A Living Archives in The Guardian, Monday, March 31st, 2008
History goes high-tech
Students in three Prince Edward Island schools used something new to bring
something old to life in this school session.
A new Living Archives project taught Grade 7 students at Stonepark
Intermediate in Charlottetown, Ecole Evangeline in Abram-Village and
Kensington Intermediate Senior High how to use web-based technologies to
document and digitize the social history and historical artifacts relating
to early 20th century life and showcase them on the web.
'This is the first time this has ever been done,' says a super enthusiastic
Sam Preston of Covehead, 12, who was one of many Stonepark students who
worked on the joint UPEI/Department of Canadian Heritage project.
The interwoven layers of the website features student writing, photography,
videos and interviews related to their historical research which focused on
a 50-year period between 1875 and 1925.
'It is like a virtual online textbook mainly,' says Sam of A Living
Archives, which was implemented through UPEI's Faculty of Education and
supported by a contribution from the Canadian Culture Online Partnerships
Dave Cormier, web specialist for integrated promotions at UPEI, came up with
the Living Archives concept, which uses Anne of Green Gables as a
'Anne is the context for the project,' he says.
'We started with seven excerpts from the Anne novels. We pulled out some
general themes from the book and one of them was horses and transportation.
So each one of the posts that the kids have done (on the website) is in some
way connected to one of those seven excerpts.'
For instance, the horses and transportation theme used by Stonepark stems
from Matthew¹s and Anne¹s carriage ride from the train station to Green
Gables. Kensington focused on a general store theme. Ecole Evangeline did
'It¹s the context they¹re building from. It's not like they're studying
Anne. They're contextualizing Anne so they're learning history,' Cormier
Research was a big part of the project, so students embarked upon field
trips to the Public Archives and Records Office and the P.E.I. Museum and
Heritage Foundation's Artefactory to find the information and images they
needed for their website postings.
'We would take pictures from the provincial archives and we would put them
online and write stuff about them, my partners and me,' says 12-year-old
Stonepark student Andy MacPhee of Stratford, whose topic was harness racing.
Other Stonepark themes included bicycles, trains, early autos and iceboats.
'We had to have three or four blogs each and then after that you put context
pieces and link them to each other's blogs. The context piece is basically
telling what our project is and what you need for horse racing; like you
need a sulky, what a sulky is and what it¹s made of.'
Jerry Campbell is the Grade 7 social studies teacher at Stonepark whose
class of 28 was involved with A Living Archives.
'The idea was that the lure of using technology to study the past would be a
different, unique way for the kids to get turned on to history and their
heritage, as opposed to just the regular sit-down-open-a-book (way),' he says.
'We didn't know exactly what was going to happen and what kind of interest
the kids were going to have, but it has turned out to be pretty successful.'
Students have been working since early in the fall on their projects. The
website is for the most part up and operational.
Bonnie Stewart, who is a A Living Archives project manager, says the project
also allowed students to expand their literary skills in a whole new way.
'You give them the opportunity to both take ownership of their learning by
the fact that they're making something themselves - they were really proud
of the fact that they were making an (e-)textbook themselves - and a chance to
work within a virtual world and stuff like that,' said Stewart.
'Then you get a high level of engagement, even from students who aren't
traditionally super readers in school in general or in the subject of
A half-hour documentary video on the making of A Living Archives will be
paired with the University of Prince Edward Island Faculty of Education
research to document the learning potential of this cutting edge project so
that other teachers and students down the road can adapt the project to
their own needs.
For Sam, his exploration into his A Living Archives topic of bicycles on
Prince Edward Island from 1875 to 1925 was a wonderful exploration into
history and high-tech.
'I think it's a lot better way of learning than just taking a textbook off
the shelf and reading it,' he said.
It's more interactive and you get to use a lot of technology.'