The maple syrup lesson


For elementary school kids who can’t go to elementary school. My first lesson plan for my son. ūüôā


  • internet
  • stove and pot
  • snow
  • wooden or plastic open-top box
  • maple syrup

Where did maple syrup come from? How is it used socially? The lesson uses story, video, talk, heating and chilling to explore change over time, cultural meaning of a product, and change in natural substances – a little history, a little chemistry, a little fun and something to eat.

(1) Where does maple syrup come from?

Talk about trees and leaves. Can you recognize a maple tree? How?

Have you seen pictures of maple leaves? A symbol of Canada, right? Maple must be pretty important if we use it to represent the whole country.

Those trees grow right here in Quebec. Did you know Quebec produces about 75% of the maple syrup in the country? What’s that as a fraction? (3/4)

Do you know people who make maple syrup? There’s a lot around, here in the Eastern Townships. Some of them might be your family or friends. This is a product that touches our lives pretty closely eh?

(2) The origin of maple syrup: an Abenaki story

The first people to live around here were the Abenaki. They still do. If you follow the Masswippi River down to the Saint-Francois River past the Little Forks (what we call Lennoxville now), and keep following the Saint-Francois River almost all the way to the big Saint Lawrence, you get to the biggest Abenaki community, called Odanak. Once we can all go out again, we can visit the museum there, if you like.

Here’s a quick map I made of the watershed:


The Abenaki also were the ones to learn that the sap in maple trees can be made into something that is ab-so-lute-ly DELICIOUS.

Let’s read the story.¬† Glooscap changes maple syrup

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In memoriam George Aditjondro

20161220_204557_resized“Academics are too caught up in comfort and too often afraid,” George Aditjondro told me in Vancouver back in 1997. It’s not a trap he fell into.

Friends are marking the death of George Aditjondro this month. The Indonesian professor and activist taught many people formally and, I imagine, even more people informally. I didn’t study with him, except on a rather makeshift course in Portugal one summer in which he tried to free a group of human rights activists of some of our illusions about Indonesia. But in remembering him this month, I’m recalling some informal lessons.

George Aditjondro taught me that Canada and Indonesia were more enmeshed than I’d imagined on the level of daily life. He grabbed a package of instant noodles and showed how the noodles tied¬†Saskatchewan wheat farmers to Javanese farm labourers through a chain running from the prarie¬†farm, through the Canadian government’s wheat marketing board, to buyers in Indonesia dominated by one of President Suharto’s cronies, to Indonesian labourers needing a quick and cheap snack while they worked the rice fields. The result? Indomie, or Indonoodles, easy to make and cheap to buy, and owned by¬†PT Indofood Sukses Makmur, itself part of the Salim Group controlled by Indonesia’s¬†Liem family, one of the world’s richest families – which got its start when Fujianese migrant Liem Sioe Liong became quartermaster to an Indonesian soldier named Suharto, who in 1965 led a slow coup and plunged Indonesia into three decades of dictatorship.

As George Aditjondro told¬†this story, it was 1997 and we were getting ready to protest the arrival of Suharto in Vancouver for the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit. I thought noodles were just about noodles. In a few minutes, George Aditjondro taught me they were also about¬†global capitalism and how trade linked the everyday to global politics, and farmers across oceans to each other, and economics to human rights. I was just trying to finish off a B.A.¬†and doing a bit of East Timor support work on the side. “Have you read Gramsci?” he asked. It’s not a name I knew. “Antonio Gramsci,” he explained. “Read some Gramsci, and then maybe we can talk about this again one day.”

“George was known as a passionate critic of what he saw as corrupt power,” reads his obituary in the Jakarta Post. “During the Soeharto regime he researched the business empire of the ‘Cendana family’, referring to Soeharto‚Äôs family that resided on Jl. Cendana in Central Jakarta.” Earlier, and the obituary is quieter on this, it meant he spoke up for human rights in East Timor and Papua (then officially called Irian Jaya). That cost him a¬†safe academic postings, though (through the work of some supporters in the academic world) it also brought him a new post in Australia. For me he was an example of solid research connected to his “research subjects,” and of the sort of¬†teaching outside the classroom that’s an all too rare skill.

Two offerings from the files of George Aditjondro’s work: a piece he wrote in the 1980s on Indonesian NGO collaboration with indigenous Papuan communities, and a table laying out the details of Indonesian monopolies in East Timor that he produced in the 1990s.

George Aditjondro, Non-governmental organizations’ collaboration with indigenous communities in Irian Jaya…” (1988)

George Adijondro, Indonesian monopolies in East Timor, TAPOL occasional report 24


Student essays on truth commissions


Bishop’s University students in my course on Memory, Truth and Reconciliation have written one of the textbooks for the next time the course is taught: Memory, Truth and Reconciliation in 16 Countries. They produced some fine essays – worth collecting in book form, and originally published¬†on Wikipedia, thanks to a collaboration with the Wiki Education Foundation.

As with everything on Wikipedia, essays can be read free via the course web page – click to access the dashboard.