Most young people know a thing or two about battling the aliens, warlords and assorted bad guys that populate the virtual universe. But what of the real-life conflicts that inhabit their history books? Is war a game? That’s the big question Cycle Three teachers at two Riverside School Board elementary schools asked their classes.
In their search for answers, they set out on a cross-curricular journey that, over several weeks, caused students to reflect on war, peace, conflict resolution and the very real veterans who live in their communities.
To address such a powerful theme in ways that would leave a lasting impression, the two schools—Cedar Street Elementary in Beloeil and Mountainview Elementary in Otterburn Park—invited Québec artist, Diane Gendron, to work with the students and their teachers. Their goal? To create a multi-layered, multi-media “War and Peace canvas” for each school that would tangibly portray the students’ process of discovery through words, images and technology.
Interviews with local veterans
Right from the start, explains Cedar Street principal François Couture, “Students came up with great questions and meaningful vocabulary––genocide, difference, empathy, etc.––that would represent the essence of the project.”
A critical element involved pairing teams of students with local veterans who had served in the Second World War and other conflicts. (The schools already have a tradition of inviting veterans to their annual Remembrance Day ceremonies and this newest initiative built on that relationship.) The students interviewed veterans about their experience as soldiers and then transformed those interviews into podcasts. They also photographed the veterans for a display located near the artwork. Next to each veteran’s photo, a QR (quick response) code provides viewers a link to the corresponding podcast.
Parallels with conflicts in their own environment
From a GOAL perspective, the project made classroom learning more meaningful to students by juxtaposing the virtual reality of their video games with actual events in history, in the news and in the lives of people around them. Their interactions with the veterans and with artist Diane Gendron also exposed the youngsters to two very different paths: a career in the military and a career as an artist.
“To connect the project to the curriculum, we decided to integrate Ethics and Religious Culture, French, English Language Arts and Social Studies,” explains François. “This way teachers could develop rubrics overlapping the subject areas of learning, and of course, work on cross-curricular competencies.” He adds that teachers liked the idea of working in synergy with another school and of calling on elders in the community to help develop student competencies.
A joint visit in March to the Montréal Holocaust Memorial Centre gave students in both schools a common starting point. It all came down to making learning relevant. “We wanted our students to reflect on what happened in the past and how it connects with their lives today,” says François. “We asked them to analyze the conflicts they encounter in their own environment (ex. bullying) in the light of what they learned about conflicts in the world.”
To celebrate the conclusion of the project, Cedar Street and Mountainview will be co-hosting a vernissage of the finished artwork from both schools. The veterans will be at the top of their guest list.