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Bringing History to Life at Onondaga-Brant Public School

From a distance, the action on the field at Onondaga-Brant Public School looks like a typical gym-class match: two teams, each at opposing ends of the field, are ready to face off in competition. But a closer look reveals that many of the “players” are from another era, dressed in red wool coats, helmets and regalia.

This isn’t gym class. This is a battlefield.

The skirmish taking place is a re-enactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek, a turning point in the War of 1812 that saw British troops, with First Nations allies, launching an attack on an American encampment. The students, in character, are having a blast – even the ones that don’t make it through the battle give their best final flourish as they fall to the grass.

Welcome to the History Fair, a culmination of the Grade 7 and 8 classes’ studies in the subject this year. Preparation for the daylong event allowed students to explore in-depth the topics that interested them, and then bring them to life for the whole school.

“By re-enacting these events or aspects of daily life, students are learning that history is made up of people like them who had values, hopes, and dreams,” explains Christopher Bailey, Grade 7/8 teacher at Onondaga Brant Public School. “It’s helping them flesh out their ideas, and also explore a lot of the not-so-tidy parts of history; life wasn’t easy for many people in Canada’s past, as we’re learning.”

In addition to the battlefield, there are stations throughout the school grounds representing various aspects of life in centuries’ past. There’s a schoolhouse complete with separate lessons for male and female students – boys get to learn math and writing, while girls take lessons in sewing and knitting. There’s a station where students can learn how to write with a quill and ink. There’s a model farmhouse – one room with a bed, rocking chair, cooking area, and even a bathtub. Outside the farmhouse are two cows, brought in especially for the day from one student’s family farm, to add a further touch of authenticity. There are suffragettes walking around and rallying support to get women the right to vote.

Essentially any aspect of life in Canada between the years 1700 to 1914 was open for students to research further. Hosting the History Fair is a different way of approaching Canadian history, and one that echoes Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan of setting a culture of high expectations around effective learning strategies, and monitoring, measuring and reflecting on outcomes.

“The idea of using the model of a fair means that the intermediate students can not only explore a topic that piques their interest, but they’re also sharing their passion and learning with the younger grades,” says Laurie Murray, principal at Onondaga-Brant Public School. “They’re bringing to life what they’ve learned.”

For students, the chance to embody a person from the past is a wonderful opportunity.

“We all live here, and we all deserve an equal say,” explain Michaela and Lexi, Grade 8 students in character as suffragettes for the duration of the fair. “Your opinion matters, so make sure it’s heard!”

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