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Edward Burtynsky Award: 2021 Winners

Profile picture of Matt Arsenault, Burtynsky Grand Prize Winner.

Grand Prize Winner

Matt Arsenault

Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, 

Nova Scotia

Matt Arsenault teaches grade 7 science, math, and health at Redcliff Middle School. His environmental focus is on Nova Scotia, a province which occupies only a small fraction of time in the ongoing history of Mi’kma’ki, the land that has made life and learning possible in the unceced territory of the Mi’kmaw people since time immemorial. He is grateful for the relationships that fill environmental learning with action, hope, and inquiry. He would like to acknowledge that without the Mi’kmaw language, which is shaped-by-and-is-sacred-to the land of Mi’kma’ki and the people whom are Indigenous to it, his students and colleagues would not be able to explore Netukulimk by engaging in Etuaptmumk, and most importantly there is no environmental education without M’sit No’kmaq (All my relations).

Runners Up

Carmela Marshall, Burtynsky Runner

Carmela Marshall

Toronto District School Board, ON

Carmela has been teaching Outdoor Education with Hillside Outdoor Education School for 20 years. Hillside is hosted on Indigenous Lands in the beautiful and wild Rouge Urban National Park. Hillside is part of The Toronto Outdoor Education Schools (TOES) with the Toronto District School Board.


Carmela sees different classes every day, mainly from Kindergarten to Grade 8, usually averaging approximately 4000 students a year. While the forests, wetlands, and waters of the Rouge Park have always been the main spaces for learning and adventure for Carmela and her classes, this past year has brought her out to schools where she facilitated outdoor inquiry learning in the students’ own local greenspaces.


Carmela sees her work of teaching and learning on the land as a privilege and tremendous responsibility. Making connections are always the priority of the day; connections to the land, to the learning, and to one another. Providing opportunities for students to discover how we fit into life’s natural wild systems is always front and centre for Carmela.


Carmela is fortunate to work alongside very dedicated, experienced and exceptional colleagues in TOES who share the same passions. Together, they dedicate themselves to teach and learn in a way that honours the land and recognizes the strengths and diverse lived experiences of the students with whom they connect.


It is essential, for Carmela, to ensure that finding joy on the land and sharing it with one another are woven into all aspects of the day. She believes that adventure, discovery and learning in the outdoors provides valuable opportunities for students to find their voice. She also believes that outdoor education learning journeys help students to develop the ability and desire to become powerful, informed voices for the natural world. It is her honour and privilege to be a part of those many journeys.

Amanda (right) & Lana (left), Burtynsky

Amanda Paakkunainen
and Lana Desjardins

Superior-Greenstone District School Board, ON

Amanda (right) and Lana (left) are the Kindergarten team at George O’Neill Public School in Nipigon Ontario and work collaboratively to bring inquiry-based learning to their students. Amanda is an elementary teacher and Lana is an ECE. Both Ladies work and live in the Nipigon area and enjoy their time living on the shores of Lake Superior. Together they have founded their Kindergarten program on the basis of helping their students learn, play and grow holistically on the lands that surround their school. Engaging in environmental inquiry they have made the outdoor areas extensions of their classrooms in hopes that a land based pedagogy will foster a life-long love for the land. On their many adventures to “the magical trail”, the students have built a land acknowledgment that honors the first nation peoples and its counterparts that inhabit the traditional territories (the Robinson Superior Treaty Area). This has helped frame their work as the children learn to care for, love and respect the lands that they learn and reside on. 


This year they have engaged in a year-long inquiry around the Aninshinabe moon phases, focusing on the cyclical changes in nature. The students are given the opportunity to work through authentic problems that they find as they explore a variety of outdoor spaces and build key competencies such as making good observations and inferences. Having the students lead the way, the class explored the ideas of giving back to nature in various ways, studying prints in the snow, exploring medicines that grow along the trails as well as traditional harvesting and giving thanks. 


Upon returning to the classroom students worked on various critical challenges in which the learning was always returned to the trails where it originated. During the freezing moon students were challenged to design bird feeders to specs in order to give back to the animals during this fast. They tested various materials, planned their designs and built their feeders to completion. Other groups of students worked to make the best bird food, researching and adapting the recipes to fit what they knew about the birds in the areas. Amanda and Lana have a deep rooted belief in embedding intentionally planned questions in order to elicit experiential learning skills and assess learners in a more fulsome way. 


The class documentation of their year-long journey is depicted on a learning wall framed by the medicine wheel. In the center they have our opening statement which was written together with the children that states “Before we learn and play on the land let us not forget”. Students chose the documentation to be shared and learned about each concept before placing. This land acknowledgement helped ground their work and helped students reflect on what was important to them. It was their way to honor all that the world has given to them and ground their work the student artifacts and documentation.

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