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Determining Historical Significance

-by Jody Pereverzoff, Grade 7 Humanities

Students in grade 7 Humanities are currently completing an assignment called 8 Events Leading to Confederation, adapted from the website

Historical Significance Unit

Inquiry Question: What event is the most significant event in Canada pre-confederation?
This unit opened with a discussion on the difference between ‘the past’ and ‘history’. We examine many events, past and present, using the following criteria:

– The event had deep consequences for many people

– The event affected many people

– The consequences of this event lasted for a long period of time

We evaluated a variety of events including the Vancouver riots, 9/11, Expulsion of the Acadians and more, by creating inquiry questions that would help us to better understanding each event and their impact.

Students were then given 16 events in History to examine using the criteria. Students developed 3 inquiry questions for each event so they could better rate each event and its significance in comparison to other events. After this was complete, the group chose 8 events from the original 16 that they considered most significant based on their research and their ratings.

Next, all 16 events were then put on a timeline, but only the 8 most significant events were represented in image form. The most significant event was largest and the least significant was smallest on their timelines. This visual helped students see not only when these events occurred in comparison to other events, but that some events were occurring simultaneously for extended periods of time. This timeline changed some opinions after visually examining the duration of events in relation to other events in history.

After creating these timelines, students participated in a discussion jigsaw. Each person from their original group was assigned a new group. These new groups discussed the events they thought were most significant, and many individuals were surprised to find that their 8 events did not always match with other students’ choices. Many rich discussions came from this activity as students attempted to change each other’s minds about which events had deep, longer lasting consequences and which events impacted more people. I was impressed with the deep understanding they had acquired while meeting with their original groups. By the end of this discussion, students were to come to a consensus on the 8 most significant events. This proved to be very difficult as many individuals felt strongly about the events they originally chose.

Students then chose an event they would most like to learn more about. They were assigned an event with 2-3 other students who had similar interests. The goal of this next project is to learn about events in more depth and share their knowledge with the class, using the following guiding questions:
  • What was the event, conflict or disagreement?
  • What factors led to this event, conflict or disagreement?
  • What impact did this event and/or conflict have on other events we have studied?
  • What was at stake for all parties involved?
  • How would each of the three major groups (French, British, First Nations) be impacted by this event?
  • Using the criteria for historical significance, explain how this event had a deep and long lasting impact on the future of the country.
  • What if this event had not occurred? What if the results were different?


David Scott said...

The thing that most struck me about the work you are doing here is that rather than positioning students as passive consumers of an already settled and resolved historical narrative, you are helping students grapple with the kinds of decisions historians make in deciding what events are historically significant and therefore should be included in a historical narrative.

The fundamental shift you are making here involves a move from treating history as an informational subject where the students' job is to passively absorb the factual details laid out in a textbook or lecture and reproduce some semblance of this on a test to treating historical inquiry as a discipline where students are introduced to the criteria and processes historians use in their work and must actively decide for themselves what is historically important. I really appreciate the fact that when this is done their is a distinction made between the past-everything that has ever happened over all time and history which is a construction based on decisions about what events to include in recounting that past. Well done!

David Scott

Garry McKinnon said...

What a great question to explore! Before reading your blog I responded with, the war of 1812 because it has been getting a lot of attention lately and we were so close to all being Americans. I am impressed with the approach you took in engaging your students through a series of interconnected learning activities. I like how you used a discussion of some current events to develop your inquiry questions. You demonstrate through your blog the efficacy of using a variety of teaching strategies such as: creating timelines; using a discussion jigsaw for further exploration and engaging your students in a lively dialogue in which they defended their choice and considered other viewpoints. It is interesting how it was difficult to reach a consensus and it was good to use guiding questions to focus the exploration of the question. I am looking forward to reading more blogs about the process and the event the students ultimately selected, although the process in which your students were engaged is more important than the final conclusion. Garry McKinnon

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