Building skills

Community Featured

PICTOU LANDING FIRST NATION — Grade five and six students from Pictou Landing First Nation School had the chance to learn new skills and tackle a project most adults can say they have never done during an experiential learning program at the school.

Students, accompanied by two professors from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax and an employee of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, spent three days building rowboats in the school gymnasium.

As part of the child and youth program at MSVU, Dr. Christine McLean and Dr. Shane Theunissen facilitated the program to help the students learn how to make a boat while also paying close attention to the documentation and thoughts of the children during the process.

The program began last Wednesday and finished on Friday afternoon with the launching of the rowboats. On Wednesday, the facilitators showed up with the plans to the boat with pre-cut pieces; they then began showing the kids how to be safe and use the tools they would need for the project.

“I’ve seen a big difference in their confidence,” said teacher Lacey Colombe. She added that the fact the students could take ownership of the project because it was something they are taking on themselves shows in both their reflections and attitudes. “A couple of students are able to thrive in a way they haven’t been able to before.”

Theunissen is an avid sailor and boat builder himself and works under the child and youth program with experiential learning. The project was made possible when he received a grant from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and teamed up with its small craft program. He did the project with another group in the winter as well so he was familiar with how it would be set up.

“For (Theunissen) and myself, we’re hoping to write a book for children about this and the children will be the co-authors,” said McLean about the project. The pair has already been in discussions with Nimbus Publishing in Halifax and are hoping to have the book aim for a similar age group of the children in the project, who will have their journal entries and reflections on the process as part of the book. This is where McLean comes in as her specialty is working with children to document their own learning and experiences.

The students were excited about the project as each of them worked on a part of the boat; they took photos on Ipads to help document the whole thing.

“I felt excited and whenever I went home that day I told my mom I was going to be building a boat,” said student Nicholas Strickland. “I like how each day it gets bigger and bigger until it looks like you could ride it.”

One of the things Strickland was particularly excited about was the fact that now he can show his older brothers, sisters, niece and cousins how to make a boat because he now knows what to do and how to use all the tools.

“Yeah, I like building stuff,” he said. “What I’m mostly excited about is to see if it will float.”


Seth Williams, front, and Dr. Shane Theunissen work on sawing a piece of wood so it will properly fit on the boat built by some students at the Pictou Landing First Nation School. (Brimicombe photo)