Environmental History in the Classroom: EcoKids, NiCHE and the University of Western Ontario

crayonsGraduate students in the M.A. in Public History program at the University of Western Ontario are trained to apply their skills to projects outside the realm of academia. In the fall semester of 2009 we received an exciting opportunity to work in conjunction with two outside partners in the preparation of environmentally-focused lesson plans for educators across Canada.

The website EcoKids has been actively providing environment-focused education resources for teachers since 1994. The award-winning website already has a rich collection of lesson plans compatible with the Ontario science and technology curriculum. EcoKids is now endeavouring to provide environmentally-oriented social studieslesson plans to expand their relevance for educators.

NiCHE, has provided support and input throughout the completion of these lesson plans, giving advice on a series of drafts and suggesting potential avenues to enhance the environmental focus. NiCHE is an ideal partner because the initiative focuses on connecting research with educators to promote scholarship in Canadian environmental history and to make that scholarship accessible.

Public History students worked in groups to draft lesson plans tailored to the ‘Heritage and Citizenship’ sections of the Ontario curriculum. For each lesson detailed primary and secondary source research was conducted to ensure accurate content. Additionally, these primary sources were integrated into the lesson plans themselves, allowing students the opportunity to engage directly with the material.
The Grade 3 lesson plan, The Child’s Perspective: Comparing and Contrasting Development in Rural and Urban Settlements in Upper Canada, contains activities that allow children to interact with nineteenth-century maps and work with reproductions of nineteenth-century art to learn about changes in landscape over time. For the Grade 4 lesson plan, Land Use, Agriculture and Life in a Medieval Village, the group uses images of agricultural activities from a fifteenth century manuscript. Students engage with these images to learn how agriculture impacted landscape and population in the Middle Ages and to make comparisons with their own lives. The Grade 6 lesson plan, First Nation’s Peoples and European Explorers: Huron Life and European Contact, uses primary documents including letters written by early European explorers and photographs of artefacts pertaining to Huron life. By examining these sources students will be able to understand how both the Huron and Europeans understood and used the Canadian environment. The lesson plans are creative, engaging, and fun so that students will retain the content. Each group approached their topic keeping in mind not only the history but the young audience they were addressing.

These lesson plans show that social studies classes do not have to sacrifice accuracy for accessibility. While the lesson plans contain a lot of information, the emphasis on the primary sources, in conjunction with the explanation about how to read these sources, will bring environmental history to the classroom in a way that is both interesting to students and accurate. The importance of environmental history in our political climate will continue to make these lesson plans relevant to students and teachers alike.

To find out more about EcoKids visit their website at http://www.ecokids.ca/
To find out what the Public History Graduate Students are up to, visit us athttp://www.ssc.uwo.ca/history/gradstudies/publichistory/index.html

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