Getting stranded on an island with your students may sound like a teacher’s field trip nightmare, but in St. Lawrence Islands National Park’s program Island Quest, that scenario sets the stage for fun.
Offered by the park in partnership with the Gananoque Boat Line, this hike program takes school groups by boat to Georgina Island in the heart of the Thousand Islands. With the aid of a map, a compass and binoculars they follow the clues set out in a series of riddles to find their tickets back to the mainland.
Paul Bruneau designed the program for Grade 7 and 9 students, linking it to the Ontario Geography curriculum for both grades, as well as the Science and Technology curriculum for Grade 7. While the region’s geology and the interaction of different elements of the landscape are highlighted in the content of the program, Bruneau kept fun foremost in mind when creating Island Quest.
“I wanted the students to spend some time outside, learning and doing something that challenged them, but it had to be packaged in a fun activity,” says Bruneau.
Upon arrival, students are divided into teams and assigned bright bandanas, Survivor-style. They are then given instructions to solve the rhymed riddles using clues hidden on the island. The riddles offer up content on the sensitive Thousand Islands ecosystem represented in St. Lawrence Islands National Park, as well as information on the role of national parks across the country.
Students and teachers have responded to the island challenge with enthusiasm, “The students really enjoyed it. The whole concept of going over in the boat and having to find the clues was very fun for them,” says Maxine Cole, a teacher at the Akwesasne Freedom School of Hogansburg, New York.
Cole says the quest was well-suited to the students’ learning level – challenging but something they could work through with a sense of satisfaction. Also, she notes that this hands-on style of learning got them engaged in a number of ways.
“They were outside, they were physically moving and they had to observe their environment.”
Cole says that out on the island, without other distractions, students had an opportunity to practise an important skill: paying close attention to the world around them.
“The island is like your own little ecosystem or environment,” says Cole. “Out there they could focus on the trees.”
While a number of regional schools have taken part in the program, a large portion of the participants have been visiting from urban centres like Toronto and Montreal. For many of the students it is the first time that they have visited a national park.
“These students are on trips that involve a lot of museum visits and urban settings,” says Kim Robinson, park coordinator for the program. “This stop in the Thousand Islands is a breath of fresh air and a unique experience for them. It’s an excellent mix of physical and mental activity.”
Robinson says that in some cases the park environment is so new to students that it takes a bit of encouragement to get them started, but once they get involved in the competitive nature of the quest they get over any fear of the unknown and focus on helping their team find the answers to the riddles.
Over the course of the 1 ½-hour program, students learn how to identify pitch pine, see the connection between the rugged granite topography of the islands and the plants and animals that live there, and place their own experience in the context of people who have travelled the river corridor in centuries past. Stops along the trail include a search for a far-off message that the students have to decode, compass work that points them in the right direction, and some reflection on what it means to be Canadian.
This year, the park will be offering an additional island program targeted at older students in Grades 9 and 11. The program, 1000 Islands Up Close, takes a hands-on approach to learning about park initiatives including the prescribed fire program, archaeology and turtle research.
By Kim Robinson, St. Lawrence Islands National Park/ Parc national du Canada des Iles-du-Saint-Laurent. Mallorytown ON.
Kim Robinson has worked in interpretation for Parks Canada since 1997. For many years she worked at National Historic Sites in Eastern Ontario -- Fort Wellington, the Rideau Canal and Laurier House -- but she's made the switch to National Parks and is on staff at St. Lawrence Islands National Park. Before joining Parks Canada, Kim spent a few years as a journalist writing for a weekly newspaper, the Winchester Press.
NOTE: For more information about these programs, contact Kim Robinson at St. Lawrence Islands National Park at 613-923-5261 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To book, contact Gananoque Boat Line at 1-888-717-4837.