Academics Update

Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - By: David McCarthy, Director of Academics

The Winter Term at Brentwood includes no formal examination period and is traditionally used by many departments as a time to emphasize student work that is project-based, often research-oriented and involving presentations by students. My own focus this term has been to work with our Social Studies Department, dropping into classes and through a process of observation and dialogue, offer opportunities for us to reflect together on teaching and learning practices.

In the course of a class period I can watch Mr. Maclean’s Social Studies class discuss Trudeau’s famous “Just watch me” interview, see Mr. Wismer’s Comparative Government and Politics students present their ideal model of government to stabilize the young state of “Wismerstan” and observe Mr. Cowie’s History 12 students role play characters from the Russian Revolution. Mr. Robinson has introduced a Human Rights project that other teachers have also adopted. Some of the presentations have been highly creative and emotionally engaging including one by Andrew Y. on the holocaust. Andrew used his own experience of visiting Auschwitz to convey the powerful story of the “Final Solution” and what it meant to him and his family.  Giving students the opportunity to acquire and practice skills as well as pursue knowledge in a direction that intrigues them is becoming more the norm than “lecture style” teaching these days in many of our classrooms. Assessing students on a wide range of criteria including collaborative efforts, public speaking ability, creativity, research skills and analysis, gives us a much broader measure of their talents than relying solely on formal testing. Head of Department, veteran teacher Steve Cowie, summarized his term to date as follows;

“In keeping with our creativity theme I have been very pleased with the students' responses to a number of projects. The History 12 class seemed to enjoy our role playing conferences in which they represented different countries at the Paris Peace Conference and later the Russian Revolution political group forum. The elevens looked at Post World War II issues from the perspective of prime ministers using the problem-solving approach. The tens have had several projects in which they could create skits or make movies depicting a historical period. In addition I received many excellent stories from my two classes in response to the time capsule assignment in which they were transported back to the Victorian era and had to integrate the comparisons into their narratives. Currently they are doing a "jackdaw" on the U.S. Civil War. In groups of four they present a topic with each student having a different assignment, eg. a first hand account, opposing bios, time-line, map, editorial or propaganda poster. Next up -- the Confederation debates.”

This varied and innovative approach to the teaching of social studies is typical of a dynamic group of teachers, committed to getting students to be as passionate about world and national issues as they are themselves. 

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