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The Big Idea: How Kids from Brazil and New West bridged distance and culture to learn together…

In an industrialized city like New Westminster, recycled materials like shipping containers can make art that celebrates civic pride.  In low-income areas of countries like Brazil, creative use of recycled materials might often address necessities. Together, students in both countries make links between culture and resilience…

The Big Idea: How Kids from Brazil and New Westminster bridged distance and culture to learn together…

October 4, 2017 – For two years, kids from a school in Brazil were regularly beamed via Skype straight into grade 3 to 5 classes at École Qayqayt Elementary School in New Westminster.

During that time, students from an urban community in New Westminster and students from a Brazilian low-income shanty town or favela in Rio de Janeiro made art together, sang together and learned together.

They nurtured the seeds of their collaboration from the idea of “galimotos” — toy vehicles in Africa that are made out of everything from sticks to corn stalks.

The international project saw learners exploring how found materials, recycled materials, natural resources and even garbage can be used creatively and resourcefully.

As teachers Amy Bothwell and Sonia Maglio explained to school trustees this week, the Qayqayt project started with art  – and expanded  into student learning about environmental responsibility, the role of culture and human resourcefulness, social responsibility and advocacy.

Today, École Qayqayt elementary school’s international “Galimotos” project is being showcased as a leading example of  BIG IDEAS Education on the Vancouver Biennale website. The Biennale is  a non-profit charitable organization that uses public art to spark learning, community engagement, dialogue and social action. To date, Big Ideas has reached over 9,600 K to grade 12 students in some 128 BC schools.

Innovation in Education: a Leading Example…

The Qayqayt collaboration is one that New Westminster Schools trustees recognized this week at their Education Committee meeting as remarkable in the history of the district’s educational experiences.

For teachers Bothwell and Maglio, along with teacher Marie Stevens, the work, commitment and learning was immense  –  and “one of the highlights of our careers.”

They collaborated with the City of New Westminster, the New Westminster Arts Council and professional artists like Amerila Epp as they continually expanded their innovative approach to teaching and learning.

“It was at times exhausting but student engagement and excitement is what makes you do it,” Maglio told the trustees.

As École Qayqayt Principal Karen Catherwood said, the major cross-curricular project incorporated many aspects of BC’s redesigned curriculum even before it began to be implemented last year.

New Westminster Schools Superintendent Pat Duncan provided district support to help match the $1,800 Biennale grant awarded to the project, which he described as a ‘great opportunity.” He emphasized that what most see in the project is just the tip of the iceberg of teacher dedication and organizational support drawing local artists together with students and teachers from far ends of the globe.

Click image or see link to view:  Qayqayt Presentation: Biennale Big Ideas – An Intercurricular exploration

See also: Vancouver Biennale – and – Wow Westminster  – and –  Affonso Varzea: how Do Humans Affect The Environment

A profound learning experience…

The project involved numerous artists helping guide student learning about public art.  Locally, students in New Westminster saw how recycled forty-foot long shipping containers were strung together to form a “W” on the New Westminster Quay, a monument (by a Brazilian guest artist) to the city’s energetic transportation industry and to civic pride. In low-income areas of countries like Brazil, creative use of recycled materials might instead address necessities. In working with their Brazilian friends, Qayqayt students learned to ask: What are the differences between re-purposing materials by choice versus re-purposing materials for necessity?

As the collaboration between learners, teachers, artists and researchers grew, innovative explorations did too, with student learning further guided by such questions  as:


  • How does culture influence resourcefulness and resilience?
  • What impact on the environment might repurposing materials have?
  • How do people living in different areas of the world affect their local environments?


When an outbreak of violence in Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo do Alemao area cut off student connection between Canada and Brazil for several weeks, the incident heightened awareness of the profound differences in children’s experience of safety and of cultural context. It also lead to a chance for students to talk together via Skype.

Trustee Jonina Campbell told the teachers: “I am in awe of one of the most profound examples of a learning experience I’ve ever seen.  It captures exactly what we are trying to do in education, in encouraging global awareness and responsibility. That is how we can bring peace and work together to solve global problems.”

One of the legacies of the project can be seen in the skills Maglio has incorporated in her new role as a district facilitator. As a member of a New Westminster Schools team supporting teachers in the implementation of  BC’s redesigned curriculum, she is this year bringing her insights into innovative and collaborative approaches to teaching and learning.