So I was inspired by a couple of things. I saw that "Don't ask students what they want to learn, ask them what problems they want to solve…" And that sort of got me thinking.
And then the 150th anniversary happened and about halfway through the year I was feeling a little weird about the way it was being celebrated, honoured, whatever and I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was bugging me about it and then I read this article in a magazine you might all be familiar with by Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire.
And he kind of crystallized in that article what I was feeling. We were doing a lot of celebrating, we were doing a lot of commemorating, we were patting ourselves on the back, but there was really no discussion about where we were going next, what was our next challenge, what was their next big thing.
And I got thinking about it as a history teacher and I thought, you know what, I'm gonna ask the kids.
So I came back to school and hit them with this idea that they were going to identify problems that they thought we needed to solve and then I was going to get them to solve them.
So the evolution of the course was I chunked up the proposal sections. There's been some opportunity for the kids to give feedback to each other and I've added a few activities like a cocktail party and the exam format has changed.
Fundamentally though we look at process over product. The inquiry model there of exploring investigating, processing and creating. And essentially what we did, where we started was with the exploring, the brainstorming here.
What you see here is a group of students who are brainstorming problems that we need to solve. They come up with a list very early on, make that list and then out of that list, they can choose a topic that they want to focus on as the year goes on.
Following that, we do a number of activities around exploring where they have to take that topic and find the historical elements of it, essentially writing the historical context.
What you see there are these giant timelines that now take up the hallway in my school twice a year and the kids have to create the timeline for their particular topic. This gives them the ability to see sort of in a macro sense what's going on with their topic and also the other students get to see what's going on at the same time as their events are unfolding.
They then get to make some decisions about what's happening.
So then once they have sort of figured out their topic and all that's involved, they start looking at the solution, which is where this is all going.
And they get to, we do subcommittees where the kids share things, talk about ideas, exchange solutions, get feedback from each other.
I have a program I call speed dating, where they rotate around the classroom and exchange ideas.
I was also, the first semester I did it, I was able to bring in a couple of local MPs. The well-dressed fellow there is MP David Sweet from Hamilton. He and a couple of other senior politicians came in. The kids got to pitch their ideas and they got feedback from them.
And then the bottom piece there is the cocktail party, where, basically, I move all the chairs out of the room, they come in, I play cocktail jazz music over my speakers and they have to work their way around and talk to each other and find out what each other's doing and how their projects will work with each other.
And then they write these proposals. And they're very well thought-out, they're incredibly well-researched and the first year I did it, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of what was produced.
And so what it has evolved into, and this is where sort of connecting with their community comes in, the kids are now expected to at the end of semester when they have this all done, they submit it out to groups around Ontario, around Canada.
Many of them have emailed copies of their proposals to our prime minister, he has yet to reply.
But what's fascinating is, when I hit the kids with this they immediately say "nobody's gonna email us back, nobody's gonna read it, why do they care?" And then lo and behold, they start getting replies back.
We've had replies back from Marc Garneau, from actually the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, for those of you not familiar with his work.
So we've had quite a remarkable response and the kids get incredibly thrilled whenever they get anything back and so it's really cool. So if any of you are in the field and you get an email from one of my students, just throw them an email back, they'd really appreciate it.
So what are they proposing? They've hit everything from health care to immigration, discrimination, film, all kinds of different things. You can see some of the ideas there.
Mandatory use of renewable energy for all necessities and utilities. How do we do that? And they lay out a really interesting action plan.
One of the suggestions that came out this recent semester was having a clean environment being added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That's something that they think is important.
And what's really cool about this is these are their ideas, this is what's important to them, to their lives, and to their futures. And they're acting upon it, they're coming up with an action plan, they're trying to figure out, you know, how can we get there. And it's fascinating.
The feedback portion has become so important because they suddenly realized that their ideas have weight.
When I was asked to do this I went to the kids, these are all kids that have finished my class.
"One of the biggest impacts that your history course has had on me wasn't even directly related to the project. I never realized the impact I was able to have on the lives of others. We were left with a sense that we can be change makers too."
These are the sort of thread that goes through all of these projects and the results these kids have.
Connecting to people in the communities is so important because I don't have all the answers, I don't have many of the answers honestly for a lot of these topics, so they have to go out. They talk to people that are experts and then when they submit their projects, they have to go even further, they have to really go outside the comfort zone.
So these are some of the feedback that I got from the kids as well.
The last one there Lydia L. She and two of the other students are actually putting together a program through the YWCA of St. Catharines, sorry of Hamilton, and they're running a young girls empowerment club at a neighbouring elementary school for girls in grades 6 and 7.
And they're going in, you know, every couple weeks, they're putting on programs and stuff like that, and that's a direct result of this project that they did.
And then fundamental to the idea of understanding each other, you know, we understand experiences by listening and I think we do a lot of talking these days and we don't do about as much listening. And this is an opportunity for them to really think and listen to what other people are saying and what other people are experiencing.
As far as engagement, I never had to worry. Kids would come into my class and sit down and go to work. They felt like they were doing good work and I think my hope is that they're going to continue with this.
And if they do, if they stay connected, if our students stay connected, if our young people stay connected, they're gonna fix a lot of the stuff that we messed up.
So I think they're gonna be, I think we're in good hands.
So that's not mine, that's yours, so that's it. Thanks.
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