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Service to the University

I serve on a number of department and faculty committees, including the Social & Benevolent Committee, the Undergraduate Coordinating Committee, the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Committee, Education Feeds the Need (fundraising committee for the Campus Food Bank), and the Technology Working Group, among others. I am currently the Subject Area Coordinator for Social Studies for the Department.

Service to the Profession

My service to the profession includes: AERA Teaching History SIG Chair (2012-2013), AERA Teaching History SIG Program Chair (2011-2012), I have served on and/or chaired various Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Adjudication Committees (Insight Grants, Canada 150 Research Chairs, New Frontiers in Research Fund, SSHRC Observers’ Committee, Partnership Grant Stage 1 and 2), Legislative Assembly of Alberta Education Advisory Committee Member (2010 – present), University Representative to the Alberta Teachers’ Association Social Studies Council, and Advisory Board Member of The Historical Thinking Project. From 2013-2015, I served as Editor of Theory & Research in Social Education, the premier journal for social studies education research.

Professional Development Projects

The Historical Thinking Project

The Historical Thinking Project offers a dramatically new way to conduct history education—with the potential to shift fundamentally how teachers teach and how students learn. Paradoxically, at the same time, it does not involve a radical shift in the history or social studies curriculum. It revolves around the proposition—like scientific thinking in science instruction and mathematical thinking in math instruction—that historical thinking is central to history instruction and that students should become more competent as historical thinkers as they progress through their schooling.

Why this approach and emphasis on historical thinking? Why now? For most of the 20th century, history programs in Canada (like those in other countries) aimed at transmitting knowledge of a coherent national story—in English Canada, within the framework of the British imperial legacy (less so in Quebec). Such programs did not necessarily place the teaching of thinking at the centre of their educational objectives. In a world shaped by new technologies that have revolutionized access to and exchange of information, migrations that have upended older demographic profiles, and new demands for recognition and rights of previously silenced peoples, history is more contentious than ever. Debates over land claims, national borders, origin stories, and collective historical crimes, guilt and reparations are everywhere. The past is no longer a single narrative of national, political progress. Students need to be equipped, by the end of their high school years, to take active part in these debates: to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, to find truths amidst a cacophony of politically and commercially motivated messages, and to contribute, in their own voices, to democratic discussion. History education can play a key role.

Competent historical thinkers understand both the vast differences that separate us from our ancestors and the ties that bind us to them; they can analyze historical artifacts and documents, which can give them some of the best understandings of times gone by; they can assess the validity and relevance of historical accounts, when they are used to support entry into a war, voting for a candidate, or any of the myriad decisions knowledgeable citizens in a democracy must make. All this requires “knowing the facts,” but “knowing the facts” is not enough. Historical thinking does not replace historical knowledge: the two are related and interdependent.

What has happened to date?

In April, 2006, Historica and UBC’s Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness, under the leadership of Dr. Peter Seixas, brought a group of leading Canadian teachers, historians, and history education researchers together with international experts in the field from Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. in order to lay the groundwork for history performance assessment in Canada.  One of the central conclusions of the symposium was the need for history educators to find a common vocabulary for the project.

In a search for key dimensions of historical thinking, they proposed six Concepts of Historical Thinking for looking at student work:

  1. Use primary source evidence
  2. Establish historical significance
  3. Identify continuity and change
  4. Work with cause and consequence
  5. Take a historical perspective
  6. Understand the moral dimension of history

The Historical Thinking Project was initially launched in four provinces (NB, ON, MB and BC) and there is now both interest and opportunity to involve Alberta teachers. The Project focuses on the above concepts to develop student assessment tasks using topics, themes, events and people from Canadian history as they appear in current provincial social studies curricula. Dr. Carla Peck, Associate Professor (Faculty of Education, University of Alberta) helped Dr. Peter Seixas launch the project both nationally and in the Vancouver area, and is providing leadership for the Project in Alberta.

The project supported teachers’ efforts to develop classroom strategies to assess students’ abilities to:

  • use primary source evidence (how to find, select, contextualize, and interpret sources for a historical argument.  What can a newspaper article from Berlin, Ontario in 1916 tell us about attitudes towards German-Canadians in wartime?.)
  • establish historical significance (why we care, today, about certain events, trends and issues in history.  Why are the Plains of Abraham significant for Canadian history?)
  • identify continuity and change (what has changed and what has remained the same over time.  What has changed and what has remained the same about the lives of teenaged girls, between the 1950s and today?)
  • work with cause and consequence (how and why certain conditions and actions led to others.  What were the causes of the Northwest Rebellion?)
  • take a historical perspective (understanding the “past as a foreign country,” with its sometimes vastly different social, cultural, intellectual, and even emotional contexts that shaped people’s lives and actions.  What led John A. Macdonald to compare “Chinamen” to “threshing machines” in 1886?)
  • understand the moral dimension of historical interpretations (this cuts across many of the others: how we, in the present, judge actors in different circumstances in the past; how different interpretations of the past reflect different moral stances today; when and how crimes of the past bear consequences today.  What is to be done today, about the legacy of aboriginal residential schools?)

Over five professional development days during the school year, teachers involved with the project developed lesson plans, student assessment tasks and rubrics based on the Historical Thinking concepts and the new Alberta Social Studies curricula.  They piloted these tasks with their students, and selected examples which meet various levels of expectations across the grade levels.

Historian in Residence @ Fox Creek School

Dr. Susan Nobes and me in front of the school.

As a university professor working in a faculty of education, I don’t have as many opportunities to work with young children as I would like. Yes, research affords me certain opportunities to work with young students, but usually not in a teaching capacity. That’s why the invitation I received from Dr. Susan Nobes, Principal of Fox Creek School in (you guessed it) Fox Creek, Alberta was so tantalizing and one I just couldn’t turn down!

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