Social Studies Unit Plan

Strand B of Social Studies for Grade 6 is People and Environments: Canada’s Interactions with the Global Community. For this unit, students will look at the big question, “How can international events, such as the Olympics, affect Canada’s relationship with the international community?”


Rio Olympic Logo: Source

This unit is an excellent opportunity for students to explore a CURRENT event – the Rio Olympics in 2016 – and all the issues that surround Canada’s participation as well as an opportunity for Canada to host it. Students will explore sport and international events through various important lenses including equity issues, environmental impacts, sustainability goals, financial implications, and more. There are multiple levels of significance for the student, the community and the world. Students will become informed citizens (especially important because the Olympics are a current topic) and will develop many transferable 21st century learning skills such as collaboration. They also will learn about their Canadian identities. This unit is also important to the community. Exposing our students to the importance of Canada’s relationships in the international community will empower them to be active and hold our government accountable for its actions through informed perspectives. This unit also emphasizes the student’s and Canada’s responsibilities to the World community. For example, as hosts, Canada needs to be responsible for its environmental impact. Also, the Foundations of the Olympics uphold human principles that aim to make the Olympics a universally safe space for all people to co-exist.

In the culminating task, students will be asked to use the components they developed during the unit to address the overall big question.

This process was long and required the collaboration of myself and two other pre-service educators. It is not a perfect project, but is an example of how far we have come with TLCP and the unit planning process. The third page has all of the instructional strategies and approaches we used in our lesson plans. It is quite extensive. This is included in my “Work Samples” page but I also put a link below. Have a look!

Grade 6 Social Studies TLCP“How can international events, such as the Olympics, affect Canada’s relationship with the international community?”

– A


Hamilton Farmer’s Market – An Inquiry Approach

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to volunteer with Zoe Branigan-Pipe (visit her at PipeDreams) and one of her gifted classes. After exploring the wonderful makerspace at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, we took the students into the city centre to explore the Hamilton Farmer’s Market.


The Hamilton Farmer’s Market has been around since 1837, is open all year round and is home to about 60 different vendors. A market is often a hub of a city, a place for gathering, sharing ideas, purchasing local or national goods, and (as we found out) a place for learning. An old staple in almost every city has recently been revitalized as the “real food” revolution builds steam and the demand for fresh and local goods increases once more.

On of the missions for the gifted program is, “To encourage and support students to engage in personal endeavours, passions and inquiry driven projects”. Our trip to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market provided an opportunity for some inquiry-based learning. Students were to interview different vendors and explore topics of their choice. Possible themes included: technology, marketing, family, pricing, and strategy. Here is an excerpt of the assignment outline:

As part of this program, we will be connecting back to our work with UN Global Goals and looking at what makes a city vibrant and successful. Students will start their journalism journey first on the HSR (Public Transit). We have discovered that many of our students have not experienced public transit in their own city.

Upon arriving downtown Hamilton, students will walk from the bus stop to Jackson Square where we will discuss the concept of a “Mall” and comparing this to times before the “Mall” where there were once independent shops along James street.

We will then walk through the Hamilton Public Library which leads us directly to the Farmer’s Market. Again, we will discuss the needs of these buildings as part of a city centre and why city planners and architects  chose to ensure the library and Market are not only attached but have a glass window between them.

At the Market, students will get a chance to work in small groups to observe and talk to Vendors. Assuming they prepared, they will ask relevant questions and work on an article that they will eventually publish on their own blogs.

(HWDSB – Zoe Branigan-Pipe Blog Post)

I had an amazing time experiencing inquiry outside the traditional classroom setting. The group of boys I worked with presented a challenge to me. They had many good ideas, but were very distracted by the sheer excitement of the trip. It was important to me to allow them to experience the market in an enjoyable manner while still trying to steer them onto a focused topic. Through many discussions and explorations, and a run in with an ATM, the boys decided to question vendors about the impact of new technologies on their businesses. They thought that if a vendor had an ATM, it would serve as attraction to the business.

They interviewed several vendors, but perhaps the most enlightening was Henry Brown’s Small Batch Ice Cream. They were able to answer many questions about the positive impacts of technology on their business. This includes their POS application on their iPad that collects data about their sales, to the impact of social media and Instagram, and even the new ice cream maker that allows them to make more ice cream, faster! In fact, the co-owner went through the HWDSB enrichment program herself – how relevant! The boys were loving the detailed information that allowed them to glimpse into the market’s success in the technology-based 21st century. It also helped that they got to taste a little bit of the ice cream as well! (Please go and support Henry Brown’s – they are amazing!)

It was important to experience learning outside the classroom. I haven’t received a copy of their final inquiry-based article, but I know that these students learned so much just by travelling to the market, taking public transport, managing their money and questioning the vendors.  In fact, the students realized this is well. In 2013, a group of students from Zoe’s gifted class had their article published  – it was all about how they learned from “escaping the classroom”. I am excited to look for more opportunities for experiential learning with my classes in the future!

– A


Equity and Inclusive Education

The OESSTA video, “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” expresses what I believe to be the main benefit of equity and inclusive education.  Equity and inclusiveness shows all students that you, the class, the school and the community value them and their families. This feeling is so important to establish because within that value comes many side benefits. Children bring knowledge to school from their home and families and when we overlook this, we deny them part of the learning process. Children will feel empowered. This can also increase student engagement as well as decrease student misbehaviour – in itself, it can be seen as a form of behaviour management.  Students also become well-rounded global citizens as they widen their knowledge and respect for others. The Capacity Building Series “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” also outlines a strong correlation between school leadership and student achievement. This means that principals and other institutional leaders have to honour the diverse communities, welcome inclusion, and create a positive and diverse school environment.

The OESSTA video also talks about involving and engaging parents. This is important for every student in the class, but also is a great cross-over point between equity and inclusion education and FNMI perspectives. Many parents of Aboriginal students are fearful of the school setting due to personal past experiences and the experiences of their family and friends. Involving Elders, parents, and the appropriate FNMI community in classroom decisions, projects and events creates a perfect blend of equity, inclusion and FNMI perspectives that will benefit all students.

Here is a link to the current situation and strategies for inclusivity in Ontario. Please let me know how you structure your everyday to be inclusive and to be a culturally responsive educator.

– A


FNMI Lesson Demonstration

The importance of including FNMI perspectives and principles in the classroom is a major focus in Ontario and Canada. The Ontario (and other provinces!) government has a multitude of documents that explore various Indigenous perspectives, strategies for the classroom, appropriate approaches with connections to the curriculum, and more. As preservice teachers, we are learning more and more that Indigenous world views and perspectives can be explicitly taught and be integrated as part of the everyday classroom culture. There is a benefit to doing both. The following is description of the lesson demonstration we did as well as a personal reflection on the outcome.


For this assignment, we were challenged to demonstrate an explicit FNMI and social studies curriculum teaching opportunity to our fellow teachers. Our target was as follows:


Canada 1890-1914:  A Changing Society

B1. Application: Canada – Past and Present

B1.2 analyse some of the challenges facing different individuals, groups, and/or communities in Canada between 1890 and 1914 and compare some of these challenges with those facing present-day Canadians

And more?! Especially for extension activities (B1.1, B2.1)

We chose to do a puzzle activity that challenged students to make connections to the “Indian Residential Schools“. The activity worked as follows:

Students were separated into four separate groups. The whole class was given instructions to complete as many puzzles as possible. Each group was assigned a colour and used a device to access their specific group instructions. Each group was also given a different pre-determined puzzle that corresponded to their colour. The groups were unaware of each other’s instructions.

RED – received puzzle with missing pieces and was not allowed to speak to communicate.

BLUE – received full puzzle, but had to stop when the teacher said, “freeze” to complete and unrelated task.

GREEN – received full puzzle and could freely talk to communicate

After about 7-8 minutes, we would reconvene as a class and reflect on each group’s experience with the activity. The final chart presented should be completed during the rest of the activities. We suggest explicitly asking students about the differences between the past and the present situations.

This activity is a great lead for more inquiry with respect to the Residential schools throughout Canada.

The full presentation can be viewed here: FNMI Perspectives Lesson Demo


The students were able to make connections to the residential schools, but struggled to identify exactly what each variable represented. We created a chart to discuss the Indigenous education situation in the past and compare it to the situation in the present and showed it to the class earlier to kick start their thinking. Upon reflection, I would suggest pre-readings/pre-discovery about the residential schools to get students thinking critically in relation to that situation.

I also would suggest becoming very comfortable with the facts and stories surrounding the residential schools. I took the time to visit the Woodland Culture Centre in Brantford, Ontario and was completely overwhelmed and humbled by the experience. This residential school is the last remaining school in Ontario, and 1 of 8 remaining in Canada. Touring the school and hearing from Indigenous people who had relatives in the school was very informative. I wish I had visited this school before teaching this lesson so I could better answer the class’ questions. I also believe it is imperative to take students here as part of their experiential learning.

As always, please provide some feedback and tips if you read/use this lesson.

– A

Adapting a Lesson Plan

Part of being a teacher is finding innovative ways to teach our students. However, when it comes to creating lessons, it is a valuable skill to find, re-use, and shape the lessons of others to fit your classroom needs. In this assignment, we were challenged to find an innovative lesson plan and adapt it to fit our curriculum and classroom needs. I have added a page to showcase my lesson and a small reflection on the process. View the page here:

Innovative Adapted Lesson

As a pre-service teacher and lifelong learner I am always looking to grow. This project is FAR from perfect. If you have any suggestions please let me know!

– A

Financial Literacy and SS

I believe that financial literacy is one of the most imperative life skills we can impart as teachers on our students. Money is a crucial part of our lives and the management/mismanagement of money can make a difference in our health and happiness. This is not to say that having more money will make you happier, but that mismanaging your money will make your life extremely difficult. As the A Sound Investment – Financial Literacy Education in Ontario Schools says, “citizens who have a solid understanding of financial basics are more likely to navigate safely and surely through today’s complex financial world” (p7). The EduGains videos also highlight that teachers/educators start to become more aware of their own finances and also their students’ socioeconomic situations. This is important for reflecting on biases and ensuring each child can relate and benefit from lessons. Integrating financial literacy is also an excellent way to create relevance and real-world applications across curriculums.

The Scope and Sequence – Financial Literacy is a great starting point for teachers who wish to incorporate financial literacy across the different curriculums. In Social Studies, financial literacy can be a huge benefit to teaching trade and connections to countries around the world. For example, in Grade 6, trade, tourism and economic relations would easily fit in the Canada and World Connections. However, the A Sound Investment – Financial Literacy Education in Ontario Schools document highlights many gaps in our current knowledge about Canadian’s financial literacy and offers several recommendations to improve upon our education in this area. As a former employee of TD Canada Trust, I had many opportunities to meet and talk with people of all ages about their financial literacy. In fact, increase students’ confidence with money and finance is one of my highest priorities as an educator. The majority of people I spoke to had no idea how credit cards worked, how interest rates worked, how bank accounts (saving/chequing) worked and more. I think it’s a great start to introduce budgeting and economic principles in elementary school, but greater attention needs to be given to specific financial instruction in high school. Students will be communicating with banks their whole lives, through bills, credit cards, mortgages, car payments, etc. I believe we need to continue to emphasize financial literacy through the creation of a mandatory half-credit course in high school. This will give students the confidence to approach the more important financial decisions as they age, including loans (such as OSAP or non-secured school credit) and credit cards. As it stands, there is only an optional course available to students in this respect.

I have done some research in the past about the topic of financial literacy as part of a genius hour project. It is by no means a complete piece of work, but I will include a link to it here.

Please let me know any comments and suggestions you have!

– A

Inquiry Approach

For complex instructional methods, challenges will always exist. The inquiry approach is an amazing way to integrate curriculums, teach 21st century learning skills, and develop our students’ critical thinking abilities. This approach does not exist without some challenges. However, these challenges should not dissuade anyone from trying it.


“How Can I Start to Plan for Inquiry?”OESSTA

The first and most obvious challenge is time. The videos talk a lot about the process of creating a question and trying to incorporate cross-curricular activities to make it a complete inquiry project. I agree that it does take time to implement this type of approach in the classroom, especially to make it effective, interesting and worthwhile. I would also argue that if an educator plans properly, he/she could have a more effective use of classroom time.

Modeling is a key issue as identified by the educator (Pete) in the video. This aligns with the curriculum in that students must be assessed for readiness to learn. Modeling takes time, but ensuring that all students can complete the processes autonomously allows them to think critically instead on simply the acquisition of knowledge. I experienced this first hand when teaching math… students were scared to explore elements of geometry without me modeling the technique first. After modeling, they felt freer to explore and create connections between my techniques and something they created on their own.

Another challenge may exist for some educators. There needs to be a refocus from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning that focuses on inquiry and critical thinking.  If a teacher is set in his/her teaching style, this may be a difficult barrier to overcome.

Schools themselves may also create barriers to inquiry-based learning. For example, some schools may lack the technology, finances, or space to really deeply explore a question the way a teacher wants to. This barrier is not impossible to overcome, but is definitely real and will create a hardship for an educator.


“What Might Teaching and Learning Look Like?”OESSTA

One of the benefits of inquiry is the natural flexibility it allows. If educators use an inquiry-based approach, they can structure lessons to incorporate cross-curricular expectations and also developed a better UDL. Our presenter, Kristie, said that in a classroom if you can establish a trust, you are able to use inquiry-based approached that have UDL and hit every level in the classroom. Inquiry allows for multiple levels of assessment as well – there are variety in the ways students can submit assignments that suit the needs of the learner. Kristie also mentioned that inquiry is natural and current, allows children to feel safe when taking risks and fosters an environment of community learning.

I believe my unit plans will help me discover the benefits of inquiry I discussed above. The nature of inquiry seems to unite expectations around a central theme. I think what I will find in my unit plan is that the flow of the unit seems more natural and realistic because it is tied together through a topic and area of inquiry. I also believe that I will find the unit plans will be much more adaptable when inquiry-based. Zoe talked about having a student teacher that had a preplanned unit to deliver to her kids that was well below their level. With an inquiry-based approach, the same topic or question can be explored at various levels according to the readiness and potential of the learners.

– A


Integrated Curriculum

Discussions on the benefits and difficulties with an integrated or interdisciplinary approach to teaching in Ontario. 

This week’s readings and videos explored and explained integrated curriculum. Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches are three commons ways to design. In Meeting Standards Through Integrated Curriculum, by Drake, S and Burns, R. (2004), each of the three approaches are discussed and thoroughly compared. These integrated approaches seem to be very successful. The model of learning hopes to build 21st century learning skills such as collaboration, communication and use of technology. Some other success measures include increased effort by students, better retention of material, fewer discipline problems and lower absenteeism. Academic scores also increased. For example, the article states a study of an interdisciplinary program Learning Through The Arts revealed students showed an increase in math scores. Drake & Burns (2004) also point out that although different, all three approaches exist on a continuum and are usually used by educators who wish to engage all their students in learning in the most authentic way.

All of the evidence of benefits, as real as they are, seem come from notes taken by educators or assessors. This video from Edutopia offers a fresh insight into the benefits of the integrated curriculum.

The students are demonstrating improvements, but also noticing the changes themselves. For example, one girl said, “If you’re in different classes, you might forget because your mind is focused on another class, but when it’s all together you can just focus on one thing…”. Her idea of the boundary between subject areas is blurring, resulting in a peace of mind and increased focus. Assessment as learning indicates students need to be self-aware and metacognitive of their changes in learning. As a future educator, I think it is important to get the researcher’s perspective and insight to the positive benefits of different approaches, but equally as important to hear the student’s perspective as well.

Lastly, these resources suggest integrated approaches are necessary to prepare our students for the real world. If educators have trouble buying into this idea or think it is too difficult, it is quite shocking. I think their is a value in realizing that in order to develop an integrated curriculum for our students, we are using the very skills we wish they would build. As 21st century employees, teachers need to collaborate, self-regulate, problem solve, communicate skillfully and use technology to create integrated curriculums with success.

Integrated learning is an essential part to our classroom planning and organization, especially if we want to engage students with relevant and useful inquiry-based explorations.

This week, explored the cross-curricular integration opportunities in groups. This assignment highlighted two important things for me. First, a group of educators can find connections and create lesson ideas much easier than just one educator alone. This is an important mindset to take to the field of teaching – using collaboration to extend our ideas and save time. Second, there is a multitude of ways to integrate cross-curricular expectations into one assignment – it isn’t that hard to find them. To me, more integration equals less time spent on an individual expectation. After all the other benefits of integration, this one just highlights effective use of class time to explore the necessary expectations.

This is the outline created by our class (used with permission):

One example of an integrated approach that I particularly find interesting and useful is the mix of social studies and math curriculums. In the class example above, we talked about the big idea of an Olympic ceremony to study the grade 6 topic: People and environments – Canada’s interactions with the global community. I think this is an excellent opportunity to introduce mathematical areas of numeracy and data management. Students could explore the proportions of participating athletes or the resources necessary to accommodate the full attendance. They could also find appropriate representations of different data, such as the demographics at the presentation or the environmental impacts of the ceremonies. If the educator was to take this even further, they could accommodate the financial literacy aspect – which is definitely underdeveloped and under-explored. For example, students should be expected to create a budget and set costs for concessions.

A simplified example like this demonstrates how an integrated approach can be used to study and support social studies.


New Content – Social Studies

In the next few month, I will be adding many posts with a social studies focus. This collection of posts about Social Studies (including history and geography) will be set in the Ontario context. This is the Ontario Social Studies, History & Geography curriculum for grades 1-8. I will be posting about discussions and resources accessed or created during my preservice education training. It will also highlight an integrated teaching approach. You will be able to find pieces of math, science, language art, dance, drama, and more.

There are so many levels of social studies.. because human society is so complex. As a future educator, the most important thing to me is to make social studies about inquiry and make social studies relevant to my students lives.

Often times, we think about subjects in school as stand alone subjects to study independently. I believe social studies is the perfect example of a subject that drives all subjects together. Many teachers use the inquiry model when teaching social studies because it creates relevance and interest. Math concepts such as perimeter and area become way more interesting when used for comparing geographical land masses as part of a project. (Compare land masses here!) Language concepts of persuasive writing moves from a traditional report to a courtroom drama defending the rights of indigenous school children. (This is an excellent resource for residential school information)

There are many more integrative ways to teach using social studies expectations as anchors to create relevance. This is exciting and I hope to find many more ways to do so! Please comment and share if you wish!

– A