Tag Archives: geography

grade 9 geo takes to the streets

Now that classes are over, I’ve been taking more time to ride my bike and wander around Toronto’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Thanks to the creativity and critical thinking of my grade nine students, I’ve been seeing the streets that I’ve roamed for years through a new lens.

Spadina Remix - then and Now by AldenC on Flickr

The final summative for my Geography class was a neighbourhood field study. Students had to conduct field research as well as traditional research exploring an issue of their choice within a Toronto neighbourhood. They had to write an individual research paper and present a creative group oral presentation.

In groups, the students chose a neighbourhood in Toronto – the only limiting factor was that they could not choose an area that any of their group members live in.  Each student chose an issue in their neighbourhood, asked a question and came up with a thesis  which they supported with demographic evidence from the City of Toronto’s neighbourhood profiles as well as qualitative evidence from their field study and support from sources including Toronto newspapers, real estate boards, and local blogs like spacing and Torontoist.

Questions ranged from “Does the name ‘Little Italy’ accurately represent the culture of the neighbourhood?” to “Why are homes in Forest Hill so much more expensive than similar homes in the suburbs?” to “What kind of person would want to live on the Island?” One students studied the demographics of the waterfront condo-land, asking, “Why is the population of the Harbourfront community growing so rapidly despite a  low birthrate?” I encouraged a student to look at a contemporary issue, and she ended up researching the new Bixi program and hypothesize about its success and its potential impact on tourism, commerce, and transportation in her neighbourhood.

When I was in high school, a flashy presentation involved funny hats & ties and maybe – maybe – a neon bristol board sign. Today, you ask grade nine students to do an oral presentation, and you get a full on travelogue. I was very impressed with some of the presentations! One group studied Queen St. W. and wrote a song, accompanied by a music video showcasing the neighbourhood’s attractions. This group, who studied Cabbagetown/Regent Park conducted interviews with locals, discussing issues like safety, gentrification, and the preservation of heritage homes:

This summative was a great way to get students out of their own bubble and onto the streets of Toronto. It forced them to pay closer attention to the stores, parks, hospitals, homes, and sidewalks of their city. Students gained an appreciation for the planning that goes into a neighbourhood, and for the multitude of factors and stakeholders  that work together to make a neighbourhood safe, clean, vibrant and liveable. So now when I wander these streets, I find myself counting doctors’ offices, looking for available parking, and scanning signage for languages other than English. It’s true – teachers really do learn from their students!


lesson plan: immigration role play

For the last month, I’ve been teaching two sections of Grade 9 Geography. I haven’t studied Geography since grade 9, and all I remember from that course was that my teacher’s favourite fish is arctic char from Lake Winnipeg. Needless to say, I was relieved to discover that I’d be teaching what I call the History side of Geography. I taught units on immigration, settlement patterns, and urban land use – much more up my alley than fauna of the Boreal forest and precipitation graphs for Charlottetown and Medicine Hat.

I’ve been co-planning these units with another student teacher from OISE, a thoughtful and dedicated educator whose thoroughness more than makes up for my seat of the pants approach to lesson planning. I think that we I put together a good unit on immigration – including the history of Canadian immigration, an evaluation of trends and patterns, a little bit of graphing and article interpretation thrown in for skill building, sharing personal histories in class and in written reflections, and a culminating role-play activity as well as a unit test.

I’ve decided to share the role-play here. Judging by my assessment of the students’ written reflections as well as their test scores, this activity was a success as it helped students understand and apply many of the terms and concepts associated with this unit.

Students were divided into groups of six. In each group, there were two immigration officers and four fictional characters who were applying to immigrate to Canada. Students were given:

  • character profiles
  • a handout detailing what makes a legitimate refugee claim
  • three copies of the point system (for each applicant except for the refugee)
  • a job description for a Canadian immigration officer
  • a task sheet with a rubric for the reflection

Students had approximately 40 minutes for the role play, and by the end of the time allotted, students playing the role of immigration officer had to use their critical thinking skills to evaluate the claims and decide which two of the four applicants should be allowed to immigrate.

The second part of the activity was a reflection, written in the last 20 minutes of class. Reflections had to include:

A) Reference to the terms we learned in class:

  • push & pull factors
  • tossed salad, multiculturalism
  • categories and types of immigrants (independent, skilled worker, investor, refugee, family, etc.)

B) If you played the role of  an immigrant

  • An explanation of the role that you were given
  • What were some of the problems that you faced?
  • Were you accepted? Why/Why not?
  • What do you think of the system? Was the decision fair?
  • How did it make you feel? Can you empathize with this person’s situation?
  • Would you have made the same decision if you were an immigration officer?

If you played the role of an immigration officer

  • An explanation of the role that you were given
  • How did playing this role make you feel? Can you empathize with this person’s situation?
  • What were some of the problems that you faced?
  • Did you find your job difficult? Why/Why not?
  • Was the points system clear? Was it fair?
  • How do you think the immigrants who you denied felt?

I gave each of the four immigrants a nuanced profile, hoping that the decisions of the immigration officers wouldn’t be too cut and dry. Indeed, there was a good degree of debate and discussion within each group, and different groups arrived at different – and equally defensible – conclusions. I would definitely use this activity again – it ran smoothly, engaged different kinds of learners in an authentic task, and provided opportunities for formative (watching the role plays) as well as summative (marking the reflections) assessment.

The immigrant profiles are below:

Rashmi Choudhary

Born in Delhi, India, you completed a four-year Bachelor of Science to earn your Nursing degree at the Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur College of Nursing in New Delhi. Having worked as a nurse for just over two years after graduating, you enjoy the nursing profession but are not happy at the hospital where you are currently employed. You are single and full of energy, and at age 24, you see a bright future ahead – you are looking for some adventure and want to advance your career in a new country. Your Auntie Aishwarya (your mother’s sister) and her husband immigrated to Canada in the 1970’s and your cousins – born in Canada – are around your age. You have met them at several family occasions and are excited to spend more time with them – one is a doctor in Hamilton and you hope he may be able to help you find a job. Your English is perfect but you do not speak any French.

Silvio Costa

Born in Recife, Brazil, you have been supporting your family working for 21 years at your cousin’s welding shop. You left high school at age 16, and began apprenticing as a welder and earning some money for your work. Lately, business has been slow and you are concerned about your two young sons’ futures. Your former neighbour Paulo, who used to work with you, moved to Calgary twelve years ago and now has a successful welding business. Paulo has promised you a full-time job when you arrive in Canada. Your wife and sons will move with you. Your wife is a hair stylist with a high school education. You understand English well – thanks to your love of American rock music – but your grammar and spelling aren’t great, and you get nervous when speaking English. You are taking a night school class to learn English. You speak no French. You have been trying to apply for immigration to Canada for six years. While you do have friends living in Canada, you would be the first of your family to immigrate.

Jane Smith

You are a 52 year old American citizen interested in starting a genetic screening clinic in Alberta, Canada. You have opened seven clinics all over the States that have succeeded. You have advanced technology that you use for the screening process for genetic diseases however, there are already two clinics in Ontario that are using the same technology. Your net worth is $7.5 million and you are willing to invest $1.7 million in developing the Canadian clinic. You will employ 4 Canadian scientists. You are a single mother and you have three dependent children under the age of 18. This is your first time applying to Canada for citizenship but you already own a ski chalet in Banff and have been vacationing there for the last 10 years.

Abdulhelil Tunyaz

You are a 31 year old Uighur – a member of a Muslim ethnic, religious and linguistic minority – who lives in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region  (XUAR) in China, formerly known as East Turkmenistan. Your community has been persecuted by the Chinese government since the late 1990’s. Your brother and uncle were arrested and imprisoned in 2001, seemingly for no reason – the Chinese government claims that they were radical Uighur separatist terrorists. You have not seen them since. You suspect that they have been tortured, and are afraid for your own safety. You are an engineer, and in November you flew to Canada for a conference. You are afraid that if you return to China, the authorities will detain you against your will.