What every Canadian needs to know; Social Studies and Critical Thinking

Dear Colleague,

Regarding your question, I must first begin with a note on knowledge: Although the question of what “knowledge” actually is can be endlessly debated (if you are interested, see: Smith, M. U. & Siegel, H. (2004). Knowing, believing, and understanding: What goals for science education? Science & Education, 13(6), 553-582), I decided to include what skills I feel Canadians need as opposed to what “facts” they need to know. Although skills sometimes undermine basic definitions of knowledge, such as belief being a prerequisite for knowledge, one can know “how” as well as “what.” Even the Province has been getting to the point that we need to focus on fewer facts and more abilities. To see what I mean, take a look at the incoming curriculum statement from the following link:


With that being said, I will move on to what I feel Canadians need to know in Social Studies. Things have changed from even when we were children; whereas once knowledge and information was rare and cherished, now information is everywhere and of doubtful integrity. As a result of this, critical thinking and evaluation skills are of even greater importance. Especially with the Internet.

One example of getting students to tackle this problem is the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. I am including the link here:


And no, this isn’t actually (as the children say) “a thing.” But looking at that website you can be forgiven for being fooled for a moment. Goodness knows, some students believe it.

The advantage of having citizens that have experience being so critical is pretty obvious in a democratic society (if only because politicians lie furiously and we need to be give students a willingness to be critical of authority). From more of a Social Studies specific perspective, this kind of critical thinking is even more important because of our work with sources, both primary and secondary.

Other skills that I think are important to develop are more mundane: Communication skills, including written and spoken (I’ve already done plenty of debates and a sort of practice essay outline); the related argument skills; and interpersonal skills. Also of interest are the Historical Thinking Concepts:


The best part of this focus on skills and concepts is that even when you are dealing with a class that features Provincial Exams, you can still work these skills into the required content knowledge. It also means that when we are given more flexibility on what we can teach; we can do more of what we want to do or what we think our students will find more interesting. Considering this, it might be beneficial to the students if you teach something historical that you might cover back home (just make sure they’ve not done it already). This gives them a different perspective and subject to test their skills on.

In the interest of brevity I will stop there, but if you require more information feel free to ask. To conclude: be creative, student centered, skill based, and have fun with it!

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