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James Miles teaches Social Studies, I.B. History, and Social Justice 12 at West Vancouver Secondary School, where he has taught for six years. He recently completed his MA in Social Studies Education at UBC. He is interested in incorporating local history, historical photographs, and other primary sources into his classroom.

Historical Wrongs and Political Wins

In this, my final blog post for the Historical Thinking Project, I hope to continue the conversation from my last post around the politics of the history curriculum. In this case, I am concerned with how students make sense of politicians’ attempts to redress historical injustices. More specifically, I have questions about how students consider the potential causes and consequences of politicians engaging in the ethical dimension of the past.

Questioning Commemoration in the Classroom

With 2014 barely a month old, it feels as if there has been an extraordinary amount of media attention on the past. Politicians and journalists are falling over each other to commemorate, condemn, comment on, and celebrate the various historical anniversaries that are occurring this year (and to question how they are taught in schools). The First World War centenary in particular has provoked extensive debate both here in Canada and around the world.

A Month of Conference Simulations: Confederation, Versailles, Yalta & Potsdam

The conference simulation can be a fun and valuable activity in a history classroom. Historical mock trials, conferences, and games have all found there way into the history classroom (Michael Harcourt recently wrote on this blog about his experiences working with mock trials). My question is, do they engender historical thinking?

Every December, I hope to explore this question by engaging my Grade 10, 11 & 12 students in various historical simulations. The students end the year imagining, playing, and interacting with historical actors.

A Primary Source Activity on the Creation of Residential Schools in Canada

I’ve written here before about finding useful and appropriate primary source evidence for students. So I thought I’d share one activity my grade 10’s recently completed that I felt was valuable and effective. This activity used a set of the Critical Thinking Consortium’s (TC2) online History Docs to answer the essential question: what were the main reasons residential schools were created in Canada?

Heroes and Villains

The ethical dimension of history poses the problem of judging those that acted in the past. It, at times, tempts us as teachers to construct a world of black and white for our students: good or evil, traitor or freedom fighter, hero or villain. These binaries of course are reflected to varying degrees in endless movies, novels, and other fictional and non-fictional narratives we face on a regular basis.

Creating Historical Thinking Timelines with Online Software

Teaching summer school provides the unique and overwhelming situation of covering extensive periods of history in condensed classes over a few weeks: In this case, I needed to teach the Canadian 20th century in approximately three weeks. I was forced to be creative in helping students understand the scope of historical periods, without resorting to sweeping (and boring) four-hour daily lectures that merely skim the surface.

Reflecting Back on Day One: Thinking Historically about Walhachin

As the school year has drawn to a close, I have been reflecting back on the first class in September. Every opening day I start the year by bringing in an artifact or photograph from my summer, that I attempt to connect to the study of history. This year was no different as I brought in a 100-year-old rotted and crumbling board of lumber, complete with rusty nails jutting out in all directions.

A Historical Thinking Final Exam?

In my school, and across British Columbia, there has been a growing movement to reinvent, transform or in some cases, simply abandon final exams. This is shown by the recent removal of most Provincial Exams at the Grade 12 level. This change has been cheered by many, but also left others who wish to continue with end of year summative assessments frustrated at the lack of support and time which they had been afforded in the past.

An Active Timeline of the LGBTQ Rights Movement in North America

Working with chronology in the classroom often brings forth the infamous history timeline, often with disastrous, or at least uninteresting results.  I too am guilty of handing students a list of important events to be sequenced into a less than in-depth exercise in timeline building, but I was resolved to change this. Drawing ideas from The Big Six Historical Thinking Skills (Seixas & Morton, 2013) I put together an activity for my Social Justice 12 class on the major developments in LGBTQ history in North America. 

Finding Appropriate Primary Source Evidence Online

Finding relevant, readable, and also revealing primary sources is a time consuming task.  Some textbooks have started to include primary source excerpts in places, but ultimately much of the work has to be done online: scouring public archives, educational websites and organizations devoted to the study of history. 

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections