Social studies incorporates a broad range of courses, including geography, Green Industries, Humanities, World Religions and Introduction to Philosophy. “It’s naturally interdisciplinary,” Leslie says. “We’re constantly looking for ways to bring subjects together.”
A great example at Greenwood is the Grade 12 Interdisciplinary project. In the past, students wrote an English research paper that tied into another class from a limited selection; the paper was marked in English for writing, and in the second class for research and content. “Now, all Grade 12 English students complete this project, and they choose which class to connect it to,” Leslie says. “They can also choose what the final product to be marked will be for each class.”
The new setup leaves room for extraordinary creativity from students. Cam Brady (‘15) was inspired by his brother’s service trip to Global Pathways School in India, and particularly by learning that access to drinking water was a real issue. “Cam knew that water came from central taps, and that the water was not always clean,” Leslie says. “He not only researched UN water conventions and water access around the world, but designed a 3D-printed water filter that could be attached to a water tap. Instead of sending millions of filters around the world, these countries would only need one printer.” With this approach, Cam was able to tie together three classes - English, Green Industries and Politics - with a single project.
In addition to creating links between classes, the social studies department also fosters authentic real-world connections. “We want students to produce work that’s applicable to a broader audience than just teachers,” Leslie says. “For example, Grade 8 Social Studies students have been writing children’s stories, and they’ve had a specific audience in mind: their Reading Buddies in Regent Park.”
In Leslie’s Green Industries class, students are currently working on proposals for developing the Lower Don Lands; their culminating activity will be designing their own solution for the Gardiner East. “When possible, I give students actual competition guidelines to work from. These are the same guidelines that architects and professional designers follow,” Leslie says.
“I also encourage students to attend public participation forums for these projects, where they get to voice their design ideas alongside other Toronto citizens,” she says.
Idea sharing is a focus of the culminating activity for World Issues. In the past, Greenwood has hosted a “World Issues Fair”, where students presented a project on an issue of their choice. “Now, students will complete a five-minute TEDx
talk on a topic of their choice,” Leslie says.
“Students need to know that their ideas matter, and that they can make an impact.”