Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teaching Canada's History

Tomorrow Canada's History Society is launching Teaching Canada's History, a special publication of The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine. The magazine explores how Canada's best teachers and educators are sharing the history of our country with young people.

We have terrific features including Peter Seixas discussing historical thinking, Catherine Duquette looking at controversies in the classroom, Eric Langhorst using technology to spark learning, Anne Tenning on the importance of teaching about residential schools, Rose Fine-Meyer on Local History, and Blake Seward on Remembrance in Canada. We also had wonderful contributions from Joe Stafford, Helen Raptis, Charles Hou, and Vicky Lapointe.

What I'm most excited about is the inclusion of links within the print version of the magazine. Many people have put print publications online, but they always lack the interactivity of a website. We jumped ahead by bolding words in the text and tagging images in the print version, letting readers know what else can be accessed through the print version.

Teachers are a really difficult group to crack and we've tried to create an extremely high value product that is uniquely shareable. Selling a lot of teachers magazines is always going to be a challenge, but we hope that by reaching the largest audience possible, this will also support sales on newstands and through our website. It's got the portability of print with the interactivity of a digital magazine.

For the last six months this project has been my main focus. It has been an extreme pleasure and honour to work with these talented educators and the editorial staff at the Beaver magazine to make this project work. A special note of thank you as well to James Gillespie, who has put together an incredible magazine with a terrific look and feel.

Please take a look through the issue and let us know what you think! I'll have lots more to say about the magazine in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Canada's Best History Teachers

Canada's History Society recently announced the 25 finalists for this year's Governor General's Awards for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History. We present the award each year to six teachers from across Canada. I'm always amazed at the new and inventive ways teachers develop to teach young people about Canada.

Take a look through the list here and let them inspire you in your classroom. The six recipients will be announced on November 20th, 2009.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Canada's Steve McQueen

Working on a special magazine over the past few months, I've had a chance to delve into the images at Library and Archives Canada more and more. I'm amazed at the depth of the collection that is available online at the moment. Searching is fairly easy, and you can narrow your search by selecting only those images which are available online.

The photos contain much of the history of Canada, but I wanted to share this picture. Anyone who has every had the Steve McQueen great escape poster on their wall will recognize it right away. I think this is the best World War Two photo of a Canadian soldier I have ever seen. Let me know what you think or if about other images from the collection that you think are pretty awesome.

Personnel of No.2 Provost Company, Canadian Provost Corps (C.P.C.), talking with French civilians, Fleury-sur-Orne, France, 20 July 1944.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Will my son skype with me?

I know it doesn't appear so on the blog, but things have been busy of late. My wife and I celebrated the arrival of our son Jack on August 12th, and we have been very busy since learning all about parenthood.

Last night though we had the chance to video Skype with my son's great-grandparents. It's pretty amazing to think that my wife's grandmother grew up in Cape Breton in a single home without electricity or running water. And here we are now video conferencing with them to introduce them to their newest great-grandson.

I can't imagine what my own son will be doing in 80 years from now, but it sure seems like the future will have to continue to build on this technology.

We have some really fun projects coming in the fall and the new year, so keep an eye out. I promise things are still going here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Befuddled Twitter Connection

The posts here have slowed a little of late but I promise we are working on some fun projects. I've also been getting more engaged with Twitter (you can find me @jralph). This happened a few weeks back, but was a great example of little connections on Twitter.

I saw a post from @mrpuffin, another teacher I follow, that he was working on Immigration posters with his students. I quickly sent him a note with links to Immigration posters in the back issues of The Beaver that he was able to use in the class. Other teachers who follow him also saw the post and followed up.

MrPuffin never would have sent me a note to say what he was doing in his classroom, but by communicating what he was doing we found an easy connection that improved the quality of education and the student experience. You can read MrPuffin's account here on his blog Befuddled.

You might also want to check out some of his thoughts on organizing the Red River Heritage Fair and technology, as well as some of his students stop motion videos like this one below. They look great!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

History Canada Game

I have spent the last few days playing around with the History Canada Game. It's a scenario within the Civilization 3 game that explores the early settlement of Canada.

The group behind the project has just received a significant grant from the MacArthur Foundation in the United States to continue with the project development.

If you have Civilization 3 on your computer you can download and play the first scenario now. I purhcased Civ 3 online at Gamersgate.

I would be interested to know what experienced classroom teachers think about the project and the game. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thinking in Mind

Any day you find a new blogger focusing on history and digital media is a great day. So yesterday was a lot of fun unpacking Thinking in Mind, a history and digital media blog from Neil Stephenson. Neil is a grade 6 and 7 teacher in Calgary, Alberta.

It's wonderful to have a Canadian example of the great work that can be done with History and new media. Please take a look at the Cigar Box Project his students are working on which sounds like lots of fun. I also really liked this program Glogster. You can find Neil's assignment for using it to create historical timelines.

Really fun work and enjoyed learning about these projects a lot. I've added Thinking in Mind to my blog roll and the famous history teachers who blog section.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Finally discovering Twitter

I tried to twitter a few months ago. I really did and it just didn't work out and I let it go. But I find I'm running into it more and more often and so this week I went back and tried it again. Just a quick note that we all struggle at times with picking up a new tech.

Twitter is a micro-blog - everything you can say in only 140 words (see the common craft video for the full explanation). For all those things that you want to ask but aren't worth creating an email for. My second go around has been a bit more successful and I'm not following a handful of educators that I also follow through blogs. The main reason for my success if downloading and installing Twhirl so that I can get updates from people I follow right as they come in.

I actually think Twitter could be of real value in the classroom but it will take brave teachers to put it to good use. There are already some great posts about using Twitter in the Classroom. But one thing that I would be really interested to see is giving students the opportunity to run a discussion during a lecture. If you have ever attended an online workshop, there is usually a comments or questions bar at the side with running commentary.

Why not run a Twitter feed that students can watch. If you were really brave you could even project it at the front of the class so students could follow along. If you were less brave you could simply have one student or assistant monitor the feed for key questions and thoughts. It's another way to add participation which is always needed.

I can see why Twitter wouldn't necessarily function well for teachers - it's hard to follow a feed while you are teaching, but a great way to keep in touch with students and larger community of educators. I'm going to keep playing around and working on it here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tar Sands meet the Uranium Mine

A bit of storm this week has developed around National Geographic Magazine's article, photo's and (online) video of the Alberta Oil Sands development. For many people these are the first images of the Tar Sands that have been readily published and made available.

What I thought was interesting is that the entire piece reminded me of one of my favorite Beaver Magazines articles - Uranium for Atomic Power. The article, from the June 1953 issue of The Beaver, looks at what early uranium mining was like. It's a surprisingly revealing piece into the life of the workers who developed Canada's early uranium mines.

In a classroom the two articles would be really interesting to compare, in particular how reporting and media about environmental issues have changed over the past 55 years. The Beaver was far more optimistic back in the day, and I would assume their press access was probably a bit different. Compare, contrast, and learn away!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Forward Capture: A History with Value

Forward Capture is a project created by the Center for History and New Media and the National Council on Public History in the United States. Together they are soliciting thoughts from public historians on where the future of public history. It's a great example of creating opportunities to participate in a larger sharing of knowledge and the results will form the backbone of a larger presentation at the NCPH annual meeting in April 2009.

If you haven't yet done so please make your own contribution to the site. I've posted my own entry below that tries to tackle the issue of value and history which I think is really important. And fortunately if you read my blog, occasionally, you will know that I don't normally talk like I'm staring into the sky.

The Future of Public History:

Public Historians that embrace history, and history that embraces public historians.

The future of public history is a future where history has value and is valued. For history to be important in society is has to have some value – whether it tells someone about their own personal past, the society they live in, or the events that they face. Public Historians need to serve as gatherers and aggregators, using skill sets developed through sound research and analysis, to share the value of the work done by academic and local historians with an audience of informed and interested citizens.

A field that encourages high school students to study history, encourages graduates to take history programs in college and university, and encourages university and college graduates to continue working in the field – whether through academia, education, museums, archives or publications.

A modern inviting history that is urban and edgy in style and content. Content and presentation should be fresh and bold, that utilizes the style already relevant in other fields.

A participatory history that invites each citizen to provide their own story. Together these stories provide details and life while also illuminating the larger patterns that historians research each and every day. A public history that embraces the ability of new technology, life forward capture has, to include, invite, and reshape the role of the historian.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Change comes to Canada

Today United States President Barack Obama is making his first official visit to our national capital. I know that Canadians from coast to coast are warmly welcoming the President and it has been the main topic of discussion here for the last week at least. 

His first discussion today is with Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean (a glimpse of which I just caught on the CBC). At the time of his election the Governor-General I think best transmitted the sentiments of Canadians in her warm message of hope and celebration. You can watch her full statement on her website,

Citizens Voices is a great website for each and every Canadian to learn more about the valuable work the Governor-General does and to engage with other Canadians on important topics. It brings the kind of openess and inclusion that should be of value to every level of government - something I think the New President would greatly aprove. 

Welcome to Canada Mr. President.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TED: Ideas woth spreading to your students

One of the reason's why I started on this digital history adventure just over three years ago was that I was going to graduate from University. I wasn't worried about the work place or what the future held - that actually excited me and I was hopeful of trying new things. But what I was worried about was loosing touch with a larger academic community. I felt that through technology I could still continue to learn - learn about history, about technology, and about just great ideas that still made my brain jump the way it did in University.

Fortunately the number size of the online idea community is continuing to grow, and one that is readily available to your students. We talk often about issues of civics and engagement, making sure that students are informed about what is happening in the world. Surely a great endeavor that is of the utmost importance. But at some point students also need to learn about more that what is on the six o'clock news or in the local paper - we have to have some connection to a wider current of ideas and thoughts.

Which brings me back to TED: Technology, Entertainment, Design. I love hearing interesting and smart people talk about things they find interesting and are passionate about. Anytime you can hear or spend time with a passionate person, you will grow yourself. In life we often have too few opportunities to share in this community.

TED let's you meet interesting and passionate people everyday. They inspire people in a wide variety of fields but share common threads that somehow relate back to each of us. Never in history have we had such opportunities - through TED and other projects - to learn and share in the wisdom of others. They do it because it matters to them and they are passionate about their work.

Every classroom should take a few moments out for a TED talk now and then. And of course they have a school program as well - so start finding the special lights in your community.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Popular Relevance

As part of an Introduction to Learning Technologies course at the University of Manitoba I've been exploring the program Digg. We drew our projects from We Are Media, a website designed to help non-profit organizations better use new media in their endeavours.

Digg is a social bookmarking tool that you may have noticed before on many news or information websites. The tool allows you to "digg" content that you are in to (if that's what you're into). Content that is most popular, in theory, rises to the top and shares information with a larger audience, focusing in on the best and most interesting stories.

There are some great advantages to Digg that make it very accessible. The program allows to you install a toolbar and follow sites live as you visit them, seeing who and how many people are interested in a website.

But for educational purposes, and arguably for any purposes online, Digg provides more of a popular than relevant story. Content is largely pulled from mainstream media websites with stories "Dugg" by a core group of supporters.

Creating communites of practice and learning communities doesn't require mass participation. I trust the websites and blogs of my colegues to post material that I'm interested in and that is relevant. I don't really expect it to be popular with a wide audience. If I wanted that I would have stayed with traditional media sources - they are surprisingly good at covering all things popular.

The other thing is that Digg let's you build a community of "Friends." But this suggests that I only learn from my friends. I often times learn from complete strangers. It's the thousands of people circling the globe, people I never would have met before, that are often working on and considering simliar thoughts and issues.

For now I'm sticking with, in fact I think I'm even going to start tagging even more.