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Walker’s class project asked students to investigate the historical events referred to in The Hip’s lyrics and analyze how the band has contributed to the identity, citizenship and heritage in Canada.
“I turned this into a culminating activity for my Grade 10 academic history class and will be following up with The Secret Path project next month when we examine Residential Schools,” Walker explains.
“We decided to do an Inquiry learning project in which the students proposed the topics and the project formats. The goal is to explore the concept of Canadian Identity through the lyrics of The Hip in a multimedia project,” Walker says.
You can find Walker’s project outline here.
“I hope that my students learn to see ‘what history is’ differently, and that it isn’t just some dry content from a book,” Walker adds. “History is a living, evolving interpretation of people and events that affect each of us as individuals. If students don’t learn about men like David Milgaard (from the song Wheat Kings) and the impact he had on our country, they might be more willing to trade away the amazing elements that were so hard fought for in previous generations. Music has always played an incredible role in cultural expression throughout history, so what if this music is more recent?”
Tragically Hip songs are known for their many references of all things Canadian, including the "wicked prairie winds" (The Darkest One), bears in Algonquin Park (The Bear), language laws in Sault Ste. Marie (Born in the Water), the northern lights (Ultra Mundane), the constellations in Bobcaygeon (Bobcaygeon) and many references to Canada's game, hockey, including 50 Mission Cap, an ode to Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bill Barilko.
Walker’s students have created musical raps, 'History Bites' videos, paintings, visual reports, mosaics, essays, and slideshows connected to the lyrics and music of The Hip. “It is really exciting,” she says.
It inspired Grade 10 student Leila to create a rap song about residential schools. “I wanted it to be in the mind of a native and what they thought about it,” she explains.
Lauren, also in Grade 10, made an interactive website. “I made it so that whoever wanted to look at it could listen to The Tragically Hip while seeing how it connected to this history. I just thought it was better to interact than, say, just writing down what I thought."
Meanwhile, at Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Peterborough, Grade 7/8 teacher and long-time Hip fan Mitch Champagne has also been using The Hip’s work as a platform for teaching the Ontario curriculum.
“People remember stories when they won't necessarily remember facts, and the lyrics of The Hip tell some great stories,” Champagne explains. “Most people love music. And when lyrics are full of literary elements like allusion, metaphor, perspective, and voice, they serve as great texts for exploring literacy in a fun and engaging way.”
Like most Canadians in their 30s, Champagne says, he’s been listening to, and been inspired by, the band’s music for years. “The lyrics have basically been the soundtrack of my life since I was in high school,” he says.
His students have worked with him to co-construct their project task by going over the geography & literacy curriculum together, co-created the success criteria, and have now begun work. Students chose a meaningful symbol from a Hip song, are using that symbol to create a unique piece of art, are writing about how that symbol was used to create meaning in the song and are writing a critique and interpretation of that song's lyrics. The students have also read a 1967 Macleans Magazine article about Chanie Wenjack, an indigenous boy who died running away from a residential school and watched the trailer for the Secret Path video. See Champagne’s project outline here.
The students have also chosen lyrics from songs included on a CBC interactive blog celebrating The Hip. The most popular lyrics chosen by the students include those from 50 Mission Cap, Bobcageon, Fiddler's Green, 38 Years Old, Wheat Kings, Queen of the Furrows, and The Luxury. “They're finding interpreting the literary elements in the lyrics is quite difficult, which is good! They're learning!”
In addition to teaching the formal elements of literacy, this project is developing a greater capacity to listen critically to the lyrics and music in the students’ lives, Champagne adds. “All the songs we've chosen also have some sort of basis in Canada, so I think it's great that we are all learning more about our great country in the process,” he says. “Also, selfishly, I'm happy I'm able to share this great music with another generation of Canadians.”
Champagne says the students weren’t surprised by the project because he’s always had The Hip’s Phantom Power poster up on his classroom wall. “Many students have also said the project is sparking conversations at home with their friends and family. Whenever learning spills out from the school and into the rest of their lives, it's a beautiful thing.”
Meanwhile, in the class of student teachers Champagne teaches at Trent University, students are working with Downie’s lyrics and music in his new (album) The Secret Path. “The students are developing a real understanding of the atrocities of the Residential School System that so deeply affected, and continues to affect students just like Chanie Wenjack, their families, and their communities,” Champagne shares. “I am hopeful that these future teachers can take this understanding and bring it to their students in the years to come.”
The student teachers will choose a song from The Secret Path album and will develop a lesson that can be used in elementary classrooms. Each lesson plan will have it's own stand-alone assessment of some kind, Champagne explains.
Beyond curricular goals, Walker believes The Hip and Gord Downie are on a mission advocating change and reconciliation for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, something her students can be inspired and informed by. “This cultural bridge and education about the less-than-stellar moments in Canadian history are crucial to bridging the racism that Canada was built upon and reconciling in the future,” she says. “Gord Downie is a living advocate for historical change and an exemplary role model to dedicate his last months to a cause that all of Canada needs to address very badly.”
Stay tuned for Part Two of this TeachOntario Talks special series where students will share their work and reflect upon what they learned.
Go back to the main page, where you can find more student work, links to the teachers' lesson plans and video interviews with both teachers and some of their students.
Join TeachOntario and continue with the discussion here.