To Inquiry and Beyond! The Power of Place-Based Education

Farah Wadia

“A water what?” was the response I’d get whenever I introduced my grade 8 students to the concept of a watershed. “How can I get my students to engage when they don’t even understand the importance of our water systems?” I thought to myself. Needless to say I found it challenging to teach the Water Systems unit in Science and Technology. I knew that I needed to step it up! I had to find a way to use inquiry in the older grades and have my students connect with this important topic in a more meaningful way.

Starting the Environmental Inquiry Process

In September 2014, I decided that I was going to begin my Water Systems unit by using the inquiry process. I wanted to find out what my students already knew about this topic. Did any of them actually know about watersheds? Did they know that humans are a part of the water system and impact the other parts?

I began my inquiry by asking a general question: “What do you know about water on Earth?” My students came up with a lot of additional questions to which I added my own. Once we had our questions, we were able to focus on and plan around learning about watersheds, the impacts humans, technology and natural disasters have on them, and the effect of water systems on the climate.

Making Waves

“Great,” I thought, “we have the questions to get us started, but how will I get my students outside?” I considered a neighbourhood walk to Milliken Park to explore the water there, but how could I possibly do this on my own with just a limited supply of pH strips and make it meaningful? I decided that I would have to look into booking a stream study, but with whom and where? I hit a bump in the road.

Literally a few days later, my principal, William Parish, shared information with staff during a meeting. He mentioned an organization called EcoSpark and asked if any of us were interested in conducting a stream study through their Changing Currents Program. I was. This was exactly what I had been looking for.

A few days later, I received some material to cover before the trip. I taught my students about Benthic Macro-invertebrates (BMIs), what they looked like, and how we were going to collect and identify them. I won’t lie… my students were disgusted by the bugs they saw and heard about, but I assured them that it would be an amazing experience to learn about these bugs in nature.



teacher sitting with young students in a circle on top of leaves outside

Muskoka is an ideal place for an outdoor classroom.

children working in a garden

Early exposure to soil helps kids understand the source of life as being the natural world – sun, soil, rain, and plants – and to grasp this with all of their five senses, experientially.