First steps towards “wow”

We are now into week four of this History adventure and there have been some ups and downs…some moments of sheer brilliance and some moments of “what the heck was I thinking?” But like anything in the life of a teacher, you win some and you lose some. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks of trying to be more experiential with Grade 7 History.

Week One: QR Code Scavenger Hunt

IMG_2299What it was: After their pre-learning, the girls scattered throughout their school, cell phones in hand, and completed a scavenger hunt all about the people of New France.

Why is was great: The novelty of having their cell phones actually permitted in class was a riot! They loved the independence of running around the school testing out their learning and working as a team to answer questions and challenge their learning. IMG_2296

What wasn’t so awesome: I don’t think this was “experiential learning” as much as just active, fun, and novel. Which is important, but the actual deep learning wasn’t so present.

Week Two: Acadian Expulsion Simulation

What it was: Inspired by this little gem I found over the winter break, I started the class in costume (as an Acadian woman, Madeleine, of course), welcoming them into my house. I was gathering all the women together from our town to decide what to do about all the men being locked in the church for 3 days. After some discussion about what to do, I left the class (to milk my cow…who else is going to do it), and returned as a British officer. I took them down to the church (chapel) and they became the men of Acadia, having to decide whether to sign the Oath of Allegiance. The students then debated back and forth about why they would sign and eventually had to make a decision.

Why it was great: The students loved being thrust into a character. Some really got into it. They also commented the they really liked having to make those hard decisions themselves and they developed more empathy for what the Acadians went through. I could also refresh the information from their Independent Learning (homework) in character and they actually developed a deep, complex understanding of this chapter in History.

What wasn’t so awesome: While it’s a lot of fun to be in character, it’s also exhausting. Most of the students went along with it, but some were a little sly and kept asking why we weren’t speaking French if we weren’t in Acadia? Ha ha!

Week Three: Battle of the Plains of Abraham

IMG_2354What it was: We reenacted the famous battle that decided the fate of New France.

Why it was great: The students totally got into it! They loved the dramatic death scenes, acting it out, and having their peers play key roles of the important characters. It was a nice day outside and playing around in the fresh air was a welcome change from the classroom (so was being in the chapel last week, for that matter).

What wasn’t so awesome: The questions on their weekly check-in quiz were centred around the aftermath of the battle, not the actual battle itself. The information from the experiential part of the learn was stickier, so students often reverted to using this information on the quiz (even if it didn’t actually answer the given question). I realized that whatever we do in the “Playing History” day is going to have a more lasting impact than what the students read or discuss in class.

Later today, we will go through a Loyalist simulation that is one part “Octopus” and one part “Mafia”. Stay tuned on the learning moments from that experience.

About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

4 comments on First steps towards “wow”

  1. Celeste, Firstly, where is the picture of you in costume? I used to teach Am. History in three costumes: Ab Lincoln, Davey Crocket, and Sitting Bull – yes it is a lot of work, and students can have some difficulty ‘suspending their disbelief’ – but I always felt it was worth it.

    I really enjoyed reading your reflections on what was great, and not-so-great. I am currently wrestling with a traditional scavenger hunt model. Students go out into the city to find buildings, etc… However, instead of just ‘consuming’ the city (i.e. taking pictures and ticking boxes), I want this to be a learning experience where they contribute to the city. I am thinking that the students will have to post QR codes to their statues and/or their buildings.

    Any ideas?

    1. Derek Doucet says:

      Could they use Aurasma to tag videos to buildings downtown with a selfie video explaining the significance of different things? Sort of like a self-guided Jane’s Walk? Take a picture of the plaque on the building perhaps?

      Depending on what’s happening at that location, could they use Periscope if an event was taking place?

  2. Derek Doucet says:

    Hey Celeste!
    What a great blog post. I love how you’re so honest about what didn’t work and think that’s an important part of this whole process. I used to teach Gr. 7 History and did much of this same stuff – I did see Garth is most of his costumes – Ab Lincoln being the favourite!

    I love how you’re making the learning real! We used to reenact key battles from the War of 1812 in the Davisville Park and behind some apartments on Merton – until someone called the police from hearing the battle cries and loud, gratuitous death scenes!

    If found the decisions part of it was really successful with students. I had them change one aspect of a battle and follow that effect through to present day. I think we called it “and then…” students would build on this. For instance, flipping the victor in the Battle of the Plains eventually ends up with all of us speaking French and disliking conjugating English verbs in our ESL classes…

    I like the QR code idea and wonder if there’s any merit in heading to Ste Marie Among the Huron for an experiential adventure? We went and it was great!

    Looking forward to hearing about your Mafiaoso Octopus experience! You rock!

  3. I just heard about this awesome website story maps ( where you can use google maps, or upload your own, and then use geotagging to pin photos as well as annotations about the image. It seems really cool. You can use historic maps, contemporary, imaginative…

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