• New Brunswick teacher

    Gabrielle Rogers and her colleagues piloted a new course at their school to engage students in critical thinking through interdisciplinary projects. (Photo: Gabrielle Rogers)

Gabrielle Rogers isn’t afraid to step out of her teaching comfort zone and took part in a unique, new interdisciplinary program at Riverview High School, in Moncton, N.B. This year, for the first time, all Grade 9 students at Riverview participated in an interdisciplinary morning cohort, where they did science, social studies, French, technology, personal development and career planning, gym, music and art. This course lasted the whole school year.

On the project that kicked off their pilot course

What we really want to do is to try to take something that students are aware that happens every day but that they probably haven't thought about in a lot of depth — to show them that the things we're doing in social studies and science, they happen near them. One of the first projects we did this year was the tidal bore biography. It’s a pretty rare phenomenon. There’s a large river in Moncton where a tidal change happens. When that change happens, the river is emptying out, and then the tide from the Bay of Fundy comes in and changes the direction.

We looked at it through a historical lens using archival photos, showing how the infrastructure changes in the city would have affected the river. There was a causeway built with sluice gates that slowed down the river. Then from an Indigenous lens, we worked on the Mi’kmaq creation story of the river, how the tidal bore came to be. And looking at biology as well, such as the species in the river and how the food webs changed over time, with the introduction of the causeway.

We call it a biography because you're taking the tidal bore as your historic actor and then trying to move back from today throughout its “life”. So if you were the tidal bore, who are the people, plants and animals you're interacting with, and what is that interaction like?

On the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach

I think it makes a much stronger and a more complete vision of what you're looking at. My training is in history and French, so I'm really comfortable looking at things through those lenses. But I don't have a lot of scientific knowledge, so working with other subject specialists, I find that we're able to go into such depths and find connections that even we weren't aware existed.

When we were reading about the Mi’kmaq story for the river, it was really neat having my science colleague there. When they mentioned animals in the story and I said, “I don't think they're in the river anymore,” she said, “I can tell you when they stopped being there.” There have been a lot of biological studies in the Fundy biosphere, so she actually had some really clear timelines of when these major ecological changes happened, which contextualized it even more.

On what students take away from the course

This was our first big project for the year, to give them an idea of what an interdisciplinary project looks like, rather than doing something in science class about ecosystems and something in social studies about the history of the region — to show that these subjects are connected and how they affect each other.

I think that the way the program is set up gives students a lot of freedom in how they look at things and what they choose to go in depth on. It kind of sets them up for some of that autonomous thinking that is really helpful as they go further into high school. I think it's also really helpful for them to see that their subject matter doesn't just exist in school in one classroom.

On getting students to look more closely at local history

We do a New Brunswick Black History Project that I'm really proud of and I think this speaks really well to what my goal is for social studies. I really want students to see that the things that exist in Canada also exist in New Brunswick. I think there's a lot of historical myths here — like everyone knows about Acadians, Loyalists, but there's so much more depth and breadth than most people are aware of.

For our Black History Project, I have some really wonderful images from the provincial archives. Students come in and we talk a little bit about how to investigate a photo, how to find your “who, what, when, where” kind of questions, and to think a lot about perspective. Why was this photo taken? Why would someone spend their time and energy on taking this picture? I let them pick the photos and I give them the archival tag, and then I ask them to build outwards. The final product is imagining that if the photo is in a museum or a gallery, what is the panel next to it contextualizing it.

On why she wanted to get involved with the course

I really liked the idea of doing interdisciplinary work and I was also really interested in the idea of trying to do Grade 9 better and differently, because it's kind of the forgotten grade when you're in high school. I think that it's a year that has a rare amount of flexibility for high school, because it's not a credit year. The course was based around the New Brunswick Portrait of a Learner and Future Ready frameworks, and the idea is to develop critical thinking skills across subject matters.

We co-teach with three teachers, plus music and art specialists. We have a bit of a joke about it, that it's kind of like building the plane and flying it at the same time. In September, I was terrified. I was like, “What did I sign up for? What am I doing?” I think I learned more about myself as a teacher this year than I had in all of my previous years combined. And being in a co-teaching situation where you have no idea what some of the stuff is, it has been really important to just let go and trust my colleagues. I think it's scary to venture outside of your curricular comfort, but it's also really rewarding.