The Canadian Museum of History’s Teachers’ Zone is a new web initiative aimed at bringing high-quality and relevant primary sources into classrooms across the country. Launched in May 2020, our bilingual website provides Canadian-history themed packages. Within these packages are objects — digitized artifacts, videos, audio and archival documents related to the chosen theme. Each digitized object features inquiry-based activity suggestions, and important historical context. The historical context is written at three different levels of difficulty, to appeal to a range of grades and literacy abilities, as well as those in immersion programs.
With teachers as our primary audience, during the development process, we brought together a National Teacher Advisory group with educators from most provinces and territories. They provided invaluable insight from their teaching and classroom experience to help us develop a website that would be useful to teachers across the country. The key feedback we received was that teachers expected an online resource to:
- Be accessible both in terms of appropriate content, but also easy to navigate. They expected to have access to the Museum’s experts, collection and knowledge.
- Include different and diverse perspectives.
- Make history relevant and fun for students.
- Be built for a teacher audience, to help them prepare for lessons.
- Provide ideas and information around teaching difficult subject matter, such as Residential Schools.
- Provide opportunities and suggestions for inquiry-based learning.
The result was the Teachers’ Zone, which addresses all of these key criteria with high degrees of success. Further, Historical Thinking has been integrated into many Canadian curricula, and we have included the concepts into activities and content in the Teachers’ Zone.
Currently, there are three packages: The Women of New France, Stories of Confederation, and Think Like a Historian: Working with Primary Source Evidence. New packages with content connected to provincial and territorial curricula will be added regularly, with the goal being 2-3 packages a year. This guarantees our content is consistently up to date, reflects the best pedagogy and establishes the Teachers’ Zone as a go-to resource for teachers across the country. A few upcoming packages include topics on Haida Arts and Technologies, civil liberties, Algonquin traditions and cultures, LGBTQ2S+ rights, Residential Schools and Black history. Community engagement is essential to the development of our packages. This ensures authentic voices and experiences are represented.
Further, to ensure accessibility to Canadians who live in areas with internet connectivity issues, we offer to send “hard copies” of content, including historical context, activity suggestions, and media files saved on a USB key. They are available upon request and are free of charge.
The pandemic has compelled more remote learning. We have seen the Teachers’ Zone being used by whole classes who explore one or two objects very thoroughly. While built primarily for teachers, activities and historical context can be explored by students. We expect this trend will continue over the next few years.
The technical platform for the Teachers’ Zone was architected with the JAM stack approach for speed, security and reliability. We use WordPress as its Content Management System so authors can easily create rich content. However, our WordPress backend is headless, meaning the content is ingested via API by the VUE.js front-end where it is then built into a static site, free from bloated technical dependencies. This allows us to switch off Wordpress and the Teachers’ Zone becomes a purely standalone, static site that is optimized for speed, security and search engine optimization.