The Purpose of Civics

Keynote: Civics Day 10

Ontario Secondary School Diploma graduates must earn a 0.5 credit in Civics. This course is often taught by teachers who see it as a chore and it becomes repetitive lessons in memorizing party leaders, riding statistics and municipal responsibilities.

Does any of this help us to produce more active, engaged global citizens? Probably not. Also,  Social media does not voters make. This study also argues the course has not increased the number of youth voters in Ontario.

The Toronto Sun addressed this in a recent article, concluding the youngest voters are Spectators. According to the author, “They don’t believe in status buying. Or consuming for the sake of consuming. They also don’t believe in many of the touchstones of Canadian society — like democracy. And Parliament.”

Thanks, Tom Conklin, for reminding me this course deserves more study.

Nuclear Shelter Simulation

Building Miniature Houses of Inequality

Here’s Hans Rosling, creator of Gapminder, using statistics to demonstrate some clear changes in regional wealth, health and life expectancy over the last 200 years.

Some great online resources for Civics:

Bite-size, Young Person Friendly ‘Types of Government’ from CBBC

TVO’s Singing and Dancing Approach to Ontario Government (You tube channel)

‘Teacher – ‘just add a classroom’ resources for studying citizenship, human rights, government workings etc

Political Cartoons in the classroom – why read when you can interpret?

Antz-English Version – Chart and worksheet to work with film, “Antz”

Think about what we need to do to encourage ‘Active Engagement.”


**reposted from December 2013

Lesson – Oct 7

Keynotes – Oct 7

Ass & Eval keynote

Literacy in History – keynote

More Quick Literacy Strategies are found here.

Strange and Wonderful Resources

For use with Observations and Inferences

The Question Matrix


The Question Matrix

Today I’m going to try to use a Question Matrix with my gr 10 applied History classes.

I am seeking a way to help them develop their inquiry process skills. Many students have never been pushed to ask questions beyond closed ended ones and certainly most have never been explicitly taught how to create thoughtful inquiry questions.

My own skills in this endeavour are limited – I know I can formulate valid research questions, but I haven’t thought enough about HOW I do this. This requires some meta-cognition my my part. Besides, the best way to learn something is to teach it to others!

I will start with a interactive lesson about questions using Pear Deck (a new tool I picked up this weekend at the GAFE Summit Ottawa). This will stimulate some discussion about what makes a good question. This will lead us to a conversation about the Matrix.

Using a series of paintings (on loan from the Canadian War Museum Supply Line) students will develop questions about what they are seeing. Students will be required to make up a question (and then find answers) for EACH of the matrix boxes.

(Possible extensions – using 2 x 6 sided dice, the matrix becomes a trip-tic of sorts. If the student rolls “1 &1”, they design a question for “What is…” or  a “3 & 4” they get “Which would…”. His/her peers then try to answer the question.)

This is a bit of an adventure. We’ll see how it goes.

I also found this lesson about reading the news and using a matrix.

How NOT to Ask Questions:

Vocabulary Sort

A vocabulary sort provides students with a variety of terms and concepts related to a unit or for a course. You can use them at the beginning of a unit or at the end of a unit. Sometimes I do both as a way to show students what information they’ve learned.

Gr 12s doing a sort. One is even doing additional research!

Gr 12s doing a sort. One is even doing additional research!

Here are some strategies.

Ask Students (usually in small groups) to

  1. Separate terms they know and the terms they don’t. Look up/research the ones with which they aren’t familiar. (then move to the following strategies)
  2. Identify & justify at least 3 categories (student or teacher choice) and sort the words in the appropriate categories. Discuss the similarities and differences of the categories selected by each group
  3. As the teacher, include ‘obvious’ headlines/category subjects, and students sort associated words/terms
  4. Have the students select their “favourite” words and ask them to do a short literacy activity using each of the words in the correct context.

While students work, emphasize there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Their properly reasoned verbal justification can make any word fit any

I have also made the terms on large sheets of paper. The students then sort the giant words on the floor in a larger group. I then post the words in their selected categories on the wall for a Word Wall.

Here is my Vocabulary sort for The Great War.

Here’s a PDF: CausesofWW1wordsort

Teaching History through Changing Landscapes

One of the best ways to teach students “Change and Continuity” is to have them walk the streets of their own neighbourhoods. Some may have knowledge of more recent changes, but most would have no idea of what their communities looked like 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Access your local archives and find photos, maps or other primary sources which can trigger student understanding of what has changed around their space and what has stayed the same.

A great Resource for Ottawa’s changing landscape:

I love their “Slide” feature for comparing one location over two moments in history. Students can then discuss continuity (this building is still here, the door is still glass, there are pedestrians), and make inferences about why things have changed (the post office isn’t here because it isn’t as important a service or there are no buggies with horses so the streets needed stop lights etc).

The Ottawa Citizen also created a neat interactive about the memorials and statues in downtown core.


Matt Henderson (winner of the Governor General Award for Excellence in Education) challenges his students to examine “Main Street” Winnipeg in this post. He focuses on the element of the historical concept of Significance. Their task:

 “to create [their] own historical walking tour of Winnipeg. As we walk down Main Street, decide what buildings and location are significant. Using Evernote, jot down notes, capture audio, take photos, shoot some video. Gather us much information as possible about these places and ask yourself what sort of evidence do you need in order to prove that they are significant. As well, try to explain the evolution of this area from 6000 years ago until today.”

Can’t get out into your environment? Try these resources:

The Guardian put together a fantastic series about Dday locations from 1944 and 2014.

Here’s the Guardian’s online gallery comparing images from The Great War and today.


Transmediation is the process by which information is gained in one form and changed to another. I love the following activity. Students get the opportunity to work as a group (and they get loud!), work with their strengths (readers, illustrators, humour, oral presenters, colour-ers!) and discuss the value of information they have received.

Generally, I’ll give the students 45 minutes to do the reading, discussion, planning and illustrations. Then, each group presents their work to the rest of the class. The final products are then hung in the classroom for the duration of the unit. These provide a valuable visual reminder to the students about what they covered in previous lessons.

This is the most ideal lesson for a Friday afternoon!

Here is the assignment as I would give to my students. 

Below is a student example about 16th Century Italy. It makes reference to the “New Pope;” the vibrant art scene; Italy’s production of wine, textiles and (military) arms; the absence of the plague; the exhaustion of natural resources; and of course, France’s ‘sacking’ of Rome. Effective and humourous!

Transmediation Example(reposted from Sept 2012, 2013)

Print Ontario Curriculum

Service Ontario wants to send you PRINT curriculum documents. You just have to tell them.

Click here:

My source about this little nugget said,

Using the search bar on the page, use general terms to search, eg. science curriculum. I tried searching using the specific title of the curriculum and no matches were found so I found the more general the search term, the better.
Some of them are no longer available in hard copy as they are out of print but I think the majority of them are there.
They are free to order and free to ship.

Make sure you get 2013 versions!