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Education students at MHC integrate Indigenous Teachings into the classroom

March 5, 2018

Education Students
(Image) Education students pose at Saamis Tepee in Medicine Hat, Alberta

Third year education students at Medicine Hat College (MHC) have developed over thirty cross - curricular lesson plans for grades K - 12 embedded with Indigenous teachings.

The plans were inspired by As Big as the Sky, As Tall as the Trees, a book filled with illustrations that intertwine Alberta’s landscape and Indigenous culture and encourages teachers, parents and caregivers to promote physical literacy amongst children while exploring our province’s history.

The book, written by Leah Yardley and illustrated by Adam Blacksmith, was provided by the Be Fit for Life (BFFL) Network.

Amy Risk-Richardson, coordinator of wellness for BFFL explains that the publication is the third in a series of “Moving Stories.”

“When we approached the instructors in education about creating physical education plans around the book, they were immediately on board and saw a larger vision for the project. The plans take a holistic approach to teaching the core subjects, while bringing in social and emotional learning, and embedding wellness into the curriculum.”

The classes involved include EDUC 3351 (Aboriginal Cultural Dimensions & Classroom Applications) and EDUC 4105 (Curriculum Instruction in Teaching Physical Education).

With the assistance of Whitney Ogle, Indigenous Student Specialist, four main themes were identified including: Grandfather Rocks, Colours, Water, and Sacred Tree/Tree of Life. The subjects range from Language Arts and English to Math and Science.

For education instructor, Christy Gust, the first step for non-indigenous teachers is to bring authenticity and respectful acknowledgement to lesson planning by connecting with Knowledge Keepers and Elders.

“Developing lesson plans like this is necessary because Indigenous culture is just part of our history and where we are from,” says Gust. “What is great about this particular assignment is its connection not only to the First Nation, Metis and Inuit culture, but also nature. I think as a society we are really growing away from our ties to the earth, so it’s a great way to reintroduce that theme into all subjects.”

As part of the assignment students consulted with Ogle and a local Knowledge Keepers. They participated in the Journey of Reconciliation Conference and took part in a Sharing Circle during classes.

Gust explains that the Sharing Circle is a tradition amongst the Indigenous. It is a great way for her students to build a bond through thought-provoking discussions and by sharing feelings, experiences, and insights from each day. She mentions her students are very engaged and participated open- heartily in the exercises. 

“This class, and the project, really has made an impact on my students. At the end of our final Sharing Circle, no one wanted to leave. There were 33 students, plus me, Whitney and the Knowledge Keeper, and no one wanted to break the circle. We just sat there until one student spoke up and said ‘I can stay, teach us more’. We shared many laughs, tears and stories and learned a lot. All of us grew from this, and that moment was a testament to the whole experience.”

Gust mentions that although the plans are in draft form and not perfect, teachers are welcome to use them as stepping stones to creating their own.

“They are fully-detailed lesson plans. But whether they are used in their entirety, or in parts and pieces is up to the teachers. I am just really excited to share something that has been created with authenticity.”

Gust shared some of the reflections from her students which reiterated the importance of including Canada’s history in the classroom.

One student cited that a sense of self can only exist by learning about our past and incorporating that knowledge into our present perspective. Another indicates that they have been changed by this experience and will strive to authentically integrate the Indigenous culture into their teaching philosophy.

Risk-Richardson mentions that since the project, BFFL has been approached by the Education Undergraduate Society to host a professional development day around physical literacy and integrating Indigenous culture into the classroom. The group hopes to host a session in the spring of 2018.

To download the lesson plans or to learn about physical literacy, visit

For more information on MHC’s education program, visit: