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Year: 2009 – Province: Alberta
Certificate of Achievement Recipient
Calgary Science School
5915 Lewis Drive S.W.
Calgary AB T3E 5Z4
Subjects and Grades Taught: Humanities in Grade 7
Neil Stephenson may seem like a fish out of water, since he teaches the humanities at a science-focussed school. However, students, parents and colleagues alike see his innovative and inquiry-based teaching as a great fit for the publicly funded charter school. Students must demonstrate that they can apply their knowledge, collecting relevant historical facts from images and primary source documents and interpreting them. Their work must also stand up to the scrutiny of peers, parents and experts, and students must be able to defend their choices with reasoned arguments.
Over the school year, Neil Stephenson immerses his students in Canada's past in a way that is both memorable and intellectually engaging. They struggle with conflicting interpretations and varying levels of accuracy offered by the source materials for the study of history. Then they present the results of their study in texts, audio presentations, film and graphic design.
- Inspired by a Canadian Museum of Civilization exhibit that challenged Canadians to learn about their history through old cigar boxes, Mr. Stephenson had his students construct virtual cigar box panels and produce three short documentaries on aspects of Canadian history. Students collaboratively research events, collect and document historical images and artifacts and then digitally assemble their own visual representation of significant times and events from Canada's past.
- A key feature of Mr. Stephenson's assessment of his students' work is having them reflect on its meaning and their intent in making it. As part of the cigar box project, for example, he had students record a podcast self-assessment in which students explained the key message(s) reflected in their panels and the significance of the images they used. Previously, students did this work on paper, but the podcast has enhanced the process, allowing them to use inflection and emotion to communicate.
- Students also use technology to seek feedback on their work, and Mr. Stephenson connects them to experts and professionals, such as museum curators, to enhance their learning.
"[Our son] looks forward to each new unit that they take. He talks about Canadian history a lot at home and frankly he knows much more about it than I do. He says that Mr. Stephenson teaches history in a way that is fun and inspires you to learn more." Parent
"It has been a rare privilege to work with Neil Stephenson, a new teacher who is already making such a remarkable impact on student learning, curriculum and professional development and the teaching profession. After 12 years as a teacher educator and educational technology researcher, I have come across very few teachers who match Neil's enthusiasm and commitment." University professor