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Grade 7 Canadian History

Jody Pereverzoff and Chris Dittmann- Grade 7 Humanities

We invited David Scott, a former CSS teacher, to collaborate on a unit to engage students in early Canadian history and provide students an opportunity to wrestle with why we learn history and whether history is important to understand. We asked ourselves what most Canadians think of history in general, and Canadian history specifically. We came upon the government’s Heritage Minister lamenting the fact that Canadians do not know our own history. He went so far as to call this current situation a future threat to Canada as a country. We read this article as a class and students offered their reactions to it:

We then took the question of the importance of learning and knowing Canadian history to our students, brainstormed why Canadian history is important to them and also reasons why it is not. This culminated in each class engaging in a “horseshoe” debate, where students had to take a position on a horseshoe shaped pendulum according to how strongly they either agreed or disagree with the statement, “It is important for Canadian students to learn and understand our country’s history”. Students had the opportunity to change their mind move themselves closer to the middle (undecided) area of the pendulum or towards the more certain yes or no verdicts on the statement. We found our students very engaged in the debate and received many requests to extend the debate or start a new one. The table below describes some of the more prevalent arguments for both the yes and no sides of the statement.

If we understand the past, we can learn to solve current problems and not make the same mistakes
Some events could be important enough to study, while others are not
We as Canadians don’t focus on the negative  (we are supposed to be kind, multicultural people. We want to focus on a positive future
To better understand who we are as Canadians and how we got to where we are

If we didn’t know of others struggles, we might take our rights for granted
How do we decide what events are worth knowing? Who decides what events are important in Canada's history?
People directly impacted may not want to re-live the past

People have learned it and studied it in school but don’t remember anyway so why should we?

History is BORING!

Next, we created a collection of events found in pre-Confederation history (found in General Outcome 7.1 – Toward Confederation of the Alberta Grade 7 Social Studies Curriculum, as well as on We created a sheet of paper for each event, including only the title of the event and a visual depiction of the event. We then instructed students to browse each event, making a list of those events that interested them the most. Students were told that they would be assigned an event with a partner, based on their common interest and compatibility. Students were challenged to find evidence supporting the historical significance of their event. This is when we introduced students to the concept of historical thinking. As a class, we generated criteria to explore the question, “What makes an historical event significant?” We ended up developing 3 criteria which students deemed vital to proving the significance of an historical event. These were:

• The event impacted a large number of people at the time
• The event had a long-term impact/consequence on Canadians
• The event contributed to making Canada unique and connects to other events in Canadian history.
(See for a similar list of criteria)

From here, we told students that they would be participating in a debate with students represent 3 or 4 other pre-Confederation historical events. Their task was to provide evidence for the historical significance of their event as well as prove that other events were less historically significant than their own. The idea for this debate format came from a grade 9 project called “CSS Reads”, developed by our grade 9 teachers in 2012. In this project, students would argue the importance of a specific novel of their choosing, with the goal of their novel being voted “The Ultimate Grade 9 Novel”. Similarly, our goal was to see our students challenge each other and themselves to argue the ultimate historical significance of their event. We found that given the competitive format, students were keen on not only understanding the evidence for the historical significance of their own event, but to also understand the evidence, or lack of, in their opponents’ events.

Ultimately, students provided strong evidence to eliminate events, while supporting the significance of other events in their debate groups. One event from each table was deemed the most significant and each group would become a team in promoting this event's significance in a Common Craft style to share through social media.

Our next blog posting for this assignment will describe the Common Craft assignment, MRU symposium and formative feedback showcase.


Mr. Lonsberry said...

I was fortunate enough to be part of the MRU symposium (I look forward to the next blog post on this and the Common Craft assignment), and so I have seen first-hand the high level of student engagement in this project. What is described above is a wonderful example of strong inquiry-based work. In particular, using the Galileo Educational Network Association's Discipline-based Inquiry Rubric, three areas stand out: Authenticity, academic rigour and elaborated communication. Clearly, students are being asked to assume the role of historian as they investigate significant historical moments in Canadian history and make judgments about why and how they are significant. They are historians studying history not through the lens of a third party observer, but in many of the same ways that actual historians exercise their craft. Students are challenged to think deeply – well beyond a recall of dates and locations. They are asked to collect, evaluate and synthesize information and in so doing they are coming to have an appreciation for history as an ongoing study of our Canadian experience. Lastly, elaborated communication is certainly a strong element of the inquiry. According to the Galileo rubric, the description for this criteria of strong inquiry-base work is: “Students have extended opportunities to support, challenge and respond to each others’ ideas as they negotiate a collective understanding of relevant concepts. Students have opportunities to negotiate the flow of conversation within small and large group discussions.” In designing this project, Jody and Chris you have insisted that students build their knowledge together through a process of investigation, collaboration and negotiation. Clearly, the work you have engaged students in very strongly reflects the kind of teaching and learning that we aspire to at Connect.

Scott Petronech said...

Jody and Chris,

I was extremely impressed with the engagement your students exemplified throughout this project. The buy-in that your classes demonstrated was evident. I appreciated the fact that you were able to connect the content to your student's everyday lives. I am glad to hear that you are going to share the Common Craft aspect of this project in your next post. Their conceptual understanding and real world connections really came through.

Garry McKinnon said...

Jody and Chris,
Through your blog you provide a great description of what is referred to in Inspiring Education as the 3E’s- engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. Other teachers will appreciate the detailed documentation of your teaching strategies for developing, “historical thinking” and actively engaging students in making meaning of early Canadian history and developing an appreciation for its importance. You demonstrate how you have meaningfully and authentically addressed the general and specific curricular learning outcomes and have used a debate format to challenge your students to develop a deep understanding. I am looking forward to your follow-up blogs.

Dawn Imada Chan said...

Jody and Chris,

I read your blog post with great interest. It truly demonstrates the deep learning that can occur when we ask critical and insightful questions. The question of "Who decides what is important in Canadian history?" caught my eye when you described the horseshoe debate. What fun to see that you later had the students in that role in debating the ultimate historical event. With your approach history is fun, relevant, and challenging. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to your upcoming posts.

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