March 5, 2018 – Fourth-year teacher candidate, Dave Robinson, with the UBC Indigenous Teacher Education Program, and Vancouver School Board Grade 6/7 teacher, Monica Treanor, with Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary School, recently completed a five-month carving project with her class.
Over this period, an 80-centimetre red cedar sculpture was hand-carved and sanded by Mr. Robinson and Mrs. Treanor’s students. The final touch on “Sir Sandford’s Seal,” as the piece came to be called, included an oiling ceremony held on February 22, 2018 at the UBC First Nations Longhouse, which saw each student take a turn brushing it with finishing oil.
Q: How did the project come about and what was the result?
The project began during a practicum visit to Monica Treanor’s classroom at Sir Sandford Elementary, where I gave weekly one-hour lessons on sculpturing. From there, I asked the students if they would like to do a carving project with me, and they said yes. After each lesson, the youth would do a journal entry, which I used to infer the sculpture’s direction and what needed to happen for it to achieve balance. Every week was different with respect to the tools I used, including demonstrations of sculpting, and student participation in the sculpting process.
In the end, we created a piece we call “Sir Sandford’s Seal.” The name comes from the person the school is named after, Sir Sandford Fleming, who proposed worldwide standard time zones, which resulted in better ways to negotiate time. And given that the piece resembles a seal that negotiates its time spent in water or out on the land, the name is a play on the idea that students also negotiate their time spent in school and out in the community.
Q: Did the students have any previous experience with Indigenous people, history, or culture?
The class included one First Nations youth – who by the way made an amazing statement after the ceremony, saying “it was cool to be able to make choices that had an impact, and we could see the changes happen” – but generally, no. The class is very multicultural with students from other parts of the world, and so this was a great experience for them to have.
Q: What did you learn from your experience working with the students?
Aside from learning how to work a sculpting project with 27 students in one room with a one-hour time limit, it was the collective experience of working toward a shared goal to complete a sculpture, and to discover its possibilities.
I learned different things about the students’ cultures. For example, one student shared how his culture makes skin canoes. Each student would share their experience in their journals, and the perspectives were inspiring, different than my own understanding, and this helped me to appreciate the experience of the youth as well as my own.
During this time, Mrs. Treanor provided exceptional guidance, and I learned invaluable classroom management techniques and different teaching strategies from her.
Q: What are Mrs. Treanor’s thoughts on the project?
She provided me the following statement, along with some amazing comments from her students.
“[The following] are just a handful of the testimonials from my class. I must say that reading them brought tears to my eyes. The impact of this project on their young lives will forever be embedded in them to their adult lives. Without Dave’s expertise in sculpting, my class would not have had this amazing experience. I could visibly see the class coming together as they were involved in the design of the sculpture. Dave had a very gentle guiding way of teaching them the art of sculpting. They became proud of what they achieved as a class. This project definitely enhanced their learning about carving and Indigenous ways. But most importantly, what can be done as a cohesive group with expert guidance. Thank you, Dave.”
“The way this piece of wood trunk transformed into this sculpture made me realize that something so simple as that can have the potential to become something so magnificent if you treat it the right way.” – Tri, Gr. 6
“Every Thursday was an experience that was fun and helped me. The making of the sculpture started November 2017. At that time, I only knew the people in my class for two months. Seeing everyone’s ideas all coming together helped me to learn about them. Just by looking at the wood, I see what everyone in the class pointed out. I see the seal, lord, bear, cyclops etc. It is a sculpture that represents our class.” – Ben, Gr. 7
“I had a wonderful time helping create the wooden sculpture. I learned a lot about carving and hope to do more in the near future. It was an experience not too many people could try and it was such a blessing that a whole class was able to help. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and out of everybody in the world, we got picked to do it. From beginning as a chunk of wood and ending as a wonderful masterpiece – it is something that all of us created.” – Keith, Gr. 7
“I’m glad that I had an opportunity to be part of a piece of art. I wish I could do this again. My favorite part during the process was deciding what we should do with the piece. Great thanks to Mr. Robinson for giving us this fun and remarkable experience. Yesterday at the oiling ceremony was lots of fun, too. Especially watching the piece come to life. Very satisfying.” – Jonathan, Gr. 7
“My experience with the sculpture was amazing. At the beginning, it was like a little baby. But every time Mr. Robinson came, we would change something. At first, it was so rough. But now it’s as smooth as silk. When we oiled the sculpture, it was amazing. It’s like a flower growing and unfolding. The oil just transformed it from dead to alive. It was beautiful. I was just speechless. The experience is one of the best things that’s happened to me in my life.” – Leo, Gr. 6
“Yesterday was a great experience because we got to oil a sculpture. Before that we got to help Mr. Robinson design the sculpture and doing this as a class really brought us all together as a class, as a community and also as a family. It’s not like every class gets to do this so I guess we were quite lucky to get to do this.” – Ryan, Gr. 7
“I thought it was cool to try all the different tools and use them as well. It’s not like we can do this everyday. I had so much fun working with Mr. Robinson and the class on this sculpture! If I had another opportunity, I would definitely take it!!!” – Jasleen, Gr. 6
Q: What advice do you have for those who might consider a similar project?
I would advise anyone looking to do a project like this to be prepared, and to remember it’s about the youth having an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives. I would also say that as a teacher or teacher candidate you should realize that it is your responsibility to fulfill each part of the process, and not to start something you don’t have the time or energy to complete. In this case, it was a good experience because the students were allowed to be curious, wonder, predict, and see the results of their choices, perspectives, and actions.
Q: With the project done, what’s next?
I am going to continue to do projects with students during my practicum. And similar to the yellow cedar medicine wheel puzzle I did with the UBC Cedar Aboriginal Science camp, this sculpture will be one of the tools I use to incorporate First Peoples principals of learning into classrooms.