Tag Archives: Teaching History

two roads

Here are a few words about the many roads I’ve been walking on for the last 15 years or so. It’s more than a justification of a resume that jumps contexts and continents. It’s my way of reflecting upon and consolidating a personal narrative that sometimes reads like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. It’s a celebration of the current situation I’ve wandered into as a volunteer at Green School in Bali – a place where, as I say in the poem, “the divergent converges.” And it’s an affirmation of the value inherent in the many roads my generation is walking down.

So to all my fellow travellers: keep walking, keep wandering, keep weaving your way down these many roads, and find your own way to make all the difference.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood”

I gazed down one and then the other

Asked my father and my mother

Google mapped the road ahead

And waited for the answer to load

And while the rainbow pinwheel spun I asked myself:

Why not travel both?  Continue reading


thoughts on global education

Features of an effective Global Education program

Our educational endeavours should be culturally responsive, embedded in real world events, and mobilized to enable students to act in and upon their worlds. My former boss at PANIM, a non-profit educational organization had a 5-pillar approach to getting teens involved in public issues: inform, empower, inspire, motivate, contextualize. I believe that these can be applied to an effective Global Education program for secondary schools.

First, inform students about world issues. While today’s youth have unprecedented access to information, it is the job of educators to help students see the forest for the trees. By providing them with reliable, age-appropriate information about global issues like climate change, AIDS, child labour, and foreign aid, we can help them understand the big picture and begin to break down the details and make the information relevant to their lives.

Second, empower them to act by pointing out examples of individuals who have brought about change and by giving them the tools to act. This could mean starting a service project in class, giving students access to resources outside of school, or connecting them to organizations already doing the kind of work that students want to get involved in. It also means nurturing the habits of mind that make a good global citizen, including open-mindedness, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness.

Third, inspire them by being an active global citizen and modeling the sort of attitudes and behaviours that students can incorporate into their developing sense of identity.

Fourth, motivate students by making global issues real. For adolescents seeking meaning, this means putting a human face on injustice and promoting empathy and moral outrage. I believe that the intrinsic motivation for global action can best be achieved through experiential education, for example, cleaning up a local riverbank or meeting a Sudanese former child soldier.

Finally, contextualize Global Education within not only curriculum expectations but within the students’ personal value systems, showing them that learning about the world is not about getting good marks but about making a commitment to real change.

Thinking deep global thoughts in Algonquin Park

In practice, the most effective forms of Global Education are cross-curricular and multidimensional. This entails both looking closely at possibilities for global education within curricular objectives and going beyond them to incorporate Global Education wherever possible. Global Education is multidimensional in that it both opens students’ eyes to the realities of the world and opens their minds to the potential inherent in each of us to change the world for the better. A cross-curricular approach to Global Education teaches students about the world they live in and helps them to articulate their views on world issues. It also educates them about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of our globalized world.

In terms of content areas, the goal is to teach students about the Earth and its inhabitants, including education about international development, the promotion of peace and global human rights, intercultural education, and environmental education. As a History and English teacher, it is easy for me to incorporate Global Education into my teaching, for example, through studying texts written by foreign authors or by studying non-western historical events. However, if students come to see Global Education as limited to History or English class, I have not succeeded.

In a classroom that lacks diversity, the Global Education curriculum gives students the opportunity to appreciate the diversity that they will encounter outside of the school. In a multicultural classroom like those I encountered during my practicum placements, Global Education heightens students’ appreciation and understanding of each others’ backgrounds. In Global Education builds character by teaching students that we are all connected and mutually responsible for the well-being of both planet and people. On a micro level, this can translate into greater degrees of mutual respect within the classroom – it helps students understand the ways that they can help or hinder their classmates’ learning. On a broader level, it helps students to articulate their views on their responsibilities to the world around them. Ideally Global Education takes goes this sense of responsibility beyond the “should” and makes it a “must.”

To me, the defining features of an effective Global Education program involve:

· Promotion of an awareness of world events as they unfolde.g. On a rotating basis, each student is responsible for reporting on a newspaper story of the day in every class.

· Reflexivity and situatedness e.g. Students ground their study of global issues by looking at their own origins and the role our society plays in global events.

· Use of technology to create real global connections e.g. Online collaborative learning with a class in another country

· Whole-school initiativese.g. cross curricular Earth Week projects

· Local, national, global connections made across the curriculum e.g. In a History class, studying discriminatory measures perpetrated against Japanese Canadians alongside the study of Japan’s role in WWII

· A school culture that reflects and values global perspectives – e.g. Signage in a variety of languages, celebration of different cultures and recognition of days of significance, staff made up of people from different ethnic and national origins

· An awareness of the importance of ecological sustainability embedded in school culture – e.g. Limit paper use, students work together to retrofit school or plant a community garden

missing lyric found!

On the last day of my practicum, I gave my grade 10 History students copies of the song I wrote as a mnemonic device when I was in high school. I wrote a post about this song  last week and I know you’re all waiting to hear what the missing lyric is.

I am truly proud of this class – I started out dreading teaching them – all 33 of them. My Associate Teacher warned me about them before I even met the kids.  She pretty much told me her goal is just to get through every period. (To her credit, she had a very good relationship with individual students, but I think she felt they were out of control and so she resorted to compromises like giving them 7 minute breaks to socialize during class if they would agree to pay attention once the breaks ended).  Many of the things she told me about the students were true, but after the first few classes, I found myself really looking forward to this period. By the end of the month I felt that the kids knew I was on their side.

I gave the students the song as my parting gift – I told them it might help them study for their exam. I had thought I might get off easy, but of course they insisted that I sing it. I told them, “OK, we’ll sing it together. Who knows the song ‘We didn’t Start the Fire’?” Blank stares. No Uptown Girls or Piano Men in this classroom. I was on my own. I squeaked out a passable rendition of the song, my face turning as red as my hair. Lecturing in front of a class is one thing; singing is quite another!

They loved it. I went over each line and quizzed them – and to my amazement, they recognized some of the events and were able to elaborate on some of the causes of WWII. One of them even remembered that “Mein Kampf” meant ‘my struggle.’ As for the missing lyric, after a few suggestions were thrown out (“Lots of blood and gore” “The Holocaust left a sore” etc.) the class decided on…

World War II is hard core!

we didn’t start the war (the song)

I didn’t have the typical high school experience. When I skipped class, it was to finish an assignment. When I got drunk with my friends, we sang Hebrew songs. And when I pulled an all-nighter, it was to study.  My friend Michelle and I used to study for all our tests together. The night before a test was the only night when our parents made an exception to the no sleepovers on school nights rule. In our sweatpants with floppy buns on our head and a huge bowl of something sweet or salty close by, we’d quiz each other on history or quote Talmudic scholars, taking breaks to gossip about boys or visit the kitchen.

At some point, colour-coding notes and creating mnemonic devices gave way to bouts of hysterical giggling. Around 2 in the morning, the Persons Case became positively hilarious and the periodic table started to look like a haiku.  These breakdowns came with increasing frequency, telling us we weren’t going to retain any more useful information. With our parents long asleep, we’d finally turn in for the night, vocabulary words dancing ’round our heads.

On one of these study all-nighters, Michelle and I studied for a grade 9 History test. The subject: the lead-up to World War II. We decided, as usual, to write a song to help us remember the names and dates. The song worked – we both got 9o-something on the test, and I still remember most of it 15 years later. Now I’m teaching WWII to my Grade 10s, and I want to pass the song on to them. The only problem…I forget the last line! Any suggestions?

Here it is, to the tune of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Versailles Treaty starts it all

Bavarian beer-hall

Reparation costs were huge

Hitler blamed things on the Jews

Nazi Party ’19

Mein Kampf ’23

Hitler’s Chancellor ’32

In ’34 he’s Fuhrer too


We didn’t start the war

Neville Chamberlain appeased him

But Sudetenland didn’t please him

We didn’t start the war

Anschluss was unification

Czechoslovakia was taken

Munich in ’38

To decide the Czechs’ fate

Nazi-Stalin ’39

Hitler Says “Poland’s mine”

Germany declares war

Peace in Europe was no more

(Here’s the line that I forget)

This is what we’re fighting for!

And here’s the video, just for fun…

Have any musical mnemonics to share? Please post them in the comments!

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.