Flashing through history

Originally published on UAlberta News and Medium.

Education professor Lindsay Gibson’s Canada 150 flash cards. Photo by Kateryna Barnes.

Education professor Lindsay Gibson’s Canada 150 flash cards. Photo by Kateryna Barnes.

Dry history lessons that don’t resonate with students may be a thing of the past if a University of Alberta professor can get a new, interactive learning tool into classrooms.

In advance of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, social studies education professor Lindsay Gibson is releasing a set of 150 flash cards focusing on events in Canadian history. One side of each card names a historical event paired with an archival image; the other has the date, a further description of the event and its consequences. Gibson’s goal with the cards is to discover if K-12 students’ accounts of Canadian history could be improved.

“Students have difficulty putting the various events they have learned about in their K-12 education into a meaningful narrative. These cards are a tool that will help them build some coherence and understanding of Canadian history,” explained Gibson.

“We’re storytelling animals. It’s how we make sense of the past. Is it possible, with a tiny bit of instruction, to completely change the stories students might tell about Canada?”

The concept of the flash cards came to Gibson when a friend’s six-year-old daughter invited him to play a “history game” called Timeline. The game’s cards have illustrations of a historic event on one side and the date on the other. Players correctly place cards in a timeline with the goal of getting cards out of their hands. Gibson wondered how something similar could work in a Canadian context.

Chinese-Canadian flash cards developed for teachers in British Columbia. Photo by Kateryna Barnes.

Inspired, Gibson created a set of similar cards to help British Columbia teachers bring Chinese-Canadian history into their classrooms. After the positive response, he expanded the project to cover Canadian history just in time for the 150th anniversary.

After developing a list of 150 events with the help of Canadian historians, Gibson created his first prototype. He chose to work with Grade 11 students who had finished studying the entirety of Canadian history in British Columbia’s social studies curriculum. Before he brought the cards into the classroom, he asked students to list the most important events in Canadian history and write Canada’s story. The results surprised him: only two students mentioned Indigenous peoples occupying the land prior to European contact and there were numerous historically-inaccurate claims.

“Students would make egregious errors,” said Gibson, “such as Pierre Trudeau being the Prime Minister who led Confederation and also brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms at the same time. At the end of 12 years of social studies, this is what you think?”

As part of his study, Gibson also asked the students to make their own timelines of what they thought were the most historically significant events and discuss them with classmates.

Graeme Stacey, the class’ teacher, was impressed by how the cards changed the landscape of his classroom.

“It was a totally engaging activity,” said Stacey. “There was no downtime, no kids on their phones or working on something else.”

“At the end of the day, we hope that students can tell a coherent, plausible narrative of Canadian history, but also one that is nuanced.”

The next step is for Gibson to get the cards into Alberta classrooms and discover what teachers here do with them and the degree they impact students’ ability to develop a logical narrative. Though he has already designed some accompanying lesson ideas focused on different historical thinking concepts, he recognized that there are many potential ways for a class to use the cards.

“I’m really excited to get them into the hands of teachers,” said Gibson. “What will they do with them? They are bound to come up with ideas that I haven’t even contemplated.”

While Gibson is excited to see what other teachers do with the flash cards, he also hopes students start to build their own stories of the past.

“At the end of the day, we hope that students can tell a coherent, plausible narrative of Canadian history, but also one that is nuanced,” said Gibson.

“I really want students to think critically about Canada’s 150th anniversary. Is it historically significant? With these cards, I hope to deepen their understanding of history and build this framework so they can deconstruct and or reconstruct the story they tell, rather than tell them ‘here’s the story.’”

Gibson’s flash cards will be available in mid-June through The Critical Thinking Consortium.


Save

Film about Edmonton’s Indigenous history no walk in the park

Originally published on UAlberta News.

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Making a film isn’t a walk in the park, but Conor McNally (BA’15) may have found a way to make it about a walk.

The graduate from the Faculty of Native Studies was in his final semester when he was encouraged to go on a river valley walk with Education professor Dwayne Donald. Donald uses the walks to paint a picture of the Indigenous history of the river valley surrounding the University of Alberta’s North Campus and tell traditional Cree stories. The film, ôtênaw, which is Cree for “a settlement” or “a city”, gives viewers the chance to explore what Donald calls “the pentimento” or layers of Edmonton.

“The thing that really struck me was the delivery,” says McNally about Donald’s walks. “Presenting that history on the land, in the locations he’s talking about and interweaving it with Cree philosophies– I thought, ‘This is the best!’”

The experience inspired McNally to pitch the idea of filming the walk to Donald. McNally sees natural similarities between oral storytelling and film-making, which is why he thought it would make a perfect documentary.

“For Indigenous storytelling, there are limitations to the written word,” McNally explains. “A lot of it is being with people and people feel it differently as opposed to reading it in bed, wearing pyjamas. There’s more respect in person.”

The film, which is screening at Metro Cinema as part of April’s FAVA Fest, was awarded the festival’s Award of Excellence for “Outstanding Long-Form Documentary”.

ôtênaw: uncovering the layers of community

otenawfilmstill

Film still of Dr. Dwayne Donald

Once he got the green light, McNally leveraged some additional resources, such as a freezer full of 16mm film and grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council.  In ôtênaw, McNally superimposes different shots of the river valley and archival images over Donald’s storytelling. McNally explains that Donald’s narration lead the way for the visuals.

“Looking at the rough edit I had, I’d say ‘it’d be great if I went down to the EPCOR power plant and shot some stuff there’,” says McNally.

McNally utilized another valuable resource while making the film– his community and their artistic skills. With the help of a friend, he reused animated painted slides from another project to emphasize Donald uncovering layers of Edmonton’s history. He also brought in other film-making friends to help him collect extra footage.

“It’s weird to call it ‘my film’ when there’s so many other people involved in every step of it,” says McNally. “The day we filmed Dwayne’s walk, I had this whole crew of people helping. My parents were watching my daughter and they invited the team  over for chili after the walk.”

McNally notes that it was easy to connect with Donald beyond the film’s subject matter, bonding over their favourite hockey team, the Oilers.

“We had this moment where Dwayne thought he’d met me before and I was sure we hadn’t, but sometimes you meet someone and you think ‘We could be old friends’,” says McNally.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much from him, especially after watching the film a trillion times!”

The feeling of respect forged between McNally and Donald is mutual.

“Conor is a pretty cool guy and I admire him a lot,” says Donald. “He’s very passionate and committed to doing work that shows connectivities. To be a self-taught filmmaker and employ the sensibilities he does in this film– I love the music, the Elder’s words and the artfullness of it all.”

While Donald wasn’t originally comfortable with the idea of making a film about the river walks and storytelling he shares, he had the sense that something good could come of McNally’s initiative, and trusted him. McNally hopes that viewers take home a little more knowledge about their city and its story.

“All my films are about Edmonton in some way– I was born here and I’m not leaving anytime soon,” explains McNally. “I just want to raise awareness about these stories, because so many Edmontonians have no clue about any of this history. While Dwayne’s walks are free and open to the public, with film, one advantage is that it can be shown across the country. In that regard, I think it’s cool to tell very local stories and share them with a global audience.”


ôtênaw will screen at FAVA Fest on Wednesday, April 19 at Metro Cinema and at Vancouver’s DOXA Film Festival in May.

A year of stories: 2016 in review

header

Top L-R: Leila Fanaeian and Jesse Kwasny in a waste audit, a spread of David Lewkowich’s graphic novels, Jason Wallin channels Norwegian black metal, Jerine Pegg shows off a tiny worm, Minecraft (cc), and a CTS class demonstrates their skills. // photos by k.barnes

Thinking back on the past year, it’s easy to conclude that I am lucky. I work with fascinating people, and I get to share their stories. Experiencing that kind of trust is humbling, and for that I’m grateful.

This year, the stories immersed me into the nitty-gritty details of waste management, introduced me to the concept of “math rappers” and gave me VIP access to a black metal and tattoo festival in Bergen, Norway. Despite this diversity, a few themes emerged: sustainability, pop culture in the classroom and hands-on learning.

Sustainability

feature-waste-audit-header
Jerine Pegg adamantly believes that for students to learn science, they need to do authentic science. This value resulted in her taking composting worms up to Nunavut for local students to continue learning about waste management, gardening and healthy eating. It also aligns with what the folks at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations did on their waste audit – they have to do real science to know if the university’s sustainable practices have buy-in from the campus community.

Read more about Jerine and her worms and how waste management works at the University of Alberta.

Hands-on learning

2.jpg

“It was amazing because I didn’t know what to do, so I just started doing things.” – Jason Wallin

“I’ve never touched any construction or woodwork, so this is a lot of firsts for me, but I’m having lots of fun and making a lot of cool things.” – Jamie Lambert-Brown

Whether it was future Career and Technology Studies educators constructing projects in a workshop, or faculty member Jason Wallin’s on-the-fly documentary film-making in Bergen, trying your hand at something new and having a great time doing it was incredibly inspiring, and something I need to try more often.

Read about Jason’s film-making adventure and check out the CTS students’ projects.

Pop culture in the classroom

3

From math raps, Star Wars, Minecraft and more to graphic novels in teacher and librarian education, pop culture has a place in education. David Lewkowich uses graphic novels to help future teachers reflect on their own education experiences, while Elementary Education alumna Jessica Maloughney uses a variety of pop culture touchstones to bridge gaps with her second grade students (Lydia Menna and Jason Wallin provide expert comment).

Read about why David uses graphic novels and how Jessica connects with her students.

 

From the comic book store to the classroom

Originally posted on illuminate. Written by k.barnes and m.henderson.

A selection of graphic novels from Education professor David Lewkowich's collection. photo by k.barnes

A selection of graphic novels from Education professor David Lewkowich’s collection. photo by k.barnes

Once thought of as a niche medium appreciated mostly by stereotypical middle-aged comic book collectors like Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, the graphic novel has been steadily moving from the fringes to the mainstream since the late 1980s.

In anticipation of Readin Week 2016, we sat down with Gail de Vos, professional storyteller and long-time sessional instructor at UAlberta’s School of Library and Information Studies, and David Lewkowich, assistant professor in the Department of Secondary Education, to talk about this relatively new hybrid of text and image and its value as a medium for teaching and research.

De Vos has taught a course focused on graphic novels since 2001. Her favourite character is Baba Yaga, a witch from Slavic European folklore who is depicted as a villain in the comic book series Hellboy. Lewkowich, whose research interests include literary theory, young adult literature and cultural studies, currently loves the character Marlys Mullen, created by cartoonist and author Lynda Barry, because Marlys is able to look through the complexity of her older sister’s experience and tell a joke.

Responses have been edited for length.

Faculty of Education: Why did you start integrating graphic novels into your teaching and research?

David Lewkowich: It is important to me, especially on the first day of class, to help my students understand and break down the view that the “teacher” has a wealth of knowledge. Instead, it’s about creating a relationship and space where the teacher is a beginner every day. I find that comics and graphic novels allow an avenue into this world view.

Comics and graphic novels make us all beginners. There is no one right way to read them, as no one has been formally schooled in how to read comics.

Gail de Vos: As a professional storyteller, I began reading graphic novels and comics because of my research into reworkings of folktales in pop culture. After reading a lot of them, I realized that they are the closest print medium to oral storytelling and folktales. I was truly captivated by this whole idea, which led to my research and teaching on the subject.

Faculty of Education: How does the medium help you interact with students?

Gail de Vos: I often think about the importance of self-interpretation, which is something David has hinted at earlier. This is all about learning to be confident—that there is no right or wrong way to read this. Once a book is in the public domain, the author and illustrator, or sometimes just the illustrator, no longer have control over how the book is read. It becomes about how the reader responds to the illustrations. I often start my courses off with wordless graphic novels, so that there are no words to show the readers where to go.

Often people don’t know how to start reading a graphic novel. They want a “how to read graphic novels” explanation because of their previous exposure to text-based books. This is especially true when you start reading wordless graphic novels.

David Lewkowich: I agree with Gail. There is something about how we have been schooled to read language in that we think that it’s a solid structure. There is something about the interaction of words and images, and images alone, that allows us to go more inside ourselves with our reading. It allows us to inspect the connections that we are making with the text.

photo by k.barnes

photo by k.barnes

Faculty of Education: What are the different themes that you seek to explore with students?

Gail de Vos: Self-discovery is a major theme that I’m interested in. It can be found in all forms of literature, and it’s a theme that is repeated over and over again in graphic novels.

David Lewkowich: I love graphic novels that tend to explore themes around love, adolescence and memory. These are all aspects of human existence, where it’s all about unanswerable questions and how can we allow the text to play with us.

I’m also interested in how our past experiences in school and our early experiences with teachers can impact a teacher’s future teaching. Words alone don’t seem to fully capture the emotional complexity of these ideas or themes.

Reading graphic novels allows us to explore our emotional past in a way that words can’t. I know that when I set foot back in a high school working as a teacher, I dealt with a lot of insomnia and my own emotional frustration, both of which I didn’t expect; I see that happening again when I look at my students. Working with graphic novels allows me to help support students in their own emotional discovery.

Faculty of Education: What advice do you have for educators, librarians and other information professionals looking to integrate graphic novels into their work?

Gail de Vos: Read them for yourselves. For every class I teach, regardless of the content, I put graphic novels on the reading list. I also suggest using wordless graphic novels so students take time to appreciate the illustrations themselves. It helps students become more observant.

David Lewkowich: Encourage students to dwell on the page. It can be hard to slow down on the page, but when you do, you notice things that you may have thought were only tangential. Sometimes it’s these tangential moments that can add a lot more to the text.

Comics create a level playing field and allow for discussion where no one possesses the knowledge as to what is the meaning of the text and everyone can come to their own conclusions.


The University of Alberta is proud to be a partner of Read In Week Edmonton 2016. The purpose of Read In Week is to create a greater awareness of the importance of reading. Historically, the event has successfully promoted the school as an important place for the development of lifelong literacy. Read In Week Edmonton runs from October 3-7, 2016. Visit the website for more information.