Introducing Historical Thinking Concepts to a Grade 10 History Class in 5 days – Day 1

Ronald Martinello

I am currently the History/Geography head at  St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge, Ontario. I teach History, Law and Civics. I am in my 26th year of teaching.

When teaching Grade 10 history in Ontario I traditionally have had to overcome some obstacles that are common to most history teachers:

a.       how to make history interesting to students (many of my students who come into a mandatory history class find history boring);

b.      how to make history relevant to students (many of my students do not know why they need to study history); and

c.       how to cover the course content; many teachers who teach Grade 10 History in Ontario never get to the current period – they get bogged down in teaching the wars which leaves little time for anything beyond 1980.

Now I have my new challenge: introducing Historical Thinking Concepts as an integral and intentional part of the course. 

So, I decided to tackle all these issue in a 5 day unit.

Day 1: Introduction to the Course.

After the usual introductions (why history is important, what skills it teaches… blah, blah, blah…), I explained that history is a living thing and that students do not live in a bubble. They in fact live history. We used the 2nd election of Barack Obama and the Newtown shootings as reference points – points they could understand, remember and relate to.  I then explained that some of the history they would experience would be history they would remember for the rest of their lives. Years later they would be able to remember where they were, who they talked to, how they felt…). We brainstormed some events that they remembered including: the Japanese tsunami, Hurricane Sandy, the Queen’s Jubilee, and the 2010 Olympics.

It was here that, I gave a brief introduction to the 4 key historical concepts we would study this year:

SIGNIFICANCE – explaining why something is important

PERSPECTIVE – identifying events from the viewpoint of people who lived through the times

CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE – understanding the relationship between events and their results

CONTINUITY AND CHANGE - understanding that certain things (attitudes, processes, actions) change over time and certain things remain the same

I thought if I could use the context of events they already knew, the teaching of these key concepts would be: more interesting, more relevant and current – the three challenges I always face as a teacher. These 4 concepts would also help my students understand these events more clearly.

At this point, I shared some of the following events that remain clear to me to this day: the moon landing of 1969, the FLQ Crisis of 1970, and Paul Henderson’s goal in 1972. For many today one singular that will stand out will be the September 11 attacks of 2001 (fortunately or unfortunately, this group of students, born in 1997, may be the last group of students who have any type of memory of that event). For others of the older generations that singular event would be the Kennedy assassination.

I then presented 4 key events that occurred during my lifetime on a PowerPoint: each event directly tied to one of the 4 historical concepts. (see attached). I used these concepts to present a deeper understanding to the events identified.

This formed the basis of their first in-class assignment. They were to create their own PowerPoint, examining 4 key world events that occurred during their lifetime that they could explain using the 4 historical thinking concepts.

In order to ensure better understanding of each concept, I then dedicated one day for each concept over the next four days.

These will be explained in my next four blogs (to be continued…)