Pedagogical goals/principles: what does kanata mean in a connected world?

  • Students will experience their land in its breadth and depth, interact with colleagues from all regions and many viewpoints, and face the challenges of global citizzenship in a focused Canadian context.

Extensive travel and observation will be grounded by physical activity, daily music and project work, and recorded in journal in consultation with personal mentor. See not on journalling below.

  • Learning will engage culture, physical, entrepreneurial and spiritual parts of the self as well as intellectual ones, factets encouraged in a process that recruits a rare blend of divergent strengths and skillsets.

Selected candidates will show strengths in two of five “multiple intelligences” and passing skills in a third, leading to multi-talented individuals om a multitalended group. See Application for details.

  • Faculty will include community leaders, artists, scholars and business persons of standing to join the Classroom as it passes through their regions, to present in their fields and meet with students aboard.

Writers and author artists will ride the train to tive readings and demonstrations in their locales. Other local leaders and guides may accompany us on ground tours to points of interest.

  • The student body will be a multi-talented community that functions simultaneously in both of Canada’s official languages (bilingualism not prerequisite to participate) and illustrates the richness of our heritage.

Program announcements will be made in French and English and possibly other languages spoken. Simultenous translation will give unilinguals a feeling for meaning in the other tongue.

  • Participants will understand the elements that make up the Canadian character, be able to express this knowledgably and persuasively and exemplify it in interact and leadership for the rest of their lives.

Much Classroom work entails “joining the dots” in constellations. The Canadian Spirit is a continuing focus. Inferred meaning is then applied so knowledge learned becomes knowledge lived.

  • Graduates will help to build a Canadian culture that is more cohesive, embracing diversity and transcending differences, and where members are increasingly welcomed and at home in each other’s communities.

A generation of Classroom grads cross country in key positions will make it harder for reactive politics to spin stereotypes of a “Them.” Unity will be an ongoing state, not because we become the same but because we understand each other better and accept ourselves as part of a larger whole.

The Need for Structure: shaping time and space

Music, movement and meditation – This threesome can be calming even if it’s not quiet. The right music, like regular movement—the voyageurs combined paddling and singing effectively—can set up regular patterns of breathing and cycles in the brain that have us more alert and focused than relaxation or exercise alone. Group music, including some dances, creates space and clears the mind, calms and tones the body, and aids digestion. Classroom … has a resource bank of music for all seasons/occasions.

Sleep – Normally, public lighting is lowered and requiet requested in sleeping car(s) from 10 p.m. through 8 a.m. This allows for the optimal eight hours sleep per night with some flexibility for individual sleep patterns. When where is an important station stop or something to be seen from the dome during this time, quiet hours are adjusted to compensate. Quiet time in the sleeper(s) is also maintained from 12:30 through 2:00 p.m. to allow a siesta for those who need it. A quite time may also be held before supper.

Some people have difficulty sleeping on a moving train. To avoid an accumulating sleep deficit, the itinerary is designed to allow that one night in three will be spent parked in a depot or on a siding.

These are the measures the organizers of Classroom on Rails … undertake to protect participants sleeping time and space over an intensive eight week itinerary. We ask participants to take their part to maintain the integity of their sleeping space by:

  • not entertaining others here so it remains quiet, orderly and private

  • not using visual equipment here except with buds/phones to avoid sound that can disturb others, and not watching videos before sleep

  • not consuming food and drink here (except water) to avoid stimuli that can inhibit sleep and spills that can attract vermin

  • maintaining basic cleanliness and order (service personnel will clean through every 2-3 days)

Assessment & Evaluation – systemic shortcomings

Testing and evaluating student learning is a very inexact science in most educational institutions. The larger the system, the more inexact testing is likely to be, because of the high ratio of students to the lower number of teachers or instructional personnel or assistants doing the testing.

Take multiple choice tests. These are now the norm in public schooling from the end of Grade 3. In upper grades 9 and 12 where term end tests are province wide, multiple choice questions may be balanced by longer answers such full sentences or writing a paragraph or composing an essay. In the earlier years short-answer formats—multiple choice, matching lists, true-and-false or fill-in-the-blank approaches predominate.

What makes these inexact is that all can be negotiated to a greater or less degree by guesswork. Figure out the most likely response, by eliminating the bogus ones, and you’ve passed—if not aced—the paper.

I know a good educator who ran an “intervenion” service in a school district where student achievement was weak. Her first step was to help students figure out and pass tests. She admitted this was different from mastering course content. But with anxious parents and a system that assessed their children not on their knowledge of curriculum content but on test scores, that was where the money and the interest was and where she focused.

A second major challenge of standardized tests is that they’re aimed at the auditory or visual learner with fluency in English or French. This overlooks those whose orientation is kinesthetic or tactile. It ignores those who fail at school yet succeed in the arts, trades, business, athletics and agriculture. It leaves out those whose mother tongue is not an official language.

As a life-long educator, I’ve taken a page to discuss system failings before laying out what Canadian Classroom offers in response. I’ve done this to provide background for those assessing our model who may not be aware of norms and developments in educational testing methods. If Classroom’s approach is to be compared with norms, it should be on the basis of exceeding them, not conforming to them. Norms are not best practices.

Assessment & Evaluation – creative and effective alternatives

A smaller student population and low student/teacher ratio in the Canadian Classroom … context, offers greater possibilities for learning assessment that come from close and ongoing contact. The same characteristics that make for a good learning environment (imparting/exchanging knowledge) also make for good assessment (evaluating what has been learned).


Journalling – written, audio, photographic, drawing/sketching (combination of at least one verbal and one visual medium to be utilized by each student)

  • While there will be provision for private content (journal keeper only), the main body of the journal will be the subject of discussion between student and onboard advisor every 2-3 days, and graded bi-weekly.

  • Grading by the advisor will reflect:

    • acuity of perceptions shown in questions/comments included

    • reflective capacity: ability to stand back from event and ponder

    • development of a coherent and articulate point of view, based on observation with growing maturity and insight over the route

Recitation/recall – Though rote memory has been largely ignored for two generations of schooling, there are areas where it remains a vital skillset:

  • aboriginal folklore, oral history and geneologies

  • human and natural geography including physical landforms (river systems/watersheds, major lakes and islands, First Nations territory)

  • historical: eras of habitation/migration and economy (hunting/fishing →agriculture/forestry→resource extraction) lives and times,

  • political and territorial organization: confederacies, trading areas and spheres of influence (decolonialization,, bases/concentration of power

Using themes drawn from these areas, each student will undertake a recall project (without audio/visual/tactile prompts) of each of the following kinds:

    • recitating, singing or acting material with significant body of biographical, geographic and/or historical data (ballads, scripts)

    • drawing from memory a map of Canada and of one region other than their own showing natural and human generated features

    • narrating solo or interactively a life story of a signifcant Canadian in historic context with contemporary relevance

    • constructing visual (paper, canvas, sand, wood or other fabric) timeline showing an aspect of Canadian development

Each of thse projects will be assessed by a panel of (a) the student’s advisor/mentor, (b) a subject expert, (c) a medium specialist, and two peers nominated by the student body and acceptable to the reviewee.

Other ways of demonstating–and being evaluated on–Knowledge, Comprehension and Mastery of a subject1

  • Written essay, oral discussion/debate, informative/persuasive speech

  • Q & A: “hot seat,” cross examination, “news interview” by staff / peers

  • Visual representation (sculpture, sketch, photos, prints) – assemble an album, collection or portfolio of mater with captions and comments

  • Simulation/acting: solo or duo role play of an individual or situation

  • Conveyeance/instruction – There’s no better way to show you know a subject than of teaching it to others! (practice teaching lesson)

  • Application/inference – Take a concept/principle learned in one field and transpose/express it in a different context to show you’ve “got it!”

  • Précis and summary (condensation) – say or show (demonstrate visually) what you know exactly. and in as few words as possible.

A Day en route

A typical day on the (rail)road is shaped by many fators. There is of course the transport schedule—time running, standing still, in stations, waiting for passing trains. Our running time is a backdrop to lessons on the geography and history over/through which we’re passing on our rolling Classroom … .

Station/port stops may include guided side trips to a historic site or point of interest or an occasion for exercise: biking, jogging, paddling or other movement. If an important site is reached/passed after daylight house, it may still warrant a short stop or side trip. Even after hours on board are still occasions for cultural events and gatherings: firesides without a fire!

Allowing for these factors, a day on the road may look like this. The exact schedule or order of events may vary but a standard day will include meals, rest times, all group and small group instructional sessions, mentorship, culture, recreation and celebration set against the land we’re experiencing.

Attendance at meals and whole group sessions is expected except in case of illness. In individualized program of small group, individual project and mentorship sessions will be set up for/with each student who is responsible to his/her advisor to maintain and report on time and task completion. Self-care—sleep, nutrition, exercise is a third essential program pillar. While this is students’ responsibility (all our students are of age), staff will observe, make inquiries and remind as needs become evident to them. Students are also encouraged to look out for/remind each other as part of a community.

Sample onboard schedule

08:00 breakfast – attendance required in time for

08:30 announcements of program events and activities for the day

09:00 start of 2 hr whole group Concentrated course (description below) on Land and People topics related to region at hand

11:15 hour long whole group session on Patterns of Development

12:30 dinner: main meal, preceded or followed by group singing

13:30 quiet time in sleeping car for siesta, or reading and journalling

14:30 script reading and story telling: may alternate large/small group

15:30 break

16:00 small group project meetings, consultation with staff, mentoring

17:00 supper: light meal followed by Music and Movement

18:00 quiet time in sleeping car before evening program

19:30 Theatre Under the Stars in dome or baggage car theatre – this program will eventually be planned/led by student groups after intro by staff. Staff will review and grade these presentations.

21:00 Mug-up: a Newfoundland term for before-bed hot chocolate. (attendance optional) Quiet and soft lighting in sleeping car.

Concentrated courses/lessons

A concentrated lesson is a single session on a single topic taught at a single place or over a stretch of route approaching/following a destination. It may also be a tour of a point of interest that includes other documentation such as photo-taking, sketches, artifact sampling, or on-site lecture.

Sessions focused on a local or regional theme (e.g., the Métis in Manitoba, the Northwest Rebellion in Saskatchewan,) will be concentrated courses that may run for a few consecutive days on in the region.

  • La grande noirceur (the 15 years preceding Québec’s Révolution Tranquille narrated by a biographer of Maurice Duplessis along a northern Québec branch line where “le chef” had a hunting lodge

Spread courses/themes will be scheduled in smaller doses (1-3 hours per week) over the length of Classroom’s time on the road. … will be visited and revisited at increasing depth over the time of our travelling together.

A theme of aboriginal/indigenous culture … Blackfoot, Cree, Micmac, Iroquois, Nootka, differences from

  • Evolution and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship
  • Canadian Spirit/distinctives/values/character as seen in economic, social and foreign policy in Canadian jurisdictions over 500 years
  • Governance models: evolution from consular to responsible govt

Land and People (LAP)

This two hour daily concentrated course block focuses on the natural and human geography and history of each of our regions in the order we pass through it. Resource personnel will include local aboriginal, business and community leaders, educators and artists who travel with us for a portion of the route or meet and guide us at key sites on the ground. Each region’s presentations will make up a 10-14 hr course module. Assessment will be on the basis of a contracted assignment due the last day of the module.

Patterns of Development (POD)

Views of how Canada has evolved seen through complementary lenses:

  • finding our way: exploration, migration, settlement and trade
  • governance: tribal/communal→national/colonial→federal/global
  • participation in society: individual/family, subject/citizen/taxpayer
  • economy: fishing/hunting→agriculture/forrestry→resource extraction

These and other topics will be the bases of “spread courses” that will be presented in the third hour each morning. Rather than focussing on the regions we’re passing through at the moment, they’ll take threads from along the way and spin them into longitudinal cords to gain an overview of these themes. This will be a pan-Canadian approach that does not attempt to superimpose a “national” template over local distinctives but uses the distinctives to craft a more subtle, nuanced understanding.

In looking at governance models we start with the confederacies of the Blackfoot and Iroquois to see what made them viable. As we move to colonial organization, we’ll look at effective interaction: What did some of the wiser governors learn from those they “ruled”? What principles of governance do First Nations have to teach us? How did the order of arrival—First Nations, French, Spanish and British authorities affect the shape of today’s society? What would we lack if this had been different?

Likewise in the stream of exploration (“finding our way”), we begin simultaneously with seagoing exploreres on both Pacific and Atlantic coasts. We follow the French—in the steps of First Nation guides—inland to form interracial alliance, and the birth of the Métis people. We follow the Scot, Alexander Mackenzie from his “disappointed” foray into the Arctic to his choice of the Parsnip River (based on a dream) to find a route to Bella Coola on the Pacific, “from Canada by land.”

With the Railway following waterways 90 years later, we see the North West Passage was not simply the focus of a generation of seamen. The country that built a passage between Asia and Europe by steel rail and steamship became a passage between nations in a multicultural world. Stan Rogers signature song “Northwest Passage” captures this theme. Completing this course gives students a quick summary of our history.

Music and Movement – Our country is a treasure trove of songs and dances from many areas and points of origin including First Nations. We’ll be joining, practising and learning many of these as we experience our different regions and traditions. We’ll draw on local artists, expertise and interpreters to teach us whenever possible. When we have students and onboard staff experienced in these traditions, we’ use them. Indigenous, English and French speaking singer songwriters from Canada have proven world class. We have a huge resource to draw on in our daily M & M times.

Scripts and Stories (SAS) – There are 100 written scripts on various aspects of Canada, Canadian connections, and the Canadian spirit and values. Some of these have been recorded to classical music backgrounds. There are 12 streams, including the following. See samples in appendix.

  • A Country for” Coming Together, the Crossing, the Finding ((8)
  • A Nation of…”: Artists, Bankers, Craftsmen, Diplomats …(26)
  • Canada is” series: a Global Vision, Cosmic Lingua Mondo (6 in all)
  • Canadians Courageous:” Crowfoot, Louis Riel, Trudeau legacy (3)
  • Canadian Holidays” (9)
  • Canadian Symbols” beaver, maple leaf, motto, Peace Tower (9)
  • Canada’s…” federal character, human rights, Pilgrim mothers (7)
  • I am” series: the Canadian Consciousness, the Canadian Hero (6)
  • Is Canada…?”: immortal, free, divisible, bilingual, a country (6)
  • The Canadian Spirit:” collective, intercultural, boreal, ecological (10)
  • V series: Canadian Values, Valleys, Village, Vision, Voyageur (12)
  • We are” series: Canadians, … in Time/Space, Being & Becoming (6)

These scripts can be read solo or with up to four voices in readers theatre. Each Classroom student will choose and present one of these in a Scripts and Stories session, alone or with other readers.

Staff will provide assistance in choosing and coaching in preparation. No script can be presented for evaluation more than once en route, though some may be repeated on station stops and community visits.

The “stories” half of Scripts and Stories work will draw on indigenous oral storytelling tradition and other streams of Canadian folklore. Each student will be asked to study learn and present two stories: one from his/her own, and one from a trandition or region other than his/her own.

The second will involve consultation with someone within that tradition. Stories may be presented extemporaneously or from rote learning, though aboriginal traditions favour the freedom to extemporize over recitation. Canadian narrative poems may also be chosen/presented.

1 Most of these modes were developed and presented by University of Alberta Education Professor Dr. Sue Lynch in a graduate course on “Observing, Recording and Evaluation.” Dr. Lynch later served as ADM at Alberta Education.