Denise Desjardins: Modern technology meets Cree language and culture

Year: 2018 – Province: Saskatchewan

Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Denise Desjardins

Chief Mistawasis Nêhiyawak School
Box 250
Leask, SK S0J 1X0

School telephone: 306-466-5501
School website:


Subjects and grades taught: All subjects, grades 1 and 2

Denise Desjardins is challenging the status quo for education of First Nations children by immersing her Grade 1 and 2 students in digital literacy. Recognizing that the school is at the heart of the on-reserve community, she also works to address education-related recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in her teaching.

Teaching approach

Knowing that her students' futures will be technology-based, Denise—who is technologically literate and culturally aware herself—engages children in a classroom that is technology-rich, while infusing their Cree language and culture into all aspects of the curriculum.

STEM in the Classroom

  • Uses technology as an active learning experience rather than passive entertainment: when fidget spinners were banned, students developed virtual ones and shared their knowledge with the school
  • Engages students in cross-curricular learning augmented by technology: Grade 1 students research and record the Winaska News, a morning video featuring news stories, the weather forecast, the lunch menu and the intramural schedule, integrating English and Cree vocabulary
  • Emphasizes the civic and cultural benefits of technology: students use Cool Tool to develop confidence and the words they need to stand up to bullies; they improve their English by identifying items in digital images of common First Nations cultural activities
  • Enhances communications between home and school with technology such as Classdojo and Seesaw: students record samples of their reading aloud, for example, for both parents and the teacher to hear, and blog about their learning on a safe platform to which parents have daily access

Outstanding achievements

  • Succeeded in encouraging more consistent attendance in class, with improvements among all students, and one child in particular moving from 47 percent to 90 percent after a year in Denise's class; reading scores have also improved, with many students moving from emergent to grade level
  • Collaborated with Cree language teacher to integrate Cree vocabulary into all areas of the curriculum, developed manipulatives that resonate with First Nations students (such as sticks rather than straws) and is developing a learning app focused on Cree language and culture
  • Mentors educators within the school and with First Nations across the province on implementing technology in classrooms with young learners

Rave reviews

"In Mrs. Desjardins' culture, there is a view that everything is done for a purpose and that everyone has a gift to share with others. Her dedication and passion for teaching is her gift and she is passionate about sharing it in her community. Her approach to teaching is making a difference in the lives of her students and is definitely making a difference in their community."

Member of Tribal Council