Indigenous educator creates program teaching computer science and coding via music 

By Sam Laskaris

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Christine M’Lot has created several projects for various organizations over the years.

For example, she re-wrote the curriculum for a Grade 12 math course from an Indigenous perspective for a Manitoba Institute of Trade and Technology program.

M’Lot also helped produce a video that honours Indigenous ways of knowing and learning to assist teachers while they introduce Indigenous topics in their classrooms. And she created the curriculum for an Indigenous teen dating violence prevention program.

But the 30-year-old Winnipeg-based teacher and curriculum developer is most proud of her latest effort.

M’Lot, whose mother is a member of Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba, spearheaded the creation of Your Voice is Power, which was launched nationally on Wednesday, Feb. 23.

“I would say I’m most proud of this one,” M’Lot said of her newest project. “I grew up listening to hip hop. And I’m interested in computer science. It was a natural fit.”

The program uses Indigenous music to teach computer science and coding skills to students in grades seven to 12.

The program is divided into eight modules. It is estimated most of the modules can be completed in 60 to 90 minutes each.

With the Your Voice is Power program, students will remix music from Indigenous artists Jayli Wolf, Dakota Bear and Samian. They will utilize a free online code editor called EarSketch.

The program will not only be available in English but also in French, Ojibwe and Inuktitut.

“We want to inspire them to use Your Voice in a good way,” M’Lot said of program participants.

The program is an initiative of Amazon Future Engineer Canada, which works to close the opportunity gap for underrepresented students in technology. It is a partnership with the charity TakingITGlobal.

Besides learning the basics of coding in an entertaining manner, the program also engages in talks about First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.

Topics covered include residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.

Teachers or students who wish to take the program themselves can register for free at https://www.yourvoiceispower.ca/

“We want it to reach as many people as possible,” M’Lot said, adding there is no cap on the number of classes or individuals who can take the program.

M’Lot said teachers do not have any set timeline to complete the modules with their classes. And those individuals who register for the program can work at it at their own pace.

M’Lot is currently in her fifth year teaching at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate. She teaches English and Global Issues to students in Grades 9 through Grade 12.

M’Lot also teaches a Truth and Reconciliation course, which is a mandatory class for all Grade 9 students at the school.

A report from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship at Toronto’s Ryerson University shows that only 1.39 per cent of Canada’s technology workforce identifies as First Nations, Metis or Inuit.

“Indigenous people are underrepresented in this field,” M’Lot said. “Hopefully that will change by the next generation.”

She’s hoping Indigenous students not only are motivated to have an interest in technology throughout their high school studies but also in post-secondary careers and then once they join the workforce.

A contest is also being staged in conjunction with the program.

Students are encouraged to submit their remixes for a chance to win one of two $5,000 scholarships.

A $1,000 prize will also be available to a teacher who goes above and beyond in promoting the program.

The Indigenous musicians involved with the program speak highly of it.

“Your Voice is Power is a unique program, working to close gaps in the digital economy for Indigenous people,” Wolf said.

“Introducing youth to coding through music makes learning fun and accessible. It’s also vital that conversations about the true history of Indigenous people in Canada be discussed in classrooms through this program.”

Bear echoed a similar sentiment.

“A program like this one is so timely in ensuring voices and perspectives like mine are heard and reflected on by even more students across Canada,” he said. “I can’t wait to hear what students come up with as they mix their own music and express themselves.”

Samian, the stage name for rapper Samuel Tremblay, who performs in both Algonquian and French, offered his thoughts on the program.

“If our voices are powerful, education is even more powerful,” he said.

 Sam Laskaris  is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the WINDSPEAKER.COM . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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