Friday, November 04, 2011

4 stories, 4 connected students

What a great day to be a Social Studies teacher! I had two SS10 classes in the library today taking a 2nd, deeper look at what they could find online to support their ongoing heritage projects. Some sat at tables sharing what they had brought in, others were plugged in surfing for maps, photos, and family trees. Holy cow, they were finding amazing connections and very eager to talk about it. I'll share the stories of four girls to illustrate. The boys were too quiet today, I guess.

Courtney produced a box of family history material that contained albums, journals, genealogies, reunion scrapbooks, and loose photos. She said it would be overwhelming to go through it all to figure out what kind of story she was going to tell to make sense of it... but she had a huge grin and obviously relished the task. She had done some of this kind of work in SS9 and figured out her French Canadian roots went back to the banks of the St. Lawrence and the Company of 100 Associates in the 1660s. This year she is taking on the German side of her family.

Bethany produced a family chart and family history book and began writing out a clean copy of her family tree.  I looked at some of the names and dates and one set caught my eye.  She had Irish great-x?-grandparents who came off the boat in the 1840s and made their way to "Concession 10, Lot 19" in South Plantagenet, Prescott township of Upper Canada. The family history book told some of their story, clearing land and building a cabin, the birth of children and hardships endured, and included a map of the land grants. I found the place on Google Earth (see the picture above, the land on either side of South Nation River, a tributary to the Ottawa) and it still retains some of the features that must have been original improvements in the early 19th century. There is also some extraction of ? going on, complete with drainage ponds - a chance to ask questions about what's going on now. What made it extra neat is that the immigration story, land grant, map, story, and location were pretty much an exact match for the "New Home" simulation we did in class a few weeks ago. She laughed when she realized how her fictitious story about the role-play was so similar to what her ancestors went through; she got that "genealogist's chill" when one connects something real and fascinating to one's identity and  personal/historical timeline.

Melanie had some books and an enormous family tree/chart that included a picture curious little run-down house. It seems one of her relatives lived there for a time. According to the caption, the shingles concealed a log cabin underneath that was part of the original 1876 Hudson Bay Company post in Calgary, and as such is the oldest building in the city. We found it on Google Street view and were able to piece together that its identity was recently (re)discovered and there are restoration plans underway. Needless to say, she is dialed in now, to the course and to her past, and wants to know more about who put together the information and how the house is connected to her history.

Kaitlin has been gathering copies of records and photos from relatives over the last few weeks. She has looking at towns in Luxembourg, French, Irish family photos, lots of maps, and an interesting pile of records, and a collection of WWII-era documents, including a Kennkarte although we're not sure how this is connected to her family. One of the issues students encounter when doing online research is the volume of material that comes up when they search their roots -- sometimes it is connected, sometimes it is not. She also told me she was  "wearing her heritage" -- her black leather shoes and white, wide-collared shirt were her great-grandfather's, both a size too big but a great look for 2011 anyways. A neat start to her research.

Four stories, four kids engaged in project-based learning, four beginnings to what will be awesome presentations in a few weeks. These "identity narratives" start with student-generated content and speak to the heart of the big themes and skills in SS9, SS10, SS11, History 12 curriculum, and cool connections to events that had significance to Canada and the World. These kids will walk into every subsequent class, family conversation, and learning situation armed with social context, historical perspective, and a view of the world that extends ever further from their selves... what an absolutely amazing day to be a Social Studies teacher!


Chris said...

Sounds like a nice balance of learning outcomes, some skills some curriculum and some general inquiry.

Thielmann said...

Thanks! there is some design behind the heritage project of course but any balance that exist comes from the students... it's actually quite chaotic and much of what they get out of it will probably be unexpected and known only to them. I'm ok with that, though, as long as every student has a reasonable chance to complete some version of the project (family-based research is not a requirement). I'm becoming increasingly comfortable with projects that have outcomes that don't get measured. I'll stand up for public education any day but in the end it is only the milieu in which learning takes place... the actual learning part happens inside brains.