Imagine you’re a botanist in 1917, carefully picking your way through a shell-pocked First World War battlefield in France while looking for wildflowers and other flora.
It’s one year after the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, and one year before the end of the Great War.
You stop to record your findings in a field notebook, naming the resulting article Flora of the Somme Battlefield.
It’s a true story, one that Faculty of Education professor Fred Hawksley came across while devising an inventive and imaginative way to teach students about Newfoundland’s role in the conflict.
Prof. Hawksley, who’s also a member of the WW100 Commemoration Program advisory committee, was introduced to botanist Arthur William Hill’s Flora article years earlier by author and historian Gary Browne. He says he was intrigued by the striking poignancy of the text, with its focus on the infamous battlefield.
He thought it would make an exciting school project.
“Though it’s an objective exercise he’s engaged in, what plants were located where and so on, the he lapses into a very personal response to what he was seeing.’”
N.L.’s remembrance flower
What really astonished him as he went through the list of flora Arthur William Hill had catalogued was coming across myosotis arvensis. It’s the scientific name for the little blue flower many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know as the forget-me-not, an emblem of remembrance for those from this province who lost their lives in the First World War.
“When I saw that, I knew we that we had a great hook,” said Prof. Hawksley, who teaches drama in education in the Faculty of Education. He then put together a group of interested colleagues to explore what the Great War project could become.
Prof. Alex Hickey, an art educator and sessional instructor, and math professor Dr. Mary Stordy, both from the Faculty of Education, were the first two members. Later they were joined by Dr. Dorothy Vaandering, Dr. John Hoben of Education, and Rob Wells and Ruth Hickey of Distance Education and Learning Technologies (DELTS).
“I really liked Fred’s whole philosophy of education,” said Prof. Hickey, explaining his early involvement in the project. He also has a strong interest in Newfoundland and Labrador history. “What overlays everything is the pedagogical stance of drama-in-education. It really piqued my interest!”
With permission from Kew Botanical Gardens in London, the publisher of Mr. Hill’s article, Prof. Hawksley took the original and created a leather-bound, handwritten field notebook complete with notes, maps and sketches of flowers signed with the author’s initials: A.W.H.
This field notebook is the central resource that sets in motion an active, integrated learning experience and a journey of discovery for elementary and intermediate age students, in which they learn about the province’s involvement in the First World War.
The Great War Project is now being piloted by four schools: two elementary, one junior high and one all-grade school. Students form a botanical science “company” and one day receive a mysterious and weathered field notebook from a client, who has stumbled upon it and wants to know more about its origins and its meaning.
The students, or “company employees,” set about deciphering and analyzing the identity of the notebook to serve their client. All of their tasks draw from various aspects of the regular curriculum.
Professors Hawksley and Hickey were able to complete the project with funding from Heritage Canada, the provincial government’s Honour 100: First World War Commemoration Program, Memorial University’s WW100 Commemoration Program and the Faculty of Education.
“The legacy is the learning. When these students come to Memorial, later in life, they will enter with the knowledge of what it is to be within a living memorial.” — Prof. Alex Hickey
Project partner Memorial University Botanical Garden has worked with teachers and students in each pilot school to create the beginning knowledge and skills, thus stimulating a relationship between students-as-botanists and the field notebook.
“We see this project in the context of the reason Memorial exists,” said Prof. Hickey. “The legacy is the learning. When these students come to Memorial, later in life, they will enter with the knowledge of what it is to be within a living memorial.”