Vimy Ridge, Dieppe, D-Day. These are three of Canada’s most well known battles. Together with the Holocaust, these battles often dominate discussions of the world wars in high school History and Social Studies classrooms. As well, teachers often teach students to rate battle successes and failures based on casualty numbers. Since 2012, when I had the privilege to work at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, one of my philosophies when speaking about military conflicts has been that human stories matter more than statistics. I adopted this philosophy after realizing that my tour groups were more engaged in the stories of the men on the three memorial plaques than they were in my interpretation of the battlefield. I also recognized that visitors were highly engaged when I spoke of life on the homefront and the contributions made by the civilians of Newfoundland to the war effort. Nevertheless, it was not until the tour group visited the Beaumont-Hamel memorial park on July 11, 2016 that I considered how the battle at Beaumont-Hamel had affected the civilians of nearby towns such as Mailley-Maillet and Albert
As an educator I am always interested in how different countries approach teaching and learning. Often teachers will hear about the approach Finland takes with students such as no homework, critical thinking evaluations, project-based learning and the fact that they attend school four days a week - not five. Finland consistently ranks at the top globally when it comes to students being able to solve problems and apply critical thinking skills. Contrast this with other nations that employ more traditional approaches such s multiple choice testing and large amounts of memorization work as the basis for marks. However, there is another way in which nations approach learning and that is through food.
Throughout this tour we questioned the way we were teaching, and how History was writen and taught. What is important when teaching History? How should we be teaching? Is the content taking too much place in class? How could we use the Historical thinking concepts to help the students understanding the subject? What are the big questions we can ask our students?
Learning is powerful. My feelings towards both World Wars, although connected through the community, education, and individuals, had always been disconnected and some may even say cold or unemotional. This, for me, has changed. Drastically. Through my thorough education on this tour, my understanding has gone to a whole new level. The incredible and ground breaking understanding that I have found stems from the emotional roller coaster I have realized that this trip is for me through shock, truth, horror, and immense sadness.
When I visited the grave site of the soldier I researched, I didn't think I would feel anything different than what I feel when I look at any grave site. I was wrong. When I saw his name, ”Trooper G.J Brissette” written across the cement I started to feel like he was a real friend of mine, that he was a real person. I think we tend to forget that they were real people with real families and real friends. They're not just soldiers. That’s my favourite part of this entire tour, it’s not just a school project anymore. It becomes a personal connection to history and war, which, for me, makes learning about those topics more interesting. A life that was once so far removed from mine, is now a life that I will never forget and that’s the best part of this tour.
Eryn Hewson, High School student
Smiths Falls, Ontario
I would like to talk about the power of understanding and information. Early in this trip I thought I would be presenting at Nine Elms in France, only to find out we were at the incorrect location. The new date for the presentation would now be some 4 days later. In between these two dates a lot of miles covered between France and Belgium, information was discussed, locations visited, and thoughts processed. Some of the highlights included understanding how the gas affected our troops, the protection of the city of Ypres, and the dirty nature of fighting during Passcendaele.
History has always been a subject that I love and listening to my friend Ben talk about the trips he has been on was a big part of why I wanted to get involved. Once we were on the trip, I realized that this was more than a school trip. The teachers weren’t just teachers, they were travellers and just as excited about learning as we were – they also treated us like part of a team, which made it easier to learn with them. It was only two weeks, but it felt like I got a whole semester of learning.
Today we went to the monument of the last hundred days, walking up to it I noticed a couple things, it was small, square, had a couple of words written on it, and that it had an amazing view, but then I realized I don't know ANYTHING about this battle. As I stood there listening to Professor Lee Windsor explaining to us what happened during this battle, one thing really stood out to me, he had said "people say it was Canada's proudest hour." As I hear this, I think 'what about Vimy Ridge?'
Music is life. When I come across an artist or band that can produce progressive or unique music I could lock myself in a dark scary room and listen to it for a week and emerge a totally changed human being. Ever since, meaningful music and playing the guitar have been apart of my life, I see most subjects in school from a musical perceptive. I say all this because this year I was able to do something that was very inspirational and personal. The band Pink Floyd is how I fell in love with my passion. The band is in my opinion the most talented group of four guys with each of them excelling with their chosen instruments (David Gilmour is by far my favourite guitarist). The lyrics of primary song writer Roger Waters are incredibly poetic, intelligent thus resulting in making me think and question what the hell I'm actually listening too in many cases. Listening to the lyrics however I always get a sense of someone who was hurt and left alone at a young age.
It’s July 13th and today was a very long day. Frequently the question has been asked, “How do teachers bring new concepts into their classroom without breaking any rules?” This question is being asked in classrooms across Canada, and is one of the most difficult questions I imagine any teacher would ever face. Social Sciences are facing real problems trying to stay relevant, as students have become passive in their learning. We students need you to challenge us while letting us explore what we’re interested in. As a student wanting to study history and become a teacher the thought of social sciences no longer being taught is terrifying. The solution is fairly straight-forward, guide your students to think critically. If we teach critical thinking over content that can be found on Google, history can never be destroyed. Social Science is important because it shows you how the world works, but all that is useless if you cannot think critically about it. History can show us how to create a better world but we have to give our students the tools to understand it. This change will impact our lives, the way we think and give us the tools to better understand the world we live in.
During this trip I have realized that supporting our teachers will help engage our students.
Jordan Drummond, High School student
Smiths Falls, Ontario