Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mapping the Historical Consciousness of 7th Graders.

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Candidate
University of New Brunswick

At the risk of self-promotion, I would like to draw your attention to a research note that has just been published in the Journal of New Brunswick Studies. As a graduate student who has devoted the past 5 years to exploring the phenomenon of historical consciousness, I am (needless-to-say) thrilled and honoured to see a small piece of my research published in a scholarly journal.

All this aside, the findings also warrant further discussion, since they provide an intriguing glimpse into an age group less commonly discussed in conversations around historical consciousness and historical thinking in Canada. The data was collected as part of a pre-survey that expanded upon the Canadians and their Pasts (2013) investigation with an entire class of Anglophone 7th graders.  In working with this group of students, I had the privilege of learning a little bit more about their relationship with the past, and the narratives that they carry. Over a period of 15 weeks, we worked together to explore a material history framework for historical thinking in museums, which served as a cultural tool for deepening students’ historical consciousness.

As Stéphane Levesque (2014) has pointed out, “the study of historical consciousness makes it possible to understand how people use the past.” For the students participating in this inquiry, it was evident that they initially used the past to situate themselves within a Canada narrative of privilege and war. These “broad pictures” for remembering represented common themes that (just as Levesque has indicated) served as “backdrops” for acquiring new knowledge. For these students, their themes of privilege and war were predominantly optimistic.

In somewhat contradiction to this optimism, however, many of the students paralleled this schema with more pessimistic perceptions about change over time. In this regard the students were very unlike adult samplings in the larger Canadians and Their Pasts study. Hence, rather than perceiving things as getting better over time, nearly half (42%) of the students recognised progression as a contradiction. For these students, while technology had made life easier, the resulting pollution and conflict had also made life worse. In this sense, students’ narratives of privilege seemed to be somewhat at odds with their beliefs in change over time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Adapting Documents for the Classroom: Equity and Access


What Is It?
Preparing and modifying primary source documents so that all students can read and analyze them in their history classrooms.

Although they are useful for engaging students in the past, and teaching them to think historically, primary source documents often use antiquated or complex language. This can pose a challenge even for able readers, let alone those who read below grade level. Adapting a variety of historical documents for use in the classroom will allow students greater access to important reading and thinking opportunities.

Adapting documents for the classroom includes the use of excerpts, helpful head notes, and clear source information. It means adjusting documents for non-expert readers and making them shorter, clearer, and more focused. Adaptations can also include simplifying syntax and vocabulary, conventionalizing punctuation and spelling, cutting nonessential passages, and directing attention to a document's key components.

Read more..

Is it Ever Okay to Tamper with the Past? Modifying Primary Sources to Make Them Accessible

History Tech 
by glennw on October 27, 2014

Maybe this is not as big a topic as I think it is. Maybe it’s just me. But it seems as if the idea of modifying primary sources in order to make them more “user friendly” for our students, especially younger kids, is kind of a big deal.

Maybe I’m wrong. As I travel around the country, I get the chance to work with lots of social studies teachers – who by the very nature of their position have a tendency to voice strong opinions about, well . . . just about everything.

Including among other things: K-State football, KU basketball, Democrat, Republican, Texas BBQ, Kansas City BBQ, and iPads vs. Chromebooks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Learning with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Candidate
University of New Brunswick

For educators interested in human rights, consider the recently opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights as your go-to source for lesson plans and teaching ideas. As someone who has been watching the museum develop from afar, I look forward to the day when I can visit in person. Yet, for those of us restricted by distance, the museum’s web site provides an effective outreach service that is equally beneficial.

As Mireille Lamontagne has noted in her recent blog post, the museum’s Canadian Human Rights Toolkit provides a convenient hub for lesson plans geared towards grades K-12, which can be filtered by province, language, grade level, and subject area. The hub currently boasts more than 200 teacher-reviewed resources, including lesson plans, teacher’s guides, manuals, handbooks, and study guides. What makes this tool kit most promising, however, is that it is a work-in-progress. As such, it represents an evolving database of teaching resources, useful for Canadian classrooms, and intended to grow over time with user-generated content. In this way the Canadian Human Rights Toolkit promotes an on-going exchange on human rights education in Canada. As educators, the more we contribute to this exchange, the more we can add to the national conversation.

Criteria for submissions to the toolkit are based upon four basic points:
  • Related to human rights;
  •  Available in English and/or French;
  • Intended for the Canadian classroom;
  • Aimed at students aged 5 to 18;
Resources are verified for completeness and suitability according to this criteria, then posted as “not reviewed”. Materials are later reviewed bi-annually by a national committee of accredited teachers, brought together by the museum’s project partners (these partners, however, are not identified). 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taking Time for Role Reversals in Museums

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Candidate
University of New Brunswick

One of the biggest challenges I've encountered when working with both adults and students in community history museums, is the problem of time. There never seems to be enough time to make connections: connections with student visitors, connections to individual artifacts, connections to big ideas in history. Too often it seems, a school field-trip to a community museum evolves into little more than a hurried walk through history, where students are presented with only the alluring highlights of each exhibit space. Although armed with the best of intentions, in such instances museum educators become little more than information gatekeepers, adjusting their tour ‘on the fly’ to the immediate needs of a group leader—without any prior knowledge of the students or their interests. For students themselves, such a scenario leaves no time to ask questions, no time for individual engagement, and no time to establish historical connections.

There is a solution to this, however, and it rests with role reversals, along with repeat museum visits. As I have found in my own research, with repeat visits to a community history museum (combined with curatorial classroom time) traditional gatekeeper roles can be reversed—thus ‘flipping the museum’—to enable student-driven exploration of the past. In my own case study, students visited their local community history museum four times over six weeks. In between, they also re-visited their experience through classroom activities, which included close reading (and corroboration) of artifact sources, as well as mapping of museum narratives. In this way, students were empowered to break out of their passive role as knowledge-receivers—to become engaged in discovery, observation, de-construction, and re-interpretation.

By returning to the museum over an extended unit of study, students benefited from having ample time to establish thoughtful connections within the museum. In addition, with each repeat visit, role reversals became increasingly more evident, as students themselves adopted the social role of museum curators. Thus, arriving at the museum for their first visit, students attentively followed the guide, listening to the words and taking notes. Arriving for the second visit, it was obvious that all of the students were now eager and prepared to engage in dialogue with the exhibits, as well as the curators. They were focused, familiar with the site, and armed with a mission. This sense of purpose continued with each return, as students became increasing more accustomed to the learning environment, and seized upon each opportunity to direct probing questions of the curators. By the fourth and final museum visit, it was clear that museum roles had been flipped, since instead of simply following the guide and taking notes (as had been the case during their first visit), students were now fully in charge of the tour—with each presenting curatorial statements of significance about their chosen artifact, while the adult audience simply listened. This reversal process proved to be very effective,

Saturday, August 23, 2014

From the Ontario Ministry of Education - Capturing Thinking

Source: Making Thinking Visible Facebook page (August 2014): 

Great Example of Material History Inquiry - National Museum of American History

A nation of savers: The impulse to connect with history through objects, buildings, and sites

Intrigued by a piece of charred wood in the museum's First Ladies exhibition, intern Auni Gelles explores the story behind this slice of timber as it relates to the history of both the national museum and the historic preservation movement. Two experts discuss how Americans' long-standing impulse to collect bits of history simultaneously damaged and preserved many of our national treasures.
When British troops marched into Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, 200 years ago on August 24, they set off a shockwave of fear by burning iconic symbols of the young capital city: the White House and Capitol Building. With these landmarks ablaze, residents feared for their lives as well as for the fate of their nation. An air of desperation arose over the city as the scale of destruction became known.
- See more at: 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Using History to Invigorate Common-Core Lessons - by Sam Wineburg

Common-core anxiety sweeps the land, and professional developers of curriculum and assessment smell dollars. Flashy brochures promise that once that purchase order is signed, every child will pass the new tests. For a pittance more, they'll make the lion lie down with the lamb.
District administrators would be wise to lay down their pens. There's a valuable resource right in front of their eyes. It requires no lengthening of the school day, no elimination of art and music, and no endorsement of checks to third-party developers. It's so familiar we no longer notice it. It's called the history/social studies ...

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Map of Thinking involved in Understanding

Here's an example explanation of the See-Think-Wonder protocol:

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Keeping it Real.

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Candidate
University of New Brunswick

The recent announcement of a name change for Canada’s Museum of Civilization has sparked a great deal of public debate in Canada. It all began, when Heritage Minister, James Moore, first announced the idea in 2012, as part of a departmental branding initiative. In anticipation of Canada’s upcoming 150th anniversary of Confederation, funding priorities are being directed towards specific historical benchmarks.

One month after making the announcement, Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Museums Act in order to establish the Canadian Museum of History and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, received first reading in the House of Commons, followed by a second reading in May 2013. Meanwhile, museum consultants launched a cross-Canada engagement campaign, holding roundtable discussions in nine cities, and establishing an online survey for wider participation.  By December 2013, the name change became official. The Canadian Museum of Civilization would now be called the Canadian Museum of History.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kids Don't Learn Better Just Because They're Young 'Little Sponges': What Really Works

Great post by Daniel Willingham in Real Clear Education (April 22, 2014):

RCEd Commentary
You often hear the phrase that small children are sponges, that they constantly learn. This sentiment is sometimes expressed in a way that makes it sound like the particulars don’t matter that much -- as long as there is a lot to be learned in the environment, the child will learn it. A new study shows that for one core type of learning, it’s more complicated. Kids don’t learn important information that’s right in front of them, unless an adult is actively teaching them. 

The core type of learning is categorization. Understanding that objects can be categorized is essential for kids’ thinking. Kids constantly encounter novel objects. For example, each apple they see is an apple they’ve never encountered before. The child cannot experiment with each new object to figure out its properties. She must benefit from her prior experience with other apples, so that she can know, for example, that this object, since it’s an apple, must be edible.

Read more... 

Sacrificing Comfort for Complexity: Presenting Difficult Narratives in Public History

Interesting post by Rose Miron in The Public History Commons (April 24, 2014):

Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and foster dialogue on its future. For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.
Fort Snelling. Photo credit: Rose Miron
Fort Snelling. Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Upon entering Fort Snelling, visitors are greeted with American flags, interpreters dressed in 19th-century military attire, and a narrative of patriotism and progress. The historic site in St. Paul tells the story of Minnesota’s founding but in the process obscures a story about Dakota dispossession and genocide. For Dakota people, Fort Snelling is not a symbol of the state’s triumphant founding but rather a testament to American imperialism, a reminder of the women and children that were held there in the winter of 1862-1863, and the hundreds that died in the camp, as well as on the death marches to and from Fort Snelling. It is this “difficult history” that the Minnesota Historical Society struggles to present at Fort Snelling.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Comment peut-on rendre l’histoire et le patrimoine plus accessibles à une génération de plus en plus branchée ?

Par Nathalie Landry
( - le 8 avril 2014)

C’est une question qui préoccupe Jeanne Mance Cormier, conservatrice au Musée acadien de l’Université de Moncton, Aïcha Benimmas, professeure à la Faculté des sciences de l’éducation de l’Université de Moncton,  et Éric Poitras, étudiant au postdoctorat à l’Université McGill. Leur collaboration met à profit une expertise en éducation muséale, en pédagogie, en histoire et en éducation en réseau. Ils collaborent actuellement sur un projet de recherche intitulé Collaboration interdisciplinaire en matière d’éducation muséale — Enjeux et promesses des TIC, dont les fruits seront présentés à Toronto ce jeudi 10 avril, lors de la Conférence annuelle de l’Association des musées canadiens.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Museums make you happier and less lonely, studies find

Author: Lindsay Van Thoen
March 26, 2014  - Freelancers Union 
One of the greatest things about freelancing is that although we’re often very busy, we can choose to be “off” during 9-5 hours. This means that we can visit uncrowded museums and attend other midday events, which are often hellish on the weekends.
Here are 6 reasons why you should take a long lunch tomorrow and head off to your local museum:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

De-Constructing Cabinets of Curiosity: History’s Mysteries in the Museum

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Candidate
University of New Brunswick

Building upon this month’s theme of ‘Canadian History’s Mysteries’, I would like to share with you some of my own fieldwork experience regarding museum education and the Historical Thinking concept of Evidence and Sources. This research demonstrates how students can be empowered to not just absorb the narratives they encounter in museums—but rather consider exhibit artifacts as mystery sources waiting to be deciphered.

Central to this approach to museum education is the understanding that a discipline-based method for historical inquiry in museums requires a slightly different set of procedures. This is because history museums are not like other sites of learning. Curators in history museums become very adept at "reading" artifacts for their visual clues. Within the museum profession, historians who have nurtured this ability are called Material Historians. Hence, material historians are able to read much more than words.

Material historians also do not see artifacts as props to illustrate a preconceived idea. Instead, material historians see artifacts as rich sources of evidence. In this sense, artifacts represent the starting point for any historical inquiry – not the end point.

So, how can educators empower middle school students to think historically within history museums? The key rests with enabling them to go directly to the artifact. In so doing, students can learn how to unlock the evidence within each and every source they encounter.

With this principal in mind, I have adopted a material history framework that was first formulated by graduate students at the University of New Brunswick in the early 1980’s.  The scaffolding version that was developed for my research focused upon four basic steps of historical inquiry:
  1. 1. Describe: Carefully recording any observable evidence the artifact contains;
  2. 2. Corroborate: Comparing the artifact source (along with exhibit text) against the accession file (and other artifacts within the collection) for additional clues, questions, or contradictions;
  3. 3. Contextualize: Extending the inquiry to search other secondary sources for additional background information;
  4. 4. Conclude: Formulating a summary statement about the artifact, based upon findings.
Such a process actually enables students to de-construct museum narratives. In the case of my seventh-grade class, it also led to many unexpected surprises for students; because quite quickly they discovered that the past is not always as it first appears. Through careful examination of the primary artifact sources, several students found contradictions within the museum exhibits; while some uncovered new information; and all experienced the problematic nature of historical inquiry. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

“I found my grandfather!”: Students researching their family history.

Combing the stacks of the 
New Brunswick
Provincial Archives
by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Candidate
University of New Brunswick

Last December, the THEN/HiER blog was abuzz with interesting discussions about family history in the classroom. As my colleagues have pointed out, family history can “maximize student engagement and learning” (Maddie Knickerbocker, December 3, 2013); it can “build an enduring and evolving connection to the past” (Heather McGregor, December 5, 2013); it can “serve as entry points into the bigger picture of history” (Kate Ireland, December 12, 2013); and can “open the door of possibility for building research skills” (Jesika Arseneau, December 20, 2013). All of these arguments are valid and worthy. They speak of history as a construct of the beholder—assembled from traces and accounts—that, with a little bit of guidance, might enable students to re-construct the narratives that frame their lives. With each of these arguments, however, the writers have concluded their entry with a challenging question.  This is what I would like to address.

This month, I have been given the rare opportunity to work with a group of 11 middle school students, helping them to research their family history. This practicum has evolved out of my dissertation, which relates to ways in which middle school students remember their past.  Hence, as part of a school-wide enrichment program, one morning a week, over the next four weeks, I will be attempting to integrate family histories into students’ social studies. I’d like to share with you my experience of leading this group of students through the archival maze of family identities.  In so doing, I hope to add to the discussion around benefits and challenges associated with this approach to history education.

Because family history research can be equated to looking for a needle in a haystack, I have organized my lesson plans around four broad themes:  What I already know; What I want to know; What I can find out; and What I have learned. As a result, the students are being requested to undertake a bit of family sleuthing each week; expand upon these clues by consulting primary sources in the archives or online; and draw meaning from the subsequent evidence they discover. The final project will involve creating a memory book that documents what they have found, what it means to the individual, and how it connects to larger events in Canadian history. Such an approach is not without its challenges however.

First of all, it is important to remember that for these students, “history” is anything that has happened before their birth, and “the past” includes memories of their own childhood.  So, in this sense, family history means working backwards from their birth, in approximately the year 2000. Likewise, when they speak of their grandparents, they are referencing a birth-range between c. 1940 to 1960. This poses a challenge, because, although many of the students have wonderful stories to tell about their family’s distant past (stories that have been handed down through the generations), it is extremely difficult to engage in archival research unless they have a specific name and a specific date with which to work.  To make matters worse, in many provinces, records of birth for this time period are not available (unless one wishes to pay a fee and wait several months for a written response).  So, in such cases, vague references to grandparents are all that we have to begin with. Telephone directories (available on are proving to be extremely valuable for this purpose, because they enable students to make that first connection with a past that stretches beyond their immediate memory (although even this source is not universally beneficial to all students). Ultimately then, my first challenge is to help each student to find someone in their family who was born before 1922, because with this information they can tap into the most recently available census returns of 1921.

Secondly, although I am only working with 11 students (and assisted by a parent volunteer), undertaking this type of activity with an entire class would be extremely difficult. Not impossible however, and not unfeasible either; because, with the appropriate scaffolding tool anything is possible. What I am finding, is that scaffolding tools are required that can be quickly adjusted to meet the specific learning needs of each individual student—as their unique research problem arises; and although there are endless streams of generic teaching resources to be found on the Internet, with exception to the tools developed by Library and Archives Canada (which provide a good start), very few Internet resources actually enable students to engage in serious research that is both genealogical and historical in nature.

So, in order to sift through the haystack of records available online, while also accommodating diversity in prior knowledge along with learning differentiations, I have found it necessary to design tools that enable every individual student to unlock a ‘clue’ about their unique past, from a large variety of archival sources. This is no small feat, since the online archival sources for each province within Canada are woefully inconsistent, and knowledge of digital records in other jurisdictions (outside of Canada) require an expertise that I do not possess. Hence, my second challenge is to ensure that no student be excluded from the inquiry process; and that every student experience success (in some way) of finding something relating to their family.

Undoubtedly—and very unlike the popular television advertisements, in which one click of a mouse opens the doors to your past—these students are discovering that there are no easy answers. Instead, they are learning that family history research requires precise examination, perseverance, patience, and meticulous record-keeping.  Along the way, they are also experiencing (first-hand) how historians ‘piece together’ the past from seemingly minuet scraps of evidence.  Yet, at the same time, they are reaping great satisfaction; because within those eureka moments—when someone pipes out: “I found my grandfather!”—they are beginning to feel exactly what it’s like to be a researcher. These are the real-life moments that, in the words of Ted Christou (2010), confirm history to be “sometimes messy, often tentative, secretively delightful, and wonderfully exciting”.

I look forward to sharing our journey with you…

References: (February 1, 2014). Retrieved from 

Arseneau, J. (December 20, 2013). Family history as a gateway to learning about archives [Web blog post]. Retrieved from 

Christou, T. (2010). “Get thee to the archive: The teaching of history and the doing of history”. Education letter: A publication of the faculty of education and the education alumni committee. Fall/Winter, 15-17.

Ireland, K. (December 12, 2013).Considering family histories in the elementary classroom [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

Knickerbocker, M. (December 3, 2013). Family histories in the colonial classroom [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

Library and Archives Canada (February 1, 2014). Genealogy and family history: Youth corner. Retrieved from

McGregor, H. (December 5, 2013).Using identity, family history and family artifacts to connect with the past [Web blog post]. Retrieved from