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Chris Dube's Story

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

2022 Grand Prize Winner for Natural Curiosity's National Edward Burtynsky Award for Teaching Excellence in Environmental Education

Chris Dube is an educator at Lake Superior High School in Terrace Bay, ON, who is passionate about creating experiential programming and authentic learning experiences for students. Chris developed a locally-focused yet globally relevant multi-credit Outdoor Environmental Science (OES) program based on the Ontario Curriculum documents Healthy Living and Outdoor Activities and Environmental Science. The OES program consists entirely of hands-on, project-based learning activities employing authentic and alternative assessment methods and Indigenous ways of teaching and learning with four areas of priority: Indigenous Education, Community Development, Mental Health and Well-being, and Experiential Learning.

Around a wooden table, a person with gray hair in a bun and glasses, wearing white beaded earrings, a purple shirt, and a green skirt holds a moccasin and talks to a student. The student is wearing a black sweater with orange lettering and watching the moccasin intently. On the table, there are materials to make moccasins.

Chris' career has been dedicated to facilitating learning through hands-on, experiential, project-based activities with students and the community members. For example, some of Chris' students have been engaged in sustainable trail development of the Casque Isles Hiking Trail. Students and trail volunteers developed a plan to create eleven permanent camp sites along a 53 km linear trail on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Students received a Trillium grant to fund the purchase of bear boxes, fire rings, signage, and the material to build, in school, thunder (poop) boxes. Students then researched a variety of thunder box designs and created a design that would fit the criteria of: good environmentally and for portability (needed to be transported to the camp site location). Students also researched sensitive environmental features of the trail to determine appropriate locations for camp sites. Students learnt about Arctic Alpine Disjunct plants, their locations and sensitivities, and thus, were able to choose campsite locations that suited the success criteria of the club and the co-created environmental priorities.

Another example emerges from a Water Testing and Analysis unit facilitated by Chris. In collaboration with Lakehead University's Department of Environmental Sciences, Chris and a group of students learned about the “Jackfish Area of Concern” and the effects of a local paper mill effluent on their watershed. They borrowed water testing equipment from the university and proceeded to access the multiple streams and rivers in their area that feed into Lake Superior. They then hiked or canoed to each region and collected water samples using a modified version of the “Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol” (OSAP). At this point, students incorporated GPS/GIS technology to mark their location where the sample was taken. The sample was subsequently analyzed using the water testing equipment. Results were referenced against local norms and maps were created from the data points using GIS products that include the water quality data. Students wrote an in-depth lab analyzing the significance of the data collected. Students then made connections between local ecosystem health, industry regulations, governmental environmental regulations, and both GPS/GIS and water testing/analysis technology.

A student with long blond hair in a ponytail and wearing a black raincoat and gray sweatpants and a black backpack stands on the beach. There are rocks along the beach and water can be seen in the background as well as a wooded area. The student is holding a long pipe filled with water. There is another student behind this student facing the water.

Chris shares with us that, coming off of learning from home due to COVID, this year was an enormous success. Students were unbelievably excited to be face-to-face and back to in person learning. For example, during their Community Building and Powwow Revitalization Project this past year at Pays Plat First Nation, students were able to camp together at the Powwow grounds for the first time in two years. Cultural teachings were done in a circle around the fire and face-to-face and in the Madewin. The group ate food together and shared stories: Good Medicine, as Chris shares with us. Students were eager to assemble the new bleachers that they successfully wrote a grant for the past year with Elders and community members. Students were able to paddle the river to cultural sites with Elders and Knowledge Keepers and learn about environmental stewardship, areas of cultural significance, and First Nations relations with the land. Over three days, students also learnt about 94 calls to action, truth and reconciliation, residential schools, and medicines while demonstrating canoe and camping skills and food planning and preparation.

A row of metal bleachers on a field in the sun. The field is covered with long, billowing grass. There is a person in a red jacket and cap leaning against a corner of the bleachers. In the background, there is a forest area and a wooden shelter over the person.

Chris' philosophy surrounding experiential, environmental education is that students and the school should be an integral part of the community: local activism, and authentic project-based learning activities will allow students to develop their critical thinking and global citizenry. The majority of the OES program developed by Chris is spent on the land with First Nations members, local community members, peers, and local business and community organizations to learn beyond the walls of the school. By collaborating with First Nations, local community members, peers, and local business and community organizations, Chris' students are introduced to the complex nature of problem solving, time management, communication, and planning and preparation. These student and the members of the greater community collaboratively develop projects and goals that foster both student learning and community growth and development. This collaborative, student centered, authentic, locally-focused approach to experiential education allows for students to recognize potential areas for their involvement, understand their role and responsibilities in the community, understand their goals for self-development and growth, and actualize projects that have a real impact on their community.

"My philosophy surrounding experiential, environmental education is that students and the school should be an integral part of the community. I believe that local activism, and authentic project-based learning activities will allow students to develop their critical thinking and global citizenry. "

— Chris Dube, Lake Superior High School, SGDSB

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