Program Synopsis and Description

Description of the Project

Historical Thinking Missions are designed as historical field-work units for Grade 10 Canadian History students as part of our study of Canada 1914-1929.   This project engages students in  historical thinking field work using primary source materials from local and city archives as well as historical and online resources and technology, in either an actual historical community/space or alternatively within the classroom. This project uses the St. John’s Ward, Toronto’s First Urban “slum”, (hereafter referred to as “the Ward”), as its case study. Students demonstrate their learning by creating exemplars for remembrance and commemoration of historical events, spaces, or individuals who worked and lived in the Ward that they share in innovative ways with their classmates and the wider community.

Description of the project-student activities, research processes, and outcomes

This project was developed for my Grade 10 Canadian History students as an inquiry-based unit. The project’s conceptual ideas stem from my visit to the City of Toronto Archives exhibit entitled “Picturing Immigrants in the Ward,” curated by Sarah Bassnett and Patrick Mahon.  This project has two components: a) preliminary research in the classroom using available primary source documents, and b) a field trip to the St. John’s Ward, to conduct historical on-site fieldwork, focusing on analyzing patterns of continuity and change. My preparatory work involved consultation with staff of the City of Toronto Archives and Heritage Toronto, visits to the Ward for my own field experience, and gathering of primary source materials from Toronto libraries.

I taught and facilitated lessons and activities on:  interpreting and analyzing historical photographs; navigating Goad’s Fire Insurance Maps (1884, 1899, 1913 and 1924); and analyzing tax assessment records and census data about the residents of the Ward.   Students identified the challenges of living in the Ward by viewing documentaries and analyzing secondary source materials written by historians and urban planners.  They demonstrated their learning through document analysis tasks, graphic organizers and concept maps.

After 4 days of in-class fieldwork, students travelled to the St. John’s Ward to participate in the Historical Thinking Missions field trip. Students excitedly completed 4 Historical Thinking Mission activities and documented their findings in fieldwork booklets. Students located historical spaces using archival photographs; analyzed an intersection, noting patterns of continuity and change and used their critical thinking and historical imagination skills to describe what life would have been like in the Ward in 1912 and today. Their summations expressed their own perspectives as current day historians working in this historical space.

The summative learning activity for the project required students to create exemplars of commemoration in response to two critical thinking questions: 1) What or who in The Ward’s history do you think should be recognized and why? and 2) In what ways could individuals, groups or historical spaces be commemorated?  Students designed monuments, plaques, murals, guided historical walking tours and museum exhibits. Their work was accompanied by a designer’s statement which provided evidence and justification for their historical thinking and responses to the critical thinking questions.  Upon evaluating the students’ work, it was evident that that they had also developed an empathetic appreciation for the stories and experiences of the residents of the Ward and their contributions to Toronto’s history.

This year I created an alternative assignment focusing on students doing in-class field work and creating an online historical thinking walking tour in the Ward to educate and inform potential walkers about the history of the Ward, its residents and buildings of significance.  Students used technology to create tour pamphlets featuring archival photographs, descriptions of historical spaces and maps for walkers to follow. Upon completion of their assignments students showed pride as they showcased their work.  They are looking forward to one day travelling to the Ward to explore the walks that they have created.


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