Students Walk All Over Canada to Learn About Country’s History

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What is in the humongous black tube? That was the mystery Grade 4 social studies students faced when they returned to SMUS after their winter holiday.

Before finding out what was inside, students took their best guesses as to what it could be. Among the guesses were basketballs, animals (a class pet, perhaps?), new stools, plants, candy and caterpillars. But as the lid was lifted and the item was removed, it was evident that it was something completely different.

Slowly and carefully, students (with the help of teachers Ms. Nicky Newsome and Ms. Heather Sandquist) started SMUS-JS-Grade4-GiantMap-02unfolding the massive piece of vinyl that slipped out of the tube. Before long, and only partially unfolded, it was already way too big to fit into the classroom.

The group made its way into the gymnasium and finished the process, spreading it out until it took up almost half of the floor. And there it was: a giant map of Canada; 35 feet wide by 26 feet high.

“We were looking for ways of making the history of Canada come alive for the children,” Says Nicky. “We wanted them to experience it beyond the textbook, beyond reading online, and I found this amazing opportunity through Canadian Geographic to borrow this and thought that a giant map on which students can actually walk and study on their hands and knees would be so much more meaningful and so much more impactful for them.”

Grade 4 students have spent the last two weeks of their social studies time in the gym walking all over the map and using it to learn about our country’s history.

“We’re starting with exploration, and we’ll move through and learn about the fur trade, the gold rush, the CPR and finally Confederation,” Nicky says. “We’re learning
SMUS-JS-Grade4-GiantMap-04about the whole story of Canada, so using this map as a hook has been really effective so far. The kids really love it and are engaged with what they’re learning.”

Along with the giant map, Canadian Geographic sent lesson plans and lots of materials to help make the learning more hands-on. Earlier this week, the 32 Grade 4 students were each given an item – a provincial flag or a postcard from different Canadian historic sites – to place on the giant map as they learned about the country’s history. Nicky and Heather also paused the lesson periodically so students could share what they’ve learned and discuss historical topics such as, “Why were people exploring new lands?” and “Why did they need forts to trade fur?”

“We understand that learning needs to be authentic, meaningful and that students are so much more likely to remember what they’ve learned if it’s done in a real way that connects with them,” Nicky says. “We also know that students learn best when they’re involved in explaining and coaching activities. Any time we can get the students out of their seat to walk around and talk about their understanding with others, we know their brains are growing.”

Back in October, the SMUS Review wrote about the Grade 4 classes’ first introduction to geography using GIS mapping. It was a chance to learn about the elements of a map and how to properly use them to learn SMUS-JS-Grade4-GiantMap-01from legends, symbols, grids, landmarks, words and scales. Since then, students have continued to use maps in their lessons, which are starting to come full circle using the giant map.

“In December the students did habitat projects, and it was so exciting when we got out the giant map,” Heather says. “One of the students who had studied the Salish Sea said, ‘Oh look, there’s the Salish Sea.’ Another said, ‘Oh look, this is where the abyssal plains are.’ It’s deepening their understanding. So many students stood in the arctic: ‘Oh this is where I studied the narwhal! Look at all these tiny islands.’ We didn’t ask them to find an area they were familiar with, we just started with this map, had the kids walk around on it, and they’re the ones taking it back to their lessons over the last three months. They’re the ones revisiting their learning in a different way.”

(photos by Kyle Slavin)

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