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Re-imagining primary history education: An integrated model for critically addressing global issues in the primary classroom

Your Name and Title: Katherine Ireland, Ph. D. Student

School, Library, or Organization Name: University of New Brunswick

Country from Which You Will Present: Canada

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience: Primary school teachers, social studies teachers, social studies coordinators, elementary school administrators, graduate students in Education

Short Session Description: I will share my graduate research, which focuses on developing an integrated model for using Kieran Egan's theory of Imaginative Education and the "Big Six" Historical Thinking Concepts in the elementary classroom.

Full Session Description: Last year I presented on my work when I was just starting to explore the theory aspects of this model. I have now completed my Master's and am pursuing Doctoral Studies in Education, looking to further this research. I will give some background to both theories, talk about my study results, and offer my current work on foundations for an integrated model. Here is a description of the origins of the work and some highlights the presentation will cover:

My Ph.D. work is a continuation of the research study I conducted for my Master’s research, which focused on bringing together two areas of research that have previously occupied separate spheres: imaginative education and elementary history education. In a unit I taught for my Master’s research study, I hoped to draw out the notion of diversity through the topic of immigration. Based on our Canadian context, I chose immigration to Canada between 1865 and 1914. The idea for this topic stems from my reaction to a particular outcome in the New Brunswick K-2 curriculum which integrates science, health, and social studies, called You and Your World.  In Unit 4 of the Grade One Curriculum, which is called Communities, outcome 1.4.3 states that students will: “recognize that Aboriginal peoples’ relationship with place has changed over time” (p. 97, You and Your World Curriculum: Kindergarten – Grade 2, 2005, Province of New Brunswick Department of Education).  

The suggestions for teaching and learning note: “It is important that the learning experiences avoid becoming a stereotypical study of early Aboriginal peoples. The goal is for students to realize that Aboriginal communities, like all communities, have evolved over time” (p. 102). However, there is no clear link between the activities suggested, and the stated outcome. The suggested activities include comparing traditionally Aboriginal lands with current Aboriginal lands, and exploring traditional Aboriginal customs, art, music and games. Though the curriculum states to teach about progress and decline, there is no reference to how these activities will help students explore how and why Aboriginal life in Canada has changed. The suggested assessments include involving students in an Aboriginal talking circle and asking students to demonstrate their understanding of early sports, games and traditions, which appear to be only superficially related to the stated outcome. Unfortunately, the curriculum outlines what does amount to a stereotypical, superficial study, and ultimately contributes to students’ perceptions of Aboriginal people as the “Other.”

As a former elementary school teacher, this token treatment of Aboriginal heritage had concerned me, and to see in this document both the assumption that the relationship with the land has in fact changed (which it arguably has not, in spiritual terms), and such a blatant disregard for the historical context in which their relationship with the land was changed, suggested to me that I could explore a more critical way to approach it. For my Master’s I had wanted to research early elementary students’ historical thinking ability, and I thought, what better topic to explore to see what kind of inquiry young students can engage in? I hoped to convey the point that all of us in Canada who don’t have Aboriginal heritage have a history as immigrants, and that diversity doesn’t just mean not being white and not speaking English as a first language.

Drawing on my experience as an elementary school teacher, I designed the study as a 7-lesson unit using two frameworks: the Historical Thinking Concepts, six processes for students to do history as historians do, and the theory of Imaginative Education, which suggests an alternative to stage development theory, positing that learning involves the use of mental or cognitive tools that develop ina  cultural context. I designed it so that it could be taught by any classroom teacher, including maps, photographs, posters and certificates as primary source evidence. We studied the treaties that were made with the Aboriginal people and the implementation of the reserve system, European settlers such as the Mennonites, the Home Children, the Komagata Maru incident, and the Chinese Head Tax. The 6- and 7-year old students in the class engaged in a photo study, whole-group lessons, role-plays, drawing activities, and a family history project, as well as before-and-after interviews. I found that the students could not only tell me their version of the story that happened, they showed an emergent ability to look critically at the social justice issues the emerged from our study of this topic.

My Ph.D. work involves taking the data from this study to develop an integrated model that elementary school teachers can use to teach history in a meaningful way, using family history as a basis for rigorous historical inquiry. My aim is that this will provide an alternative curriculum that can be used in any context that will challenge students’ notions of diversity. I believe that to promote students’ investment in their value and participation as global citizens, they need to be equipped with the skills to critically address social contexts. History is one significant area in which schools can help develop these skills, but an alternative curriculum that makes central alternative perspectives is needed.

Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session: For background on the Historical Thinking Concepts, please visit:

For background on Imaginative Education, please visit:

*please note that I am not affiliated with either of these organizations*

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Hi Kathrine,
We are waiting for you in the room. The presentation is scheduled now.
rgds Heike, moderator at Global Education Conference


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