• Marie-Pierre Provencher

    Marie-Pierre Provencher at the top of Ben Nevis, the highest point in the British Isles at 1,344 meters above sea level. (Photo courtesy Marie-Pierre Provencher)

Marie-Pierre Provencher is passionate about the St. Lawrence River and everything water-related. Provencher’s Grade 6 students at École de Normandie in Longueuil, Que. have become water experts, and she has helped her entire school become water literate through a range of activities, from learning about local waterways to bigger water issues like the shifting migratory routes of North Atlantic right whales.

On the value of experiencing the St. Lawrence firsthand

The river is just few steps away from our school, where we can also see downtown Montreal. By taking the time to observe the St. Lawrence through the seasons — its icy shores, the bridges, the ships and the environment — the students get to connect with this iconic Canadian river, which is the heart and lifeline of La Belle Province. Our proximity to this body of water allows students to think about the geography of the Montreal area from an ecological point of view. We study the river and develop projects to communicate the importance of water. Experiencing the St. Lawrence firsthand makes water issues relatable for students who come from a heavily urbanized area.

On researching and communicating water issues

My class is sharing their experiences and discoveries with the entire school and beyond. To celebrate World Water Day, we made three video documentaries about water, tailored to different audiences and age groups. The first video, produced for younger students, explains the water cycle in a simple way. A droplet of water is the main character of the story, bringing us from the ocean to the clouds and back. The second video explains more complex geographical concepts such as watersheds, lakes, freshwater, and water use in Canada. A third video discusses the importance of water consumption patterns and water quality around the world. By educating our fellow students about water consumption, we can take steps to decrease it in order to safeguard our blue gold.

When we were coming up with ideas for the videos, we decided that we could not present the same information at all grade levels. As a result, three teams were formed, and for each team a leader was chosen. Ten days later, the students went around the school to present the results of their work. We did this activity as part of the Canadian Water Challenge. By having students communicate their research, we empower them. We also teach them to become agents of change for environmental issues facing their region and the world.

On bringing arts and science into the classroom

My students often participate in contests where writing and drawing skills are used to communicate scientific ideas. For example, we participated in the drawing contest "My Inspiring River" organized by the Monique-Fitz-Back Foundation. One of our students, Koralie Thérien, won a prize for capturing the St. Lawrence’s natural beauty. A recent article on our website is all about the two teams from our class who won a Marie-Victorin School Board contest by writing about volcanoes and the growth and movement of plant life. By bringing arts and science into the classroom, we aim to inspire students to play a role in the sustainable future of our river. Next year, our students will be taking part in a cultural project supported by the City of Longueuil to organize art and poetry workshops about the sea and we plan to work together to create an art mural.

On engaging students to create positive change

I created a website focusing on the St. Lawrence River, providing different information and resources about biodiversity, water-related vocabulary, maps and questionnaires. By giving students the tools to build their own projects, we create a sense of ownership and power. They are rewarded by a feeling of achievement. They see that their work matters, that they can communicate about important conservation issues in an efficient way. This way, they can change practices and solve problems related to our waters. The St. Lawrence is an important waterway facing multiple pressures from urbanization and industrialization. It is wonderful to see these young students studying the river. By developing their leadership skills, they feel more and more responsible for the future of our river.