And Where Is Canada Again?

I have a confession to make. I got 100% in Grade 12 Geography. In fact, I think that I got more than 100%. I even won the Geography Award for the top mark. It was a moment of great pride … except for one tiny little thing (almost not worth mentioning): I can’t read a map (and this was a physical geography unit). 🙂 No, I didn’t cheat. I knew that there would be a blank map that I had to fill in on the final exam, so I memorized the locations of every country on the map. I memorized every body of water. I learned how to fill in that map simply by learning how and where to write the words from left to right, top to bottom. And this may seem like a great strategy, but the problem is that these words had no meaning to me, so when the exam was over, I forgot everything. I mean everything! I’ve participated in many webinars where I need to add a star to my country on the map. I’m always the Canadian living in Australia because apparently I have no idea where Canada’s located on a blank world map. I totally understand how amusing this story is, but I think that it’s also a great one to illustrate why we needed a change to our Social Studies Curriculum Document.

Having taught numerous different grades before, I know that mapping plays a role in many of them. I’ve had students fill in blank maps of Canada before. I’ve had them colour-code them, and make legends, and display them on the wall for others to see. But did I get students to think about these maps? Did I get them to learn more about the countries, provinces, territories, or cities? Did I get them to consider the benefits or drawbacks to where these places are located in the world and why this might matter? Did I get them to compare the sizes of the different places and the importance of these various sizes? Did I try to make this activity more than a copying, printing, and colouring task? The truth is, I didn’t. And now I’m starting to wonder what this means …

Today, I put out various provocations to introduce students to our new Social Studies unit on The Role of Government and Responsible Citizenship. As students started to uncover what the words federal, provincial, and municipal meant, I asked them where these government offices might be located. It bothered me that many students thought that the federal government might be located in England, even though I said it was in a city in Canada. Others struggled with remembering the names of different provinces for the provincial government, or even different local communities for the municipal government. I know that countries, provinces, and cities have been discussed in previous grades, but this learning isn’t staying with students. Why? There were more knowledge expectations in the previous Social Studies Curriculum Document, but without the “thinking,” how much knowledge are the students actually retaining? 

I hope that this new focus on inquiry is going to help more students remember what they learn because of the focus on thinking and meaningful application. I think back to my own experience and wonder how this different approach would have made a difference for me. Maybe it’s time for me to re-look at that map of the world and figure out where “Canada” really is located and why all of these locations matter. What do you think about this new Social Studies Curriculum Document? How has the switch to inquiry impacted on you and your students? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


5 thoughts on “And Where Is Canada Again?

  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug --- off the record

  2. ‘The Big Six’ new book (Nelson) referenced by sandra ziemniak looks amazing. 6 key concepts for ‘thinking’ about history: Hist Significance, Evidence, Cause Effect…etc. Previewed the first chapter online and loved it. Blckline masters, lessons help teachers to understand the narrative and engage in learning. Perfect alignment with new ONT SS.

  3. Great post. It always deeply disturbed me that I could get 100% on tests yet I felt like I knew nothing. I could memorize and forget anything on command. Perhaps that is why I am now so passionate to reform this!

    FYI, eLO and OESSTA partnered to create a PLM (Professional Learning Module) on the new curriculum. Be sure to contact your eLC if you want to check it out!

    Keep sharing!

    • Thanks for the comment, Donna! You make such an important point here. It is disturbing to think about being able to memorize and forget anything on demand.

      Thanks for the information about the Professional Learning Module. This sounds very interesting! I’m going to see if I can get a look at it. I totally love the new curriculum document!


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