“How can we protect all of our water ecosystems?” : Spotlight on St. George & Notre Dame

I (Alice) was lucky enough to virtually meet with Jacqueline Lawlor of St. George School, Michelle O’Toole of Notre Dame High School, and Yolanta Krawiecki, an elementary educational consultant with the OCSB. Both schools are rooted in New Pedagogy Deep Learning (NPDL), which includes play-based innovation, and both have created amazing projects with their students this year as part of the Canadian Playful Schools Network. Jacqueline, Michelle, Yolanta, and I had an in-depth chat about the process behind these projects, some highlights for their students, and a little advice for schools and teachers who want to pursue this kind of innovation.

**Interview answers are as close to the wording of the speaker as possible, but edited for clarity**

As I think you’ve probably heard, the purpose of this interview is to spotlight what you’re most excited about with regards to your CSPN project so far. So, how is the social entrepreneur project going?

I feel like every step of the way there’s been something great to talk about.

Yolanta Krawiecki
OCSB elementary educational consultant

Michelle O’Toole: The kids started with a little independent inquiry into global goals, voted as a class, and life-below-water was the choice. From there we did some charity research, and ultimately chose to work with True North Aid, which is a charity organization that has a bunch of different projects, but one of them is their water project, which builds clean water infrastructure up north and Indigenous communities. The kids started by asking questions, like, “how we how do we use water?” They listed all the ways that we use water… then thought of three products that go with every type of use, and narrowed it down to hoodies for laundry and soap for hygiene.

Our first big challenge was figuring out if we were going to do soap or hoodies. And I was very biased. I wanted them to do soap because I thought it was a stronger link to the clean water initiative. But the kids, in fairness to them, said, “everyone wants merch.” This is what they’re doing on TikTok. So we couldn’t agree, and we couldn’t agree. Then, mine and Jacqueline’s shared business mentor, Steve Georgopoulos, had the idea to gather some of the Grade 11 business mentors and some people from the board to vote, and it was kind of unanimous that we were going to go with soap.

All of this sounds amazing. Is there anything in particular you want to spotlight, any part of the process that was especially interesting, exciting, or important?

What we most want to spotlight in this process, I think, is how many times we had to go back to the drawing board.

Michelle O’Toole
teacher, Notre Dame High School

Michelle: What we most want to spotlight in this process, I think, is how many times we had to go back to the drawing board. For example: we started looking into the ingredients, one of which was lye, which is corrosive, so we ended up buying a powder base. Then, when we met with soap makers and showed them all our plans—the kids had even filled out purchase requisition forms—we found out that fragrance and oils are not natural and are harmful to our water ecosystems. So, back to the drawing board. Anyway, long story short, we are now making and selling 3D printed marine animals out of biodegradable plastic to put inside the unscented soap (with eucalyptus leaves inside, which looks like seaweed in an underwater scene). Even with these there were a lot of back to the drawing boards. Our design partners kept giving us feedback: “that will take 6 hours to print,” “that is far too large,” “that is far too tiny, that’s too sharp, and it would be a choking hazard.” But we sold to some Westborough business for Earth Day, and we have an open house this Friday and we’re trying to sell in our school.

What about you at St. George, Jacqueline? In the playgroup meetings I’ve heard about the Arcade for Change where the kids are running promotion for the arcade and the fundraiser, and then the Clean Water Initiative, how are those things going?

Jacqueline Lawlor: Well, our board uses new pedagogies for deep learning (NPDL). Yolanta, who’s also here, is an educational representative for the OCSB who’s been working on these play projects as part of NPDL. In my class specifically, before I even introduced the whole inquiry of water, we started with the question: what is home? The water conversation actually came about quite organically when we started talking about how a home has all of your basic needs and the kids were like, “Well, a home for any creature would have to have a clean source of water.”

Then we got into how there are many Indigenous communities that don’t have access to this basic need. So, from that empathy piece, we created our big inquiry question… jointly formed between my class, Michelle’s class, and Callum’s class:

How can we protect all of our water ecosystems?
How can we support clean drinking water access in all Canadian communities?

That way, we left it open enough that if one class was really going to take off on the life below water, and another class was going to do marketing, and another water and sanitation, that was cool. Every Wednesday, Callum’s classes, which are grades 5-6, and my classes which are grades 4-5, we get over 100 students together: half in the morning, half in the afternoon.

One Wednesday, Marlene Souliere, an Indigenous water knowledge keeper, taught us about how water has a spirit and how it’s our duty to take care of it, how traditionally it was actually the women’s jobs to take care of water, and how the Ottawa River was used by Indigenous people. We also met with the Ottawa Riverkeeper Education team and they were fantastic!

I had met with Amos Comenius and learned about how during the boil water advisory last year, it cost them $10,000 to fly clean water to their school or the school was going to have to close…

Jacqueline Lawlor
play-ambassador & teacher, St. George School

Julia Ostertagfrom the Ottawa Riverkeeper suggested that we meet with Project Nibi, an organization that is working to bring clean water to Indigenous communities and schools, like Amos.

Yes! That’s something I want to make sure we cover. St. George Elementary School and Amos Comenius Memorial School have one of the more connected “play date” matches in the whole network. Why was that connection important to the project? How did you manage the collaboration?

Jacqueline: Well, because we got to know Alexandra Whiteduck from Project Nibi, and she was teaching us about clean water access and how she grew up without clean water access as a child, the kids really latched onto how that would affect you. At the same time, I had met with Amos Comenius and learned about how during the boil water advisory last year, it cost them $10,000 to fly clean water to their school or the school was going to have to close. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, we want to help you. It would be so great if we could form a partnership.”

Students know the Innovation Room is where they’re going to go and they’re going to do something really exciting!

Jacqueline Lawlor
play-ambassador & teacher, St. George School

Meanwhile, the students were already engaging with inquiry and working hard to get involved with how water is cleaned and made available. Callum and Jacqueline found an old room that wasn’t being used and collaborated with their students to design what they call the Innovation Room. The Innovation Room is now the Wednesday meeting place where students and teachers can work with 3D printers, a blue screen, and other interesting technology. Prior to and during the fundraising for Amos, Grades 4 & 5 built wastewater treatment plants on Minecraft. Staff from the Robert O Pickard Environmental Centre toured their Minecraft designs, and students adjusted their designs to reflect what they learned from the feedback.

How did you integrate the fundraising for Amos Comenius into the overall project?

Jacqueline: My classes came up with the name “Every Last Sip” for our project, both my morning and afternoon classes…that’s a good chunk of students. I asked my two classes to be on the same project because it’s otherwise a bit of a nightmare to try and run two programs at the same time. We voted on everything. If my afternoon class came up with a great idea, we would write it down, then in the morning my morning class would vote or give feedback on that idea. You can see in the sidebar how many names they had come up with, then we researched them to see if they were already being used.

Then they all made logos. A lot of kids drew something by hand and then uploaded it to Canva and then added in some tech components using Canva. Many of them were animated too, which was really cool. We had, I want to say… over 100 logos that we voted from, and we just kept narrowing down, narrowing down, narrowing down, and then came up with our final one. Then we met with Steve Georgopoulos, the business mentor that Michelle mentioned. He helped us make our mission statement, which is here with our final logo.

Our process was a little bit different than the traditional step program where you just make a product and then sell the product because it was Lent—we could really tie this really into the whole school’s project. Every school in the Catholic board during Lent will pick a charity that they’ll donate to and do some sort of fundraising for. This time I thought, “Well, what if the charity this year was a clean water initiative in Canada?” There were a few other schools in the Catholic board who joined us on this initiative.

Just to give you an idea, one team coded an actual video game on Scratch. And then another team made a cardboard arcade game. So yeah, so there’s some really heavily coded games and then there’s these very hands on. It really appeals to two different learning styles or many different learning styles. 

I want to make sure and get you out of here before your hour’s up! Before you go—I know your school was pretty progressive with regards to innovation before the CSPN project? Can you speak to that a little?

Yolanta Krawiecki: Basically, we’re in our second year, I believe, with Platform to Play. So we’ve created our own network called Culture of Play here within the OCSB board. And Jacqueline’s one of our ambassadors. So it’s just sort of bringing the whole concept of playing and how to properly play into classrooms, focused more from a social emotional perspective.

Jacqueline: Cultivating relationships with your colleagues with whom you can comfortably say: I want to learn more about this; I don’t know how to do that; where you can try and fail and try again. Callum and I really believe success of the project is dependent upon both of us being willing to work with all the students. Also, regular scheduling helps us frame what’s next—we’re working on this for a year, so let’s see what we can do! There are so many people out in the community, too, who are willing to work with schools. So, I would say…just don’t shy away from reaching out because that’s been really quite outstanding

Just don’t shy away from reaching out [to the community], because that’s been really quite outstanding for me.

Jacqueline Lawlor
teacher & play-ambassador, St. George School