Tag Archives: OISE

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.

quote of the day – embrace the chase

I’m reviewing a book for my Arts in Urban Schools course called Reading Youth Writing: New Literacies, Cultural Studies & Education (Michael Hoechsmann &  Bronwen E. Low, 2008). I just started but I’m enjoying the theoretical framework(s) that the authors employ in their study of hip hop, YouTube, and other oral and written means by which young people express themselves. I dig this quote, explaining why cultural studies can offer useful perspectives educators grappling with youth literacy:

“Popular culture is transient, shifting, contradictory, and multifaceted, and academic frameworks will always be ten steps behind, struggling to keep up.  Cultural studies embraces the chase, alert to the changing shapes and directions of the popular, and thus is a crucial framework for educators committed to understanding and engaging, rather than reifying, adolescents’ out-of-school literacies. ” (pg. 31)

Finally – some assigned reading that I can look forward to!

copenhagen for kids (take 2)

In a previous post, I promised more on addressing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in Canadian classrooms. There are so many great environmental education resources out there, I admit I was overwhelmed when I began researching this topic. I have listed and linked to a few of these resources below.

I did, however, also notice that there is not as much critical pedagogy addressing environmental justice as I would have hoped or expected. The field of climate justice (that is, the interconnectedness between social justice and environmental issues) has gained strength and attracted attention in over the last couple of months. One of my classmates at OISE suggested that the galvanization and increased recognition of the climate justice movement is perhaps one of the few positive results of the COP15 conference!

Here is the handout that I gave (digitally…no trees were harmed!) to my class for today’s presentation:

Copenhagen (COP15) in the Classroom

Climate change is an issue that many kids are already aware of, and they care deeply about making the world a cleaner and safer place for their future. But how do we guide students through some of the murkier ‘tar-sands of the mind’ – that is, the economic and political realities – that have bogged down their elders at the Copenhagen conference?

The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference is widely viewed as an outright disaster. Amidst the delays due to procedural objections, arrests by Danish riot police, hoaxes, walkouts, and exclusion of developing countries from inner circle negotiations, it is difficult to find the positive in the COP15 Conference. The talks failed to produce a legally binding agreement, the tentative accord was unambitious and the summit was plagued by economic and political inequities.

As educators, we struggle 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. For Canadian students in particular, COP15 served to make us aware that we are among the worst climate offenders. The “Fossil of the Day” podium is a difficult position from which to inspire hope in young people struggling to define their civic identities.

Key Questions & Issues:

  • How can Canadian educators teach critically about COP15 without creating a sense of cynicism?
  • How were youth and schools involved in the COP15 conference?
  • What are some strategies for empowering youth to take action on climate change?


Components of a critical pedagogy for addressing Copenhagen & climate change

  • Highlight ways that environmental issues are framed, critique the discourse surrounding climate change and other environmental issues
  • Students must examine the broader context of climate change and environmental issues, connecting social justice and eco-justice. The most economically exploited and socially powerless groups are often the most vulnerable to environmental hazards. Some topics to address within this area:
    • Regarding Copenhagen – which countries had more say and why?
    • Social issues around food security, fair trade, monoculture, organic farming etc.
    • Land use, manufacturing and imperialism
    • Mobility in the face of threatening environments (i.e. Small island states, low-income housing near factories & hazardous waste sites)
    • Indigenous cultures and environmental practices
    • Access to green space and relationship with the natural world
  • Motivate students to make responsible decisions about their environmental footprint
  • Students engage in a deep and critical examination of their own situatedness – the intersections of cultural, economic, and environmental factors.
  • Confront unsettling information and allow for discussion and debate
  • Present multiple perspectives and allow students to decide which rings true to their values and experiences
  • Connect issues to action – empower students to use their power to bring about positive change

Youth and School Involvement at COP15

Inspiring Climate Education Conference (www.ice2009.org)

  • Organized by the Danish Minsitry of Education in October, 2009. Attended by 120 education stakeholders from 35 countries (none from Canada).
  • Included speakers from education and industry, workshops on climate education in various settings, interdisciplinary cooperation, partnerships between schools and businesses,
  • Climate Change Education international weblog highlights education and youth related issues surrounding COP15
  • The TeachersCOP website includes lesson plans on climate issues. Two particularly interesting lesson plans for secondary students are “Climate in the Media” and “COP15 – The Political Dimension”


Children’s Climate Forum

  • Organized by UNICEF and the City of Copenhagen, took place the week before the grown-ups’ conference and brought together 160 youth delegates from 40 countries.
  • Delegates wrote a Children’s Climate Forum Declaration holding governments accountable and making recommendations for adaptation and mitigation. The Declaration includes a recommendation that “Climate change education should be a mandatory and substantial area of the school curriculum.


Unite for Climate (www.uniteforclimate.org)

  • Online hub for youth, part of the UN’s official COP15 page, provides opportunities for kids to network and learn about climate change through youth targeted media and resources
  • Hosts links to a number of grassroots campaigns organized for and by young people around the world
  • Publishes news about youth involvement at the conference – profiles of the young Climate Ambassadors, highlights of student participation on panels etc.
  • Interactive – i.e. youth can respond to a climate related question via SMS.
  • Youth Climate Debates where students can upload yes or no statements in response to climate questions like “do you think your political leaders are doing enough for the environment?”


Connecting Classrooms

  • Online curriculum 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.
  • To take part in Connecting Classrooms, all you need is a secondary school classroom supervised by a designated teacher, internet access, and a one hour per week time commitment.

Additional Climate Change Education Resources

EarthCARE is an action-oriented in-school program, currently operating in several Ontario boards. It promotes environmental stewardship by having students learn about waste, energy and water use in their own schools, and involves the school community in retrofitting school buildings and promoting conservationist behaviour.  The site also has a resource section with lesson plans that meet Ontario curriculum expectations.

Environment Canada has grade and subject specific lesson plans and resources for educators, as well as a speaker’s bureau, official publications. The EC youth site includes a footprint calculator, nationwide contests, tips on getting funding for environmental initiatives and “Homework Help” resources.

The New York Times has a list of teaching resources related to COP15 on their ‘The Learning Network’ blog. The Times also has an interactive climate change timeline beginning in 1820.

Climate Change Education is a portal site that gathers internet resources for K-12 and university level environmental education. It’s an ugly site but there are lots of good resources from different sources divided by subject and grade level.

NASA’s climate change website includes the Climate Time Machine with slick graphics showing climate change over time. Similarly, Eduspace is an earth observation site designed for use in schools by the European Space Agency and its partner organizations. The tools on this site allow students to view the world through detailed satellite images, including sections dedicated to monitoring natural disasters, observing patterns and changes in weather cycles, oceanography, land use, and atmospheric gases.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s glossary of terms and acronyms can be used to help students interpret the language of the accord and appreciate how negotiations can hinge on seemingly insignificant linguistic subtleties. The UNFCCC also has fact sheets online  that break down some of the main issues into manageable pieces.

World Savvy Monitor (www.worldsavvy.org) is an American non-profit that to provides background resources, curricular context, and lesson ideas for educators teaching about global issues. Their monthly online publication includes a Classroom Companion, which gives teachers cross-disciplinary tools for integrating global affairs into curriculum. The November 2009 issue is about water.

David Suzuki Foundation (www.davidsuzuki.org) has a list of things individuals can do to help slow climate change, through avenues including lifestyle modification, activism, education, philanthropy, and advocacy.