• Kelly Choy, Canadian Geographic Education regional representative

    Kelly Choy is Canadian Geographic Education's newest regional representative. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Canadian Geographic)

Kelly Choy takes school field trips to a whole new level. Choy, who has more than 30 years of teaching experience, currently teaches Experiential Science 11 at Wood Street Centre in Whitehorse. Having lived in the North for more than a decade, Choy is fascinated by the beauty of its geology and works hard to share this passion with his students. He practices interdisciplinary teaching and believes in cementing textbook learning through engaging, practical experiences in the outdoors. Here, he discusses how he incorporates fieldwork into his classroom.

What is experiential science?

The program itself teaches Grade 11 students chemistry, biology, geography, physical education, visual arts and applied skills. The approach is very hands-on and I try to have them do as much physically as possible. The school day is such that there are no school bells in the classroom so I can hit on a topic that might cover two, three, maybe more disciplines. You can cover a lot of ground, very quickly, with this kind of style.

On a day-to-day basis, how do you plan out your lessons?

I have an overview of what’s going to happen, and I typically connect it to where we’re going to be in the next few days and how the bigger picture fits together. We do have the classic classroom situation to some degree, but there’s a lot of flexibility within it. My classroom is my space for only three days a week. At our school, we don’t have any labs available, so we move to Yukon College for the other two days. On Tuesdays, for instance, the whole day is dedicated to biology labs at the college. We use their resources, so my students get a bit of a post-secondary experience.

A big component of my school year is a 23-day trip that I take with my students down to Vancouver Island. We do all our e-learning for scuba certification in our classroom. Then, with the help of Pacific Pro Dive out of Courtney, B.C., my students will do some open dives. Students also get a chance to sail and surf. While half the group is in the water, I’m typically doing other things with the rest. We’ll pull out sea urchins and I’ll have them do sketching, which involves the visual arts component. We’ll talk about their economic use, their biology.

What has really resonated with your students?

I can describe to them how populations change and how to map out populations of organisms, whether it’s bison or sharks, but I know it’s not going to work. When we go to Vancouver Island, I’ll take them out and we'll physically map out a region of intertidal zone. Sometimes it's in the middle of the night, and I'm waking them up, "Alright, get ready to go. Put on your headlamps, we're going down to the water." And sure enough, they're eager and excited.

I give them 10 minutes to capture as many shore crabs as they can, we mark them all and release them. At low tide, 24 hours later, I’ll take them back out again and we’ll recapture as many of the shore crabs as we can. The difference between the numbers of marked versus unmarked crabs they caught 24 hours later goes into a mathematical calculation that determines the shore crab population overall.

It relates back to what we do in the Yukon. You might have seen the National Geographic Channel show Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet. Dr. Oakley will actually come in as a guest speaker and talk to the students. She gets into a helicopter, flies over a region and uses a paintball gun to shoot as many bison as she can. She goes back a week later and, in that same region, counts how many of that population are still there, using the exact same calculation.

The students realize how easy it is to understand a concept when they actually do it.