Sunday, February 07, 2016

Heritage Inquiry Stories

Each time I have taught Social Studies 10 for the last fifteen years or so, I have cleared some space in the lessons about Confederation, Metis uprisings, the Fraser River Gold Rush, the Physiography of Canada and so on to guide students into some heritage-based project-based learning. I've called it the Culture Project, the Heritage Project, Heritage Connections, and adapted versions of it for Social Studies 9 (the Heritage Skills Venture, Cultural Landscapes Project), Social Studies 11 (The Echo Project), and Geography 12 (GeoNarratives).

Each time the Grade 10s go through their round of project presentations, I am blown away by the results of their inquiry, the personal connections to history (and geography), the impact on the rest of the class and the families of the presenters, and the satisfaction and ease demonstrated by students when they are telling stories that combine curricular inquiry, personal research, and (usually) critical thinking. It is no surprise that students are more invested in their learning when their identity is engaged. Identity as curriculum, developed through story.

Here are some past posts on SS10 Heritage Inquiry:

Below are some of the stories told by my recent class of Grade 10 students.  They learned about the project in Oct 2015, worked on it off and on in Nov-Dec 2015, and presented the projects in Jan 2015. They had class time for some steps of the project, and the rest they did on their own -- this is virtually the only homework I assign in my Social Studies courses. The students usually put together displays, posters, or slideshows, bring in any artifacts they have to support their project, and present to the class the results of their primary source work, interviews, story-gathering, and so on. They all think that 15-20 minutes for a presentation will be daunting, and yet, with questions from me and the class, these presentations routinely take 25-35 minutes. That means I usually have to set aside 10-12 hours of class time for this, including the feast day. These stories were parts of the student presentation (not the whole project) and are written based on my notes taken in class, not necessarily in the students' own words.

RK's Story 1: "Opa" (pictured above) fought for Germany in WWII and had his leg blown off by a mortar shell while at war with Russia. An officer found him and brought him back to a hospital where he convalesced. While there he received one of the perks of some recovering wounded -- a signed pictured from Hitler (while in the family's possession, it did not make it to school as part of of his exhibit). The Opa would spend three years in a refugee camp before immigrating to Canada. During the war, the student's great-uncle was also injured and rescued by the very same officer who had recognized Opa. The officer recognized the family name from the soldier's ID and informed him that his brother was indeed alive. Due to this coincidence, the brothers were later reunited.

SH's Story: This student started by saying that on doing some research, she came to realize that her " family is like the stock characters in a book"  What was familiar to her was not familiar to the class, though. We heard tales of Newfoundland fisherman (and being lost at sea), pirates, Beothuk ancestors, a family tradition of adoption, and mysterious Chinese grandfather in the family tree. The student used ship records, church and burial records, photos, wills, and interview notes to tell her story.

BM's Story: Sometimes the stories we hear are like hyperlinks from the brief outlines we see in textbooks on topics that are important to Canadian history. This student shared his Metis heritage, complete with a gorgeous sash, models of a teepee and a Red River Cart.  Among the documents he shared were reproductions of a petition signed in 1787 by 58 Metis (including an ancestor), and the Scrip used by his Metis ancestor to take up lands near Fort Garry in the aftermath of the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70. We heard stories that belonged to his Great-grandmother, a Metis elder, and followed the family tree as it grew westwards across the Prairies and into British Columbia.

SC's Story: Angola was once a colony of Portugal, and is was here that this student's Portuguese grandfather spent his youth as a soldier in the 1970s, "keeping order" among other things. He had a parrot and monkey, although the monkey dies of a drug overdose, mistaking another soldier's medication for candy. On the other side of the world is Kitimat, BC, a town built by Alcan to house workers for its Aluminum smelter. On the account of the jobs, it was a popular destination for Portuguese immigrants, including the family of young woman who arrived in 1968. There, at the prompting of a friend, she began a correspondence with the soldier in Africa. When Angola achieved its liberation in 1975, he came to Kitimat to marry his pen pal. An atypical Portuguese love story.

EV's Story: This student's great-grandfather was named George.  He was 4th in a line of Georges, born in England in the 1890s. He was the eldest son a family who got their wealth from a printing company among other ventures. George the 4th did not care for the family business, did not want to "live up to the Victorian ideals," so in 1914 he left home, took passage on a ship for Halifax (or Quebec?). He "hitched" across Canada (by rail?) and ended up in Vancouver, far enough away that he could forget about England and his family. Upon arrival he learned that the Great War had begun, and knew he had a choice to make. He decided to flip a coin: heads, he would find and board a ship for Australia; tails, he would enlist in the Canadian army and join the war effort. It was tails, so the 17-yr-old passed himself off as a Canadian 18-yr-old and went to war. Eventually he saw action and fell victim to the German's mustard gas while holed up in a tunnel or trench in eastern France. He was taken back to England to recover, where he met his wife-to-be, a nurse in the hospital. Around this time his family found about about the goings-on of the prodigal son, and when the war was over he was "sent" to a family farm to be respectable and work for a living. In 1952 he took his young family and left for Canada, this time for good. Due to storms, their passenger ship went off course and arrived in New York rather than Halifax. They stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, at the time the tallest and one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. They had a Waldorf salad, of course, and to this day the family still has a tradition of making this salad on any special occasion. although the recipe has morphed into something involving jello, now. George's family soon presen on to Canada, where they scanned a map and picked Prince George, BC as a destination because it had "George" in it.

ER's Story: We learned about the history of Acadia from the viewpoint of an Acadian descendant. Her family has been there from the beginning, immigrating in the 1630s, draining marshland, hiding in New Brunswick during the Expulsion of 1755, starting various businesses, and dispersing across Canada in modern times. Her stories were interspersed with French-Acadian terms, references to land and home(s), to delicious food, to fishing, alcohol, crafts, coffin-making, and the familiar (yet incredible) themes of grief, resilience, and thrift that are common to any people who have endured hard times.

TO's Story: We all leaned forward a bit when the first words of the presentation were "this story is really important to me." The narrative focused on the student's mother, an immigrant from rural Peru who grew up poor on a potato farm. Each day the mother ran barefoot many miles from her village to the closest school. It was there that she proved herself such a remarkable student that he secured scholarships for further education in Lima, and became involved in international development work. The narrative took many turns through world travels, fascinating jobs, photos, and interview quotes, and ended up with an observation that when the student now runs competitively she feels like it is something in her bones.

CM's Story: This student realized that the direct evidence from family-based research would only turn over so many stones, so he took on the broader topic of culture and social context. Focusing on Scottish Heritage, he gave us a history lesson on the fairs of Glasgow in the 1800s (and what was traded there), fishing, architecture, and shipbuilding, the impact of the Industrial Revolution on Scotland, and finished with one of few stories for which he had hard evidence. This was the narrative of his great-grandfather who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and started a second family, much to the surprise of his first family.

I have notes in front of me for 18 more recent student presentations, so I hope to return to this topic when I have a chance to write some more.

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