Langley Teachers Turn Canadian History into a Collaborative Learning Experience

November 25, 2021

“My students counted down the days until they would meet their grade 9 buddies.”

That’s the response from Langley Fundamental Elementary teacher Amanda Younger talking about a recent project involving her grade 4 students and grade 9 students from across town at Walnut Grove Secondary.

This collaborative project focused on the history of Canada. The students at Langley Fundamental Elementary created and designed alphabet booklets, with each letter of the alphabet being represented by an important Canadian historical figure, event, place, or symbol. Meanwhile, two grade 9 classes from Walnut Grove created their own picture books depicting a historical Canadian event.

The classes then met at Walnut Grove Secondary to share their hand crafted books and their learning.

The project’s goal wan’t just about kids reading to kids. It was a way to build community and foster growth in leadership among students.

“When people are given leadership opportunities they often step up and excel,” said Chris Bertoia, Walnut Grove Secondary teacher about his students.

In this Q & A, we speak with Langley Fundamental Elementary teacher, Amanda Younger and Walnut Grove Secondary teacher, Chris Bertoia about their successful partnership and the impact it has had on student learning and their own professional development as educators.

What inspired this collaboration of learning between your schools?

Amanda — “Chris and I taught Eco Explorers outdoor summer school together in the summer of 2021, with students from grades 1-7, and saw how the relationships between older and younger students evolved over the course of the three weeks. As we talked more about what we were doing in our regular classrooms we realized how much of the socials competencies and content overlapped between the two grades. What really struck me in this process was seeing how students of different ages connected with each other and shared their learning, instead of having several separate groups by age we had a very cohesive group that connected naturally through play and exploration.”

Chris “During summer school, we saw students at different grade levels do a terrific job learning and playing together. This inspired the idea of getting elementary and high school students together to share Social Studies projects.”

What sorts of things did you hope to see, learning-wise, in bringing grade 9 students to share their learning with the grade 4’s?

Amanda — “I was looking for my students to build connections and to focus on the core competencies in an authentic way. This project really drew on the core competencies for all learners. Both groups of students got a chance to work with students they would not have otherwise met in a new and different environment. Being in a K-5 school, my grade 4’s are often seen as the older students and big buddies. For them to have a chance to be mentored by older students was important. Both groups of students had the opportunity to share authentically and to make connections.”

Chris —Giving the grade 9’s an opportunity to show leadership was key.  When people are given leadership opportunities they often step up and excel. We always talk about the core competencies (communication, thinking, and personal/social). We often try to find ways to work these into lessons. This project brought the core competencies into the classroom in an organic way.”

How do you think this made an impact for your students’ learning?

Amanda — “This really gave my grade 4’s something to work towards and a goal for sharing their learning. This project brought the sharing aspect of learning into the spotlight. The audience changed from being myself or their classmates to an outside audience and that was motivating. My students counted down the days until they would meet their grade 9 buddies. This project gave my students a true voice in showing their learning. They decided what they would include in their alphabet books and how they would represent it on each page. The biggest thing for my grade 4’s was the chance to share with others and make meaningful connections with a new audience.”

Chris — “Learning has to be purposeful. Sharing their work with younger students made this assignment purposeful for the grade 9’s. This motivated them.”

How did your students surprise you the most in this learning project?

Amanda — “The thing that surprised me most about this project was the pride my students had in sharing their work. Watching my students share, and reading their journal responses afterwards, my students were immensely proud of themselves and what they had accomplished. I also saw many of my students show a new level of confidence, some even taking the lead with the grade 9’s when they visited our classroom. This project brought out different strengths in my classroom, some students stepped up as leaders with their partner while others showed great skill as public speakers.”

Chris — “Different people have different strengths. Some students excel with traditional classroom work while others excel in other areas outside of the classroom. Seeing the grade 9’s work with the grade 4’s was great. Some students showed that they have a real ability to connect with younger students. It took them outside of their usual classroom and allowed them to show their strengths in a different way.”