Cynthia Bettio Transcript

“Canadian History from 1914 to the Present” — that’s the name of the course and that’s a lot of history to cover in a semester. The content is just so dense and there’s just so much of it that it’s really difficult to get through all of it. What I ended up doing with them is, I divided the 108 years or so into six time periods, and then divided the narrative into six different marginalized narratives so the students navigated through, they rotated through, all six time periods and all six marginalized groups throughout the semester. So, the groups were immigrants, people of colour, women, Indigenous people, differently-abled people, and the LGBTQ2S+ community and so, at any given point, during the semester students were working on all of those groups in different time periods.

The work was done independently but they collaborated on the research because the research piece was very big and also very challenging especially for the early time periods because we didn’t really talk about marginalized groups in 1914, you know, I would say until maybe the 1960s at least. 

So, what the students had to create was using the historical thinking concepts which are embedded into the Ontario curriculum. They had to focus primarily on historical significance and I used the snapshots and time cards which were developed by Lindsay Gibson and Catherine Duquette with The Critical Thinking Consortium as a sort of model of what I was doing.

I consulted with Lindsay before the project, just to get some feedback from him, some, you know, ideas of whether he thought this was worthwhile or not and he also worked with the students a bit on some of the historical thinking concepts and got to see some of their work which was a wonderful opportunity for them. But, I modelled it on that and so they had to create for each time period and each topic, they had to create five virtual snapshots and time cards and so, by the end of the project, we had collectively 680 cards and they did these all digitally.

So, they used Canva and they created their own layout but then for the final project, when we brought everything together, they had to curate those 680 cards down to 50. So, that involves a lot of sifting through duplicates really considering like what is historically significant, acted as museum curators really, you know, trying to figure out which which narratives are going to be told and then, they worked in teams. There were five teams if I’m remembering correctly. 

So, there was a copyright team, sorry, a copy edit team. Their job was to make sure that all the writing on these cards were grammatically correct -- spelling, punctuation etc. There was a layout team. Their job was to standardize the cards in Canva in terms of colour, font size, image size, etc. There was the research team. Their job was to make sure that all the content in the cards was cited correctly using Chicago-style citation because of copyright. Then there was an image team and their job was to cite all the images again to avoid any copyright issues and then there was the coding team and the coding team’s job was to code the game. And so, I partnered with an organization called STEM Minds Inc. through someone who I’ve worked with before named Lucas Chang out of Y2 Labs. 

So, this is basically a think tank that works with students and schools to create opportunities for problem-based learning and I called Lucas and I said, “This is what I want to do but I don’t know how to do it.” And he put me in touch with two different organizations and I met with both of them and STEM Minds was the one that said, “Well, we’ve never worked with a history teacher before but we’d love to, so, let’s do it.” And that’s what I wanted to hear. 

So, they helped a lot, they taught the students how to code. All of the students had the opportunity to learn how to code but then when it came time to pull everything together, there were four students on the coding team and it was their job to actually code the game and so the game is a it’s a digital timeline game, you know. It’s not perfect like all projects in their first time through. There are certainly bugs but they pulled it off and they were really, really proud of themselves and I was incredibly proud of the work that they did. So that’s the project in a nutshell.

I’ve always been very passionate about social justice issues. I’ve been teaching over twenty years but in my entire for as long as I can remember throughout my entire education, I’ve been very interested in these other voices and I love Canadian history in all forms but my family is not British, my family is not French Canadian but I really believed that my family’s history was also part of this country’s history and so as a result of that I knew that my students’ history was also part of this country’s history. 

I really wanted them to see themselves in the work that they were doing and there were lots of points in the project where they would say to me, you know, I learned this and I had no idea but this would have happened to my family if they’d immigrated during this time. Or when they were doing research about differently-abled people, you know, some of them have siblings or maybe they themselves have learning disabilities or mental health challenges. 

So, really understanding things from those perspectives, those were beautiful learning moments for them and it really amplified what it was that I wanted to do in the first place which was show them that this history is their history just because they may not think that this dominant narrative that they’ve been taught in elementary school and maybe even into some high school classes is not their narrative. They are part of this collective that we have as a nation and that was really really important to me.

My school-community is extremely diverse in lots of different ways: culturally, religiously, socio-economically. I wanted them to realize that this was their story also and they rise to the challenge like every single time they will do it and some people might say, “Well, this was an AP class, so they’re particularly motivated.” 

I’ve had the same experiences with locally developed classes and everything in between. So, I think when children are given the opportunity to excel at something and they’re given support, they shine and so I love that. That’s something that I just really, really love about my job. It makes me so happy.