“That’s a nice way of turning it around and trying to create a sense of stewardship in our students because you’re making it relevant to them,” she said.

Inside Education receives core funding from Alberta government departments, as well as grant money, industry partners and other non-profits such as Ducks Unlimited.

Wagner said they offer eight tours a year as well as programs that range from one to eight days and in-class programs for students.

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