Elephant Thoughts ups Shawanosowe School’s science game

Maya the corn snake was a big hit with the Shawanosowe School Kindergarten crew during the Elephant Thoughts science camp. The primary and junior school teachers of Elephant Thoughts, like Maya’s handler Eric Koopman, are dedicated to making science fun and interesting for children like Cubby. Photo by Michael Erskine

BIRCH ISLAND—Chief Shining Turtle smiles nervously as Elephant Thoughts’ science teacher Eric Koopman gently draped Maya the corn snake across his hands during a science demonstration in the Shawanosowe School Kindergarten classroom.

“I’m not very comfortable with this,” confides the chief softly. Mr. Koopman explains that hanging out with Maya under controlled situations helps many people who have a reticence about being in close proximity to snakes.

Chief Shining Turtle had a great example provided to him in the person of a young man whose name tag identified him as Cubby. Maya the corn snake and Cubby spent some quality time getting to know each other just prior to Chief Shining Turtle.

Mr. Koopman and his compatriot Charmine Royal are primary and junior school teachers with the Elephant Thoughts science program. Ms. Royal explains that Elephant Thoughts is a unique Canadian charity founded in 2002 by a group of teachers, principals and other professional educators with a common vision. “We believe that education is the key to prosperity,” she said. “So our mandate is simple: to provide the tools to enable sustainable and high standards of education anywhere, regardless of socio-economic or geographical barriers.”

The program has enjoyed tremendous success winning the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Donner Canadian Foundation Awards for Excellence in Delivery of Social Services; Excellence in Delivery of Education and winner of the Inspiring Approaches to First Nations, Metis and Inuit Learning.

Much of the program being delivered by the Elephant Thoughts crew was centred on electricity, what it is and how it works.

“We were asked to put this program on by the community because of electric bills,” said Chief Shining Turtle. He credited Georgina Recollet and Kim Magwanabe with spearheading the drive to bring the program into the schools. “We wrestled with the question of how do we understand electricity bills,” said the chief. “This is one way to help the community understand.”

Like many other communities across the province, Whitefish River First Nation members have been hit hard by escalating hydro bills and errors.

“We have a lot of elders in our community who have been getting double bills and bills for a lot more than makes any sense,” noted the chief. “Those that come forward and reach out to the band office for assistance we can help deal with the issue. But what about the people who just pay the bill when it comes in without questioning it?”

The Elephant Thoughts crew might seem a long way away from such issues, but Chief Shining Turtle noted that while building the basic understanding and education on science and electricity from the primary grades up may not solve the current issue, building that knowledge and foundation ensures that future generations will be less mystified or willing to just accept what that piece of paper in the mail claims.

As for Maya the corn snake, Mr. Koopman explains that she makes a great ambassador for the reptile world. “They are very docile and gentle,” he said. With snakes as with electricity and science, knowledge is power.

Michael Erskine