During the first semester of the 2015/16 school year, I piloted the draft Socials 9 Curriculum at my school.
These are the Big Ideas:
I took these and converged them all into one essential question that I referred to over and over throughout the semester:
What causes social, political and economic change?
I began the course by examining national anthems. What could we tell about a place and the history of that place by listening to and reading the lyrics of these highly symbolic texts? It seemed like an interesting hook, while also discussion the issues of nationalism. We looked at the anthems of Haiti, France, Russia, the US, Canada, and Britain. Students practiced annotating text, and we began to construct an understanding of how events shape a nation’s sense of identity. It also nicely laid the stage for the first unit, which was about the causes and effects of revolution. Plus, I had a very funny group of boys who stood up each time, hand over hearts, as we listened.
With the curriculum, I took what I am calling a ‘case study’ approach. For example, when we were studying revolution, we ‘drilled down’ deeply with the French Revolution, but also skipped through the Haitian, Russian, British and American revolutions. We spent most of our current events studying the situation in Syria, which began with protest against the current regime.
We discussed the impact of changes in information, technology and ideas. Our case study in this case was the Industrial Revolution, but we also looked at the impact of the Enlightenment, the Protestant Reformation, the horse, human rights, and so on.
We focused on imperialism and the colonization of what is now Canada. At the same time, we kept tying back to the causes and effects of change – the changes in technology, ideas, and power that drove colonization. Of course, this also connects to the revolutions we studied as well. Everything is connected!!
As time went on, we developed an understanding that what causes social, political and economic change are:
- environmental or other disasters (disease, drought)
- shifts in power
- changes in ideas
- collective learning
- changes in technology
- abuse of power
- violation of human rights
- inequality of wealth and access to human rights
- individuals/individual action
We studied in brief or in depth the following (but always in the context of the essential question):
- Current events – Syria and modern slavery
- Russian, Haitian, British, French Revolutions
- The Enlightenment
- Protestant reformation
- Industrial Revolution
- Middle Passage
- Irish Potato Famine
- Witch Trials
- Canadian history including
- The three Cs of Cabot, Cartier, Champlain, and the other Three Cs of Curiosity, Commerce and Christianity
- The Huron (case study)
- Acadian Expulsion (case study)
- The Seven Year’s War
- Pontiac Rebellion
- Royal Proclamation
As the course drew to an end, and students worked on an inquiry of their choice related to the course, we put all the causes of change we had thought of on a big sheet and brainstormed how they all connected:
Students had an 11X17 sheet of their own to carry on with once we had started to work it as a class. Not everyone completed this as we had started to run out of time on the semester and project completion. I may use this as the final exam for the course at some point.
Instead, the final exam had three sections (comprehension, note making and response) wherein students considered an article on slavery in the shrimp industry. I set it up ahead of time with information, videos and discussion. The students had to choose one of two questions to consider in the context of the article: Why is it hard in a global economy to protect human rights, or How does lack of power lead to violation of human rights?
Odds and ends:
Future approaches will have to expand to include WWI; pacing is an issue, but I have confidence the approach I am taking will work.
The Curricular Competencies were easy to deal with, but there were weaker areas of my course I will need to address:
One site that helps with dealing with the broad sweeps of history is The Big History Project. I highly recommend accessing these resources. We watched several videos, read some pieces written for the site, and played the World Zone game.
During the course, I focused on the skills of note-taking, annotating text, writing a solid paragraph, and then let them loose on a project in which they could represent their learning in a variety of ways. I asked them to consider the essential question in the project, to varying degrees of success.
I had a group too guarded to do an inquiry. Instead, I had them do a series of mini-research projects to try to build confidence and skill in finding answers to questions and citing sources using EasyBib. This needs work, but has promise.
Super cool use of an old textbook: One student wrote an essay on the Middle Passage and created this sculpture:
Overall, the new approach is not really new to me. I have been changing my practice in this direction for years. I am excited to continue to work on integrating all aspects of the curriculum, including the First People’s Principles. I look forward to seeing how other people are approaching their courses!