Catherine Morneault, Brian Clancy, and Lisa Sheppard: 2016 Governor General’s History Awards

Our project is a book of short essays on the First World War and they were compiled by our Grade 6 and 7 French immersion students here at Sussex Middle School. It was all part of celebrating Vimy 100 and also the hundredth anniversary of the First World War. We want to be part of that conversation. It’s happening internationally. So on the French side of the project, having the vocabulary and being able to put it in a sentence or a structured paragraph are two different things, and we spent so much time on that project that we were able to cover many outcomes of the French curriculum as well. We did, firstly, grammar, syntax and linguistic conventions. So basically, the kids come over here and they would learn all the history from Mr. Clancy and then they go across the hall to our two classrooms, and, when they get there, we teach them how do you find the information in a text that’s in your second language that you’ve been learning for three years and, once we did that, then we got the kids to really look at what they wanted to do for a subject, they would take the subject, and then we went into all different little mini lessons like Catherine says. We taught them how to intro it, how to read it, how to write their own and how to be really experts and, at the end, our goal was: we want them to be an author so that this book can be published in a bunch of different places – so an authentic project for our kids. This project here we followed a 21st century learning model, where basically the walls of our classroom are porous. So we do some work inside the classroom, and then there are times when we actually take the students out of the classroom to explore historical things. One great thing we did was actually travel down to our local military museum and we had a chance to explore a First World War trench system that they had built. The kids actually got a chance to hold some of the equipment, see how tall the trench walls were, see that there were rats in trenches and really get an appreciation for what it was like to live in a trench. When they came to writing after that experience, the fact that they had all this firsthand experience with the primary sources really informed their writing. So when they talked about the muddy misery of trench life, they had felt it. They knew it, and it came through in their writing. Everybody was very excited and when you work with coworkers as passionate as these two, it’s very easy to get into it and get on board with it. So yes, that was my favorite part. And my favorite part would have to be working in small groups with the kids because we would tell them right at the get-go: k, this group, we’re going to work on the trenches, and they would read it with me and they’d ask me questions about it. And I’d be like, I’m not the history expert. How could we find out. So they’d look in here first, and then they’d quickly go: “can we go ask Mr. Clancy?” and they’d run across here, interrupt his class, and then come back with some information, so it really taught them how to be independent and they really were into it. They took everything from all the presentations they had, the museums and everything, and they’d bring it back to the small group and talk about it. It was really fascinating to see that it wasn’t just: on page five, we learned this. So, I really enjoyed that. Teaching Canadian history is a real gift that we can give our students and the one thing that they’ve all learned in this project here through the study of the Vimy monument itself, by looking at those statutes that Walter Allward left for us to examine, is that the whole notion of Canadian values like peace and justice and charity – those lessons were very important to that First World War generation. After the war, they realized that war was a tragedy and these are the values that Canadians wanted to champion after the war. It really set a tone for the rest of the 20th century, one we’re still following today. So by studying Canadian history, by studying the Vimy monument, kids got a sense of what it means to be distinctly Canadian.

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