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April 28, 2015

As students prepare to move from high school to university, teachers can be a valuable source of support and advice.

In an effort to strengthen connections between high school teachers and university professors, Laurier’s Department of History recently hosted the Laurier History Teachers’ Colloquium, an event that brought together Laurier faculty members and graduate students with high school teachers from the Waterloo Region District School Board.

“Laurier’s History Department has hosted a very popular annual History Teachers’ Conference for over three decades,” explained Chris Nighman, an associate professor of History at Laurier and co-organizer of the event. “While previous meetings were organized around a historical theme, such as genocide or history on film, this year we decided to take a fresh approach to engage in a dialogue with our secondary school colleagues on the pedagogical issues we all face in teaching history to students whose approach to learning is changing.”

Rose Fine-Meyer, an adjunct professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, delivered a keynote address at the event discussing how students can learn more effectively through inquiry – engaging with and questioning course material – rather than simply being told to remember facts.

“We need to teach our students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers,” said Fine-Meyer, a former high school teacher. “Students can learn so much better by challenging [prevalent historical accounts]. Challenging material gives them a reason to learn that list of facts.”

One way students at Laurier are engaging with their course material is through a new course, HI 393 – Digital Applications, in which students produce a documentary film, rather than a final term paper. The course, which was offered for the first time this past winter, challenges students to choose a topic in Canadian history and produce a documentary film — conducting interviews, gathering archival material and using video editing software.

“How often do we hear that university students don’t get hands-on experience? That’s exactly what students got in this course,” said Matthew Wiseman, the course’s instructor. Wiseman, a PhD candidate in history, is also a former high school history teacher. “The students really appreciated the opportunity to engage with history in this unique manner and the results were fantastic.”

The course produced six student-made documentaries, one of which was screened at the teachers’ colloquium. Laurier’s History department is currently in the process of developing lesson plans to accompany the videos so they can be used as part of the Grade 10 curriculum.

The department also invited the high school teachers to bring their classes to Laurier during next year’s fall and winter terms to get a glimpse into the university experience by sitting in on lectures and receiving campus tours.

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