Ship to Shore programme connects students with Royal Canadian Navy with project-based learning

Students at Douglasdale School in Calgary have been creating authentic connections with sailors in the Royal Canadian Navy for over two years. Sailors and officers visit the schools, both virtually and in person, and collaborate on projects with the students.

Getting students excited about the navy

Sarah Kessler had an idea.

What if she could bring the navy – the actual Royal Canadian Navy – to her first-grade classroom? Imagine what that would mean to her landlocked students, to bring the navy to life right in front of their eyes.

Her principal at the time, Edie Reichardt, was on board right away.

She said, I don't know if it's going to be a week, a month, or how long this will go. But is it okay for us to take this on? Reichardt remembers. It ended up going way beyond a week, a month, a year. Now we're into our second year with this project.

And the programme is here to stay. Ship to Shore has been a wild success among students, staff, and parents – as well as the sailors that the students engage with. The dynamic, project-based learning it allows has ignited excitement at Douglasdale School where Kessler started the programme.

Projects this class worked on have been largely student led. The first-grade classroom was able to pose questions to the sailors ranging from the basics of life aboard a naval ship to hands-on group projects and epic games of battleship between classes. The first-grade classroom posed questions to the sailors like "what are ranks?" and "how do you achieve them?" They were also able to experience the complex world of knot-tying through student-led discovery to truly experience project-based learning.

You develop resilience, you develop perseverance. You also learn that mistakes no longer become the end of something. It's just the beginning.
- Edie Reichardt,
Principal at Douglasdale School in Calgary

One of the biggest benefits of project-based learning is the ambiguity that students are required to grapple with along their learning journey. Like many real-life career scenarios, project-based learning doesn't always result in clear-cut answers.

Reichardt says that’s where the magic happens.

They're asking questions that don't have one single answer, she said. So they're developing problem-solving skills, they're being more creative in finding solutions, and also recognising that different people may have different solutions, different answers.

Kessler’s class even built a massive cardboard model of the HMCS Calgary to help visualise what they were learning during their calls with sailors.

Kessler says that she’s learning that her classroom isn’t all that different from a naval ship when it comes down to it.

There's organisation. There's morale-building. There's checking in on each other. There are ranks… you empower each other.

Using technology to power active learning

The obvious obstacle to students in Calgary learning about the navy in a meaningful way?

There’s no coast in sight.

But with virtual video conferencing in the SMART display and use of programs like Lumio to support student inquiry, Douglasdale students were able to see and understand their country’s navy.

I think what it's done is it's allowed the learning to really be more authentic in the sense of connecting with experts outside of the four walls of our school building, Reichardt said. It's almost making the world a little bit smaller, much more accessible.

There were challenges along the way for both students and staff when it came to making the connections necessary for this project to work. From difficult hours – some sailors had to wake up in the middle of the night to speak with students – to patchy connections from the middle of the ocean, students had to learn in real time what it looks like to push through obstacles.

You have to be comfortable with not knowing. And I think what it does is it really models lifelong learning for students. It models risk-taking, Reichardt said. But you develop resilience, you develop perseverance.

You also learn that mistakes no longer become the end of something. It's just the beginning.

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