Milton Christian School teacher Stacey Voorberg wanted to make the study of Canadian history both engaging and relevant for her grade 7/8 students. So she came up with a unique and collaborative multidisciplinary project for her class. Working in groups two and three, students were invited to design a children’s book that outlined a significant historical event.
After student’s took part in a Remembrance Day ceremony (the project’s entry event), Stacey asked groups to research a variety of children’s history books, so that they might determine which storytelling and writing techniques would serve them best in their book designing process. Stacey had a few book suggestions of her own in mind—like A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson, Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, and Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. As her students immersed themselves in narratives about the First World War and the Underground Railroad, and learned about courageous figures like Rosa Parks, they were to also analyze the books they were reading and look at what made these stories engaging and successful. Each student had to write a report that answered the following questions:
- What methods were used in all the books to make the history story more interesting?
- Which method was the best?
- Why is this the best method?
- How are you going to use it in your story?
After presenting their reports to their peers, students got together in their groups to decide which historical moment in Canada’s history they would like to research. Stacey encouraged students to use Encyclopedia Britannica, instead of Wikipedia, as a resource.
Deciding on a topic was only one (albeit important) aspect of the assignment to consider. Students also needed to think carefully about the qualities of a good children’s story: What language were they going to use to tell the story? Would it be easy for young kids to understand? Which violent or gory details should be omitted? How would they provide the facts they needed to include without scaring their readers?
The artistic side of the project was collaborative in nature. Before scanning in and uploading their hand drawn illustrations into Photo book (a program for making books), groups had to think about which images to include in their books, and make decisions about which words would appear on different pages. In designing the book, group members were asked to make sure that colours worked together, and that the front was legible.
Stacey’s project also left room for multi-aged interaction. The class had the opportunity to read their books to primary students in their school—an audience that would provide them with exactly the kind of feedback they needed.