History in the Making – Creating Digital History Techbooks

So, I have to say I have had lots of fun this fall.

Out of nowhere, I was offered a chance to teach a history teaching methods course at the University of Ottawa. For ten weeks I got to talk about one of the things I really love – the study of history. It has been many many years since I actually taught history and fortunately, the methodology for the teaching of history has changed dramatically since I taught the subject.

The last assignment we worked on was called History in the Making. I had this idea that it would be really cool for students to develop a digital textbook along the lines of what Discovery Education has created for math, science and social studies.

I have done lots of work on Discovery Education’s Science Techbook and I know it is an amazing learning tool. While there is a social studies techbook, it doesn’t have the features of the science version and there is no Canadian version.

The digital techbooks are incredibly versatile learning tools, but I don’t really know any good examples outside of the Discovery Education material. So, why not create our own?

We just did a gallery walk of the completed Canadian History techbooks and I have to say they were amazing. We ran out of time in the ten weeks to present the techbooks individually, so one of the students had the brilliant idea of doing them all in one day in the form of a gallery walk.

the basic idea

I really believe that this is the future of educational publishing (in my humble opinion!). As more and better technology becomes standard in the classroom, we will begin to see the value in having excellent, properly curated digital resources to support students and teachers.

The key word here is curated resources. It is simply not good enough to expect educators to Google topics for the classroom without making sure the chosen sources are reliable and accurate. Teachers don’t have the time to do this themselves, but relying on a standard textbook is (again), in my opinion too limiting. Even in a field like history, perspectives and viewpoints change on a regular basis. What was significant a few years ago may not be relevant today.

Screenshot of one of the digital techbook assignments – Canada and the Cold War

I think that new teachers will be faced with a different reality from teachers in the past. As we move away from reliance on textbooks, teachers will have to become their own publishers. They will need to put together their own collections of documentary evidence, essential questions and credible sources to engage and inform their students. With so much material out there this will become a formidable challenge.

The selection of topics chosen by the class is a response to this challenge. There is an amazing and incredibly relevant techbook on the Oka Crisis. There is another one – Women and the War Effort that ties Historical Thinking Concepts – a relatively new idea – to curriculum focusing on the contribution of women to the war. There is so much more!

All of the techbooks have links to curriculum and many have additional resources for teachers. This is important. If we are going to create excellent curated resources for teachers, we need to make sure they are linked to relevant curriculum. If we don’t, no one will see them as credible. We also have to make sure the resources include ideas for interactive activities and opportunities for students to create their own content.

Cover page – Women and the War digital techbook

So, all to say, our last class was an exciting one. Students presented to other students what they had created and then the techbooks were shared with me. I have spent the last few days reading through them and I really think that this is important work that needs to be shared out and developed.

students presenting during our gallery walk

I have created a Google Doc here that contains a summary of all the history techbooks that have been shared with me. The class has editing privileges so that they can go in and add to my summary. The reality is they probably won’t be doing much of this in the next few weeks as they are all back in the classroom until Christmas.

However – they have done some great creative work that needs to be shared. This work deserves an audience and I hope people, especially history teachers will take a look and give us all some helpful advice on where to go with this project.

Thanks to all the students in PED 3183. It was great learning with all of you. Here is me hoping that many will benefit from all of your creations! I leave you with one last activity from the Oka Crisis techbook.

Take a moment to consider the image (above) and consider the following:

  • What do you notice about this image?
  • What questions do you have about this image?

Jot down your answers individually, then pair up with a classmate to share your ideas.

Activity: Engaging with Primary Sources Padlet

Click anywhere on the image (Padlet link) below to type your thoughts and ideas regarding the iconic image above. Your response will appear pending approval.

Made with Padlet

A Day at the Museum

Last Friday we tried something a little different. I am teaching a class in History teaching methodology at the University of Ottawa and Heather Swail continues to teach her grade 7 students at Vincent Massey Public School. On Friday, we brought them together at the Museum of History in Gatineau.

This was a great day. It allowed us to do something unique, bring a group of second-year education students together with grade 7 students on a full-day field trip.

VM and PED 3183

Any chance we have to bring teacher candidates into contact with students in school is a really good thing. While every Friday I have my students for three hours to teach and discuss how to do history, the real learning continues to be in front of students wherever we can come into contact with them.

Heather and I thought this would be a good experience. Bring the two classes together on a field trip to see how they would interact and see what they would notice. Next week, when I see my students for the last time, we will debrief the experience to see what they experienced.

I think they saw lots. It is really interesting to watch an intermediate teacher take a class to the museum. Most if not all of these students had not been to the museum before. Even though the museum is only 20 minutes away by bus, these students do not get the opportunity to do things like this. Some of the students are so new to the country that the experience of taking an escalator is a novel and challenging task.

One of the most interesting moments occurred when we all gathered around the iconic sculpture by Bill Reid, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. I had been asked to talk about the significance of the sculpture, but instead, I turned this over to the teacher candidates to stand in front of the grade 7s to talk about the piece.

This was a really interesting moment. Five students came forward, a little hesitant at first, to talk about the meaning and significance of the work. The grade 7s learned something and the teacher candidates got another all-important opportunity to interact with intermediate students on their learning journey.

Grade 7 student working on an interactive exhibit at the museum

I think it is really important for teacher candidates to see and absorb as many different teaching situations in their two years as possible. They don’t always have to be doing something. Simply taking in the atmosphere of a student field trip and watching the teacher responsible is certainly enough.

Because Heather’s students had never been to the museum and probably, more importantly, are bombarded with media messages all day long, Heather actually gave them a fair amount of time simply to look around and draw what they were seeing.

A VM student drawing sections of a First Nations exhibit

Teacher candidates all got a copy of the assignment and were encouraged to ask VM students what they were recording. Almost all the grade 7 students wrote or drew something from the History Hall. Here is a copy of Heather’s assignment:




R7A MUSEUM OF HISTORYCURIOUSITY HUNTNOVEMBER 22, 2019
NAME:___________________





CANADIAN HISTORY HALL
Describe three exhibits you found interesting or were surprised by in the History Hall and why:
Page 2 GRAND HALL AND FIRST PEOPLES OF THE PACIFIC                NORTHWESTSketch or describe one of the totem poles you see.



Explain, with detail, one of the artifacts you learned about in the exhibit.














Page 3 MORNING STAR by Alex JanvierLook up at the work of art painted in the dome, 27 metres above your head..yellow (a vibrant society and European contact) blue (European contact and conflict) red (awareness of the harms)white (reconciliation). Describe what you see:


A great day of learning. Teaching is a very complex art. So much can be learned by listening and sharing and experiencing. It is not all theories and approaches to practice. We learn the most by being aware and present to what is happening at the moment. Thanks everyone for a great day!

Walking in a New Way – the Ottawa Indigenous Walk

Yesterday I walked through an Ottawa that is now new to me.

As part of our Urban Communities Cohort experience at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, our group of first-year teacher candidates took part in one of the Ottawa Indigenous walks that are available throughout the city.

Ours took place around City Hall, the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument and Confederation Park. The tour was 90 minutes long and our group was led by Jennifer David (Chapleau Cree First Nation), a journalist and consultant who has an incredible depth of knowledge and a gift for story-telling.

It is amazing how a tour like this can take you through familiar places and at the same time open ones’ eyes to new perspectives.

Some snapshots – A memorial to the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. Indigenous peoples fought in this war and made significant contributions to the British side. Their hope was that a separate homeland would be carved out for them after the war. Considering the important role they played in the war’s outcome, this was a reasonable expectation.

Instead, no land was granted and they only received what they already had before the war.

A Hundred Years Peace by artist Amedee Forestier, 1914 – although
First Nations played a key role in the War of 1812, they are missing from
this portrait of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent

Another stop – we finished our tour at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument. Here a reading that we did by Cynthia Chambers entitled “Where do I belong?” Canadian Curriculum as Passport Home resonated. In this article, Chambers writes a personal story about her journey to figure out her own Canadian identity. Her story intersects with the struggle of Canadian Indigenous People to establish their own narrative.

As we looked at the monument, I recalled a passage where she quotes George Erasmus on enfranchisement and the Indian Act. Looking at the war memorial, I was struck by the fact that the act of joining the Canadian military once resulted in people losing their status under the Indian Act:

When the option of enfranchisement, trading
Indian status for voting rights, failed to attract
individuals, more coercive measures were enacted,
enfranchising Indians if they lived away from their
reserves, joined the military, obtained higher
education, or, in the case of women, if they married a
non-Indian.

“Where do I belong?”
Canadian Curriculum as Passport Home
JAAACS: Journal of American Association for Advancement of Curriculum Studies

“To Aboriginal War Veterans in Canada and to those that have Fallen
This monument is raised in sacred and everlasting honour of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations.”
– inscription on National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

When you really start to think what it is like to teach in a Canadian school, experiences like the Indigenous Walk and the article by Chambers really are foundational. Chambers wrote this article in 2006 and already things have changed a great deal in this country. A walk of 90 minutes really does alter ones’ perspective on how we approach teaching in a Canadian context.

Walking, listening, reading, talking can change the way you look at the world. Learning can change behaviour, can begin to right wrongs that go back centuries. As we work with a new generation of teachers, it is so important that we take the necessary time to orient ourselves to an approach that focuses on justice and a new world view.

We walk and we learn. We begin to ask ourselves new questions. Where do I belong may take a lifetime to answer. For Chambers, this is a question that remains unresolved; it is a question that is a part of our character. It is a question that informs what we are doing as educators.

The Algonquin land claim
The largest land claim being negotiated in Ontario. If successful, it will be the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty.
The claim covers a territory of 36,000 square kilometres in eastern Ontario that is populated by more than 1.2 million people.
If successful, the negotiations will produce the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty.
The Algonquins of Ontario assert that they have Aboriginal rights and title that have never been extinguished, and have continuing ownership of the Ontario portions of the Ottawa and Mattawa River watersheds and their natural resources.

When your plan is no longer the plan

What are the dragons we need to address every day in our classes?

Sometimes the irritating thing about learning is that learning is tough and somewhat uncomfortable.

I am continuing my learning journey by teaching an Intermediate History course to second-year students at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. It is a new experience for me. Although I have done lots of PD with adults, it is different when you are teaching a class at a faculty of education. It is a new challenge.

Life needs to be all about challenges. That is how we learn and grow. Just because I am now retired doesn’t mean I can’t grow! Not for a minute do I believe that!

On Friday I was looking forward to my third class with my second-year students. I had spent hours (many hours) of developing a lesson on Historical Significance, one of the six concepts of Historical Thinking. I am really excited about these concepts, it gives a framework for the study of history that didn’t exist when I taught the subject.

Historical Thinking concepts

After some presentations and a group work session, I was ready to launch into my slides, full of activities and material that I hoped would convey why this concept was important to the study and teaching of history.

This is where the plan moved in a direction I hadn’t expected.

One of the students in the class had a legitimate concern about something that had gone on in the previous class. It related to a much wider concern about how we are approaching the teaching of indigenous issues, the inherent racism that exists in Canada when it comes to First Nations peoples and how these issues are being addressed.

The student approached me during the break and asked if he could address the class. He did and what transpired was an incredibly powerful and at times challenging conversation that involved the entire class. It was pretty amazing and students brought up stuff that had been percolating for over a year. I have to say, I felt privileged and certainly humbled to be in on the conversation.

I hope they found it useful. You never really know. It is not like anyone is going to come up and say – ‘thanks for that really difficult conversation’. No one plans for these conversations. If one tries to, the conversation will be disingenuous and forced.

I am not a historian nor an academic.  The one thing I think I can contribute to a class like this is 31 years of teaching. Sometimes when something is bubbling just under the surface, a teacher has to know it is time to throw the lesson out the window and just let the learning happen.

That is what I tried to do on Friday. Everything I have learned about teaching and working with students led me to the conclusion that there was a more important lesson out there that had to be experienced by all of us. I know I learned lots, not just about the topic of the discussion, but, more importantly, I learned so much about the students I am working with.

I encouraged the class to write about their experiences in the class on Friday. I don’t know if any of them will – they are really busy people! But no matter, I had to and I hope my writing clarifies things for me at least.

Maybe next week I will get to my lesson on historical significance, but I think we have already gone much further down a different road.

In ancient times unknown areas on maps were labelled ‘Here be Dragons’

The Urban Communities Cohort – What is the Urban School?

the necessary changes in urban and suburban schools will have to appropriate adequate space for a re-examination of leadership that is collaborative,
transformative, socially just, and moves beyond the hierarchical construction of the individual leader role.

Beverly-Jean Daniel, Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective

What is the urban school? What does it look like in Canada? How is it studied and what should educators learn about before working in an urban school? This year, I am working with the Urban Communities Cohort at the University of Ottawa and I am asking myself these and many other questions.

As part of our learning, teacher candidates need to develop a digital hub or, in other words, some platform where they can reflect on what they are learning. I figure that if I am working this year with these students the least I can do is add this blog to the collection of reflective pieces that will accumulate as the year progresses.

St. Anthony School, where I learned most of what I know about urban schools

I have said this before but it certainly bears repeating. Reflection is an essential component of learning. We all need somewhere to record our thoughts and insights especially when we are on a steep learning curve. The students here at the University of Ottawa are on about as steep a curve as possible, so it is really encouraging to see them put out some of their ideas and wonderings on a blog or wiki or some other platform.

I think it would be really cool if some of these students decided they wanted to start a podcast about what they are experiencing as new teachers. VoicEd Radio would be a great platform for recording these experiences it has been done before, it makes for great radio!

Sarah Lalonde started her podcast while she was a student at the University of Ottawa

One of the foundational readings students have been asked to take a look at is an article by Beverly-Jean Daniel, Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective. There is a good deal to digest in this article and I am just starting this process.  What an urban school is? Is there really one definition of an urban school?

I am not an academic, but I had the privilege of working in one urban school and have had many experiences of working with poverty in schools. One idea that is really interesting has to do with the whole idea of an urban school. Is there really a precise divide between urban and suburban schools here in Ontario?

There are characteristics of have and have-not schools, but I don’t think they separate out along urban and suburban schools. It might be easier to look at what you might find in have-not schools:

  • a clear lack of resources outside what is granted by the school district or province
  • a higher percentage of children without resources at home to support learning
  • a higher percentage of parents who work several jobs to make ends meet, who have less energy and time for school
  • a higher percentage of health concerns, for example, dental health issues with many students
  • a more transient school population

There is, in my opinion, a real danger when I start to write down characteristics like this. Someone could easily read this and point out that this is stereotyping. One could also point out that my list is incomplete, that it focuses on the elementary panel (it does) and that it is missing so many things. Most of these criticisms would be correct, but I don’t think I am painted with a brush that is too broad. Yes, my list has more to do with elementary, but I am sure you could come up with a secondary list without too much trouble.

What would be much more useful and this is something I brought up in class this morning when I talked about the Daniel article is a careful look at the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The ONS is an incredible resource that really tells the story of the places we live in here in Ottawa. From their opening page, the ONS states that it is presenting this data to help people understand our current living spaces and plan for better futures:

Evidence is mounting that the neighbourhoods and communities in which we live affect not only our health but also the gap in health between rich and poor. The purpose of the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS) is twofold: to better understand the physical and social pathways by which neighbourhoods in Ottawa affect our health and well-being, and to provide citizens in Ottawa with facts that support evidence-based decision-making.

Ottawa Neighbourhood Study

As I rambled this morning, I did say something that might be helpful – I really think that all educators need to carefully read the ONS before they start teaching in a community that is new to them. We all need to realize that we do not teach in a bubble. We teach in a living community and if we teach in a hard to serve or low-income community, we need to know what services are there to help our families, then we need to see how we can best fit in and make a substantial difference for the students we work with.

There is a great deal here to examine and to think about. When we work in a low-income school, do we need to develop a different mindset? Do we need to think even more out of the box than other teachers need to do? Do we need to question our models of leadership and collaboration with the wider community? Does our role as the teacher change?

I started this reflection piece with one of the conclusions from the Daniel article. Yes, I think we do need to re-examine how we do leadership and we also need to re-examine how we teach in low-income neighbourhoods. No, there is not a definitive split between urban and suburban schools here in Ottawa. Yes, there is true poverty and inequality in this city.

So, how do we best prepare our new teachers to enter this world and make a true difference? Can we as educators level this playing field?