Lyrics made popular by classic rock band The Tragically Hip wafted through the door of a tenth-grade classroom this past autumn.
“Wheat kings and pretty things
Let’s just see what the morning brings
Wheat kings and pretty things
Oh, that’s what tomorrow brings…”
Inside, an unconventional history class was taking place at Thunder Bay’s Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute.
The teacher – Lakehead alumna and Tragically Hip fan Vicky Walker (BA’96/BEd’96) – used the songs of the iconic band as a pathway into exploring Canadian history and identity. Her ambitious pilot project was designed with the support of TeachOntario. TeachOntario is an initiative to help educators to stay up-to-date on 21st-century teaching and learning pedagogy, digital tools, and collaborative professional development. Improving student outcomes is another key goal of TeachOntario, which was developed by TVO in partnership with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, its affiliates, and the Ministry of Education.
In Vicky’s class, music was the jumping off point for students to create online blogs, videos, and artistic endeavours related to their topic. Cameron Padovese, for example, says that the themes explored in Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie’s lyrics sparked his imagination: “I tried to formulate some ideas and I converted them all to paintings that I’m really excited about.”
“It’s a different way to engage,” Vicky says. “It allows students the freedom to really explore Canadian history and identity in a way that appeals to them.” She describes Superior Collegiate as a small, safe, and accepting school. “Both of my daughters go there. It’s a hidden gem – it’s high tech and modern for those students that want to explore technology in ways not available in other schools.”
Vicky, who grew up in Orillia, hadn’t planned on a career in education – many in her family were teachers and she wanted to set her own course. But she changed her mind after becoming a swimming instructor while attending Western University. Realizing that teaching was a natural fit, Vicky enrolled at Lakehead to finish her undergrad studies and to get her education degree. The appeal of Lakehead was, like Superior CVI, its small size and welcoming atmosphere.
Now Vicky is at the forefront of a movement to change traditional teaching methods. Instead of fighting today’s technology-driven reality, she’s embracing it and using it to its fullest potential. “We don’t just read out of textbooks anymore,” she says. “Everything is filtered through the technology students have in their hands. If you don’t use the technology, they’ll be sitting staring under their desks, texting.”
Digital games, iPads, and Google searches are just a few of the ways she integrates technology into her classroom. Her students use group chat apps to share notes and information. Her classroom website contains every resource a student needs – from worksheets to PowerPoint presentation to videos.
Vicky believes her approach to teaching requires her students to take more responsibility for their education. “School is a lot more inquiry-based now. We teach kids how to research and think critically rather than focusing on memorization and rote learning.”
As well as teaching high school law, history, and philosophy, Vicky is a sessional lecturer with Lakehead’s Faculty of Education where she has taught Indigenous Curriculum and Literacy Instruction courses. She is also doing a master’s in Instructional Design and Technology at the American College of Education.
“I’d like to continue pushing the boundaries of 21st-century learning and make students lifelong learners.”
Check out this video interview with Vicky’s students and discover how they immersed themselves in Canadian history through music: