Tag Archives: lesson plan

the world is your lab

Introduction to Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology is affectionately known around my school as “SAP.” But lest the title throw you off, you won’t find any mawkishness or naivete in Ms. Antflick’s class – I’m hoping for some serious, bare knuckled inquiry. The grade 11s can handle it.

I gave a lot of thought to this course before the school year began, and my colleagues and I came up with a great course outline, structured around several BIG QUESTIONS about humanity. I was going into September feeling pretty good about the whole thing. But the boss’s words were bouncing around my skull: “They make up their minds about you in the first 45 seconds.” Gulp. I brainstormed, refined, scrapped, and reworked that first lesson for a week. Then, sitting in a traffic jam chewing on my cuticles one afternoon after a particularly grueling day spent wrassling for a chance to use the photocopier, I had an idea.

I’d make them study me.

Subject EA

I wrote on the board:  Please have a seat and look at the handout in front of you. On each of their desks was a handout beginning with the following invitation:

“Dear social scientist in training:

Our school has been asked to participate in an important social scientific study, and you have been recruited as research assistants. This study will begin today and continue until June, 2011. You will be collecting qualitative data in an attempt to understand Subject EA in terms of her behaviour, the way she is socialized, and her role in various social groups and institutions.

Please have a seat and observe the subject in front of you (Subject EA). You may get up and examine the artifacts associated with her. Please do not attempt to talk to or interact with Subject EA. You have 10 minutes to complete your research.”

There was a chart underneath with a few questions. I brought in a bunch of artifacts – a can of tennis balls, my ipod, my MA thesis, a canoe paddle, etc. I displayed them on the table in front of me, Then I sat there, silently, for over 10 minutes. Imagine! 10 minutes of silence on the first day of school – amidst all the “do this, don’t do that” course overview blah blah. I walked around, purposely biting my nails and twirling my hair, bopping to the music on my ipod (I’m pretty sure it was DOOM), crossing my ankles on the desk. I refused to talk to them or answer their questions.

Not only did they do it enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, they even asked for more time to fill in the worksheet! I overheard a couple of students discussing my outfit in detail, “Yeah, high waisted gray pants and…are those wedges? Yeah, black wedges.”

They totally got it. The spirit of inquiry was in the air – students were discussing their observations with one another, getting up and approaching the desk, examining the artifacts, scrutinizing my behaviour. It was fascinating for me to be observed, and to observe the way the students handled the task. In our debriefing, they made insightful comments about why they thought I did the activity and what it was all about.

This lesson served several purposes. It set the tone for the year – the students learned that this is going to be a course unlike anything they’ve taken before, and it’s going to be up to them to observe and inquire and figure the damn thing out. Second, it was a good diagnostic. For example, I learned that when you ask teenagers what social group someone belongs to, you are likely to get answers like “popular” or “the sporty clique.” It drove the point home that the world is our lab and that the social sciences are all about examining the world and ourselves.

Here’s the handout I gave them – Handout: HSP3M Intro

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.

media literacy – a simple lesson on a complex topic

Today I attended Upstream – a conference organized and facilitated by the high school students who make up the Anti-Oppression Coalition at the school where I did my first practicum. An inspiring day overall and a refreshing taste of anti-oppressive education in practice, in contrast to the dry, disconnected, beat ’em over the head with it anti-oppressive rhetoric I’ve been getting in class the last few months.

One of the sessions I attended, delivered by TDSB teacher and activist Amy Gottlieb, was called “Where do you get your news?” The hour-long session provided a useful and straightforward framework for a media literacy lesson that could be used in a high school English or Social Studies class. It’s nothing revolutionary, but sometimes the most simple ideas can give students the space to have deep and meaningful discussions.  In today’s session, the students were engaged, insightful, and came up with a range of interpretations and ideas.

Gottlieb started by posting three statements on the board:

  • All media messages are constructed

  • All media have embedded values on points of view

  • Mainstream media is organized to make a profit and to gain power.

The three above statements seem to have been adapted from the Centre for Media Literacy’s Five Core Concepts, part of their Media Literacy Kit:

Core Concepts and Key Questions from CML's Media Literacy Kit

Gottlieb handed out four articles to the students on two of the current hot topics in the Canadian media – the Vancouver Olympic Games and the Haitian earthquake crisis – two articles on each subject, written from widely divergent perspectives. The challenge for teachers using this activity is to find articles that are short, offer a clear but not overly obvious or narrow perspective, and activate some prior knowledge so the students aren’t overwhelmed with new content.

In small groups, the students read the articles and analyzed them, answering five questions on a sheet of poster paper:

  1. Who created the message?

  2. What is the underlying message?

  3. Who is quoted?

  4. What is omitted?

  5. Why was this message published?

With very little prompting, the students came up with good answers to these questions, although in a longer lesson, I think the discussions could have gone deeper. Beyond the perspectives expressed in each of the articles, the activity prompted students to examine their own biases as they read and reacted to the texts. I would also suggest – as an overall literacy strategy – giving the students some sort of graphic organizer where they can record and reflect on the evidence for each of their answers.

Taking up the questions afterward, the facilitator stressed the importance of decoding and deconstructing ALL media messages – even those from alternative news sources with whom the readers generally agree (case in point – one of the articles was written by Naomi Klein, a journalist who these students know and are likely to trust as an authoritative critical voice).

The session ended with an encouraging message: the world has opened up, and the internet has democratized news media. There are countless possibilities for young people to access alternative media outlets, as well as to create their own messages. Each one of us has a valid perspective and a story to tell, Gottlieb told the students, and this DIY media landscape is a positive way for youth to get engaged in their communities. The other side of this is that in a world where anyone can create sophisticated media messages, critical literacy becomes even more crucial.

Lesson Plan – Poetry as Art & Activism

Centered around Gil Scott Heron’s classic performance poem, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” this lesson plan explores the history and conventions of spoken word poetry, teaches that poetry can be a powerful form of activism, and examines “The Revolution” as a pop-cultural meme. By the end of the lesson, students will create and have the opportunity to perform their own “My Revolution” poem reflecting their everyday experiences, personal histories, ideas and beliefs.


I wrote this lesson plan as an assignment for my English class at OISE. It was one of my first exercises in formal lesson planning, but it earned me a 10/10! I think much more can be done with this topic – students can make their own videos, perform their pieces, and learn more about the conventions – and social purposes – of spoken word poetry.

The lesson plan and student handouts are below:

Poetry as Art & Activism Lesson Plan

Handout 1

Handout 2

Handout 3

Handout 4

I especially like Handout 4…it traces the influence of the Gil Scott Heron poem. The iconic phrase shows up everywhere from articles about the tweeting revolution surrounding the Iranian elections to hip hop songs.

My favourite take on the poem is spoken word artist Sarah Jones’ piece,  “Your Revolution,” wherein Jones calls out the misogyny in the hip hop music industry. Might not be entirely appropriate for the high school classroom – although when the FCC tried to ban it for indecency, Jones successfully sued the FCC for censorship. Here she is, doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well…

Lesson Plan: The Ward – from Slum to City Hall

Few Torontonians today know that the location of our current City Hall was once an overcrowded slum known as “The Ward.” In the early decades of the 20th Century,  the area bordered by College, Queen, Yonge, and University was Toronto’s worst slum, a landing pad for the poor immigrants who worked to build this city.

The district was a jumbled mix of  family homes, rooming houses, small businesses, and restaurants. The Eaton’s factory and annex was at the South-East end of The Ward and employed many of The Ward’s residents. Landlords took advantage of peoples’ desperation, and rents were higher than most of the inhabitants’ wages, forcing extended families to cohabit and take in boarders. Sometimes the Health Department would condemn a property, but because demand was so high and the Department didn’t have the resources to follow-up, the landlord would soon rent the space out again without bringing it up to standard.

In 1913, Toronto General Hospital razed part of The Ward to construct a large, new hospital.  At this time, according to a report by Charles Hastings, head of the Department of Helath, there were over 3,000 households in The Ward, most of which were occupied by 2-6 families.

The inhabitants of the ward in the early 20th Century were immigrants mainly from Italy and Eastern European countries. The largest group living in The Ward were European Jews who immigrated between 1890-19320.  By the mid-1930’s, The Ward had become Toronto’s first Chinatown.

1913: A gril stands on Elizabeth Street, view of Old City Hall in teh background

A View of Old City Hall from 21 Elizabeth Street, May 15, 1913 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 187)

Lesson Plan Overview

I designed this lesson plan, for a Grade 10 Canadian History course, as an assignment for my OISE History class, around the critical question: Was living in the city worth it at this time?

In this lesson, students will discover what it was like to live in a Canadian city around the time of World War I. They will uncover the push and pull factors that brought various groups to Canadian cities, and the social and technological factors that allowed cities to sustain population growth during this period. Students will learn about “The Ward,” a notorious Toronto slum, through an examination of primary and secondary sources. Finally, by looking at Canadian urban life from different perspectives, students will judge whether the benefits of living in Canadian cities outweighed the challenges.

The complete lesson plan and a slideshow of primary documents (photographs, newspaper articles and other ephemera) are available as PDF’s for download here:  Growth of Canadian CitiesGrowth of Canadian Cities – Primary Documents.

copenhagen for kids

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently taking place in Copenhagen. 192 countries have been hanging out in Denmark since last week, trying to tackle the ambitious agenda of agreeing on a new international framework for climate change mitigation. Add to the overambitious targets the protests, arrests, hoaxes, walkouts, and boycotts, and  it is hard to be hopeful about the outcomes of this conference.

As educators, we try to find a balance between teaching students about the complex, unpalatable realities of controversial world issues, and inspiring a sense of hope and possibility in our students. I will be tackling the teachability of COP15 for one of my courses in January. This is a bit half-assed but I want to get something up here about the conference before the thing ends on Dec. 18.

So…introducing the Unite for Climate campaign. The Unite for Climate website is an online hub for youth, part of the UN’s official COP15 page. It provides opportunities for kids to learn about climate change through various media, get involved in grassroots campaigns organized by young people around the world, and network and participate in the conversation. It also regularly publishes news about youth involvement at the conference – profiles of the young Climate Ambassadors, and highlights from the Children’s Climate Forum that took place in Copenhagen the week before the grown-ups’ conference.

The site also features “Connecting Classrooms” – an online curriculum that pairs classes from around the world and allows them to dialogue, debate, and work collaboratively to analyze and problem-solve around global issues. The current module focuses on climate change and the COP15 conference. From perusing the website, it looks like all you need to take part in Connecting Classrooms is a secondary school classroom supervised by a designated teacher, internet access, and a one hour per week time committment. Sounds pretty cool.

Climate change is an issue that kids care deeply about, and making them aware of how their everyday choices can impact the environment is no great feat. That’s the easy part. I’ll keep thinking about how to guide students through some of the murkier ‘oil-sands of the mind’ – that is, the economic and political realities – that have bogged down their elders at the Copenhagen conference.

Anyone have a good idea? A lesson that has worked in your classroom? A resource that might be of use? Please share!