Visiting the Royal Ontario Museum

From the Eastern Woodlands of Turtle Island to the Base of the Pyramid of Giza the historians of the YMCA Academy got to walk through history at the Royal Ontario Museum. The History of Civilizations class joined with the Canadian History class on an adventure through stories and evidence from the past.

The History of Civilizations class just started the Empire Simulator unit, where students take on the role of the leader for an ancient civilization and experience the hardships of managing a fledgling empire. The opportunity to visit the ROM to see and experience some of the relics and history of these nations was a great way for students to connect with their chosen civilization on a deeper level.

The Canadian History class learned about five of the major regional groups of First Nations and Inuit of what is now Canada. The people of the Eastern Woodlands and their canoes; the Great Plains people and their spartan, mobile lifestyle; the Northwest Shore people and their incredible material culture; and the Arctic people with their deep connection to their environment.

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Fight Choreography Workshop

It was a “Safety First” kind of day in the YMCA Academy’s Grade 9 Drama class. Jabs, crosses, uppercuts, and grabs made for impressive performances. Under the guidance of Fight Master with the Fight Directors of Canada, Simon Fon, the students learned to safely create intense scenes for the stage. Beginning with the basics of breath, stance, and hand positioning, Simon led the class in choreographing a safe, but convincing stage combat scene designed to create a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat performance.

Having taught at George Brown College, University of Toronto, York University, University of British Columbia, The Centre for Indigenous Theatre, Equity Showcase Players Academy, Rapier Wit Studios, and Fight Directors Canada National Workshops,it was a real honour Simon Fon sharing his expertise here at the YMCA Academy. The students learned a short choreography of punches, grabs, a choke, and a finishing move that was later filmed.

Fight Master Fon’s work can be seen at his website where the award winning videos Wanted, Thirst, and Heroic Bloodshed, made by his production team, Riot Act, can be found. The students left Simon’s workshop with a new understanding of how to create safe, and convincing scenes of combat on stage.

Dungeons and Dragons Club

Video games may have become the norm for most high school students looking for the thrill of solving puzzles, navigating political intrigue, and combating evil monsters. At my school, however, we sit around a table with pencils, paper and dice. The classic fantasy strategy game, Dungeons and Dragons, has made a major come back at the YMCA Academy. Instead of being powered by a computer or gaming console, Dungeons and Dragons games unfold in the minds of a group of people through shared story telling. Rather than quietly staring a screen and clicking buttons on a controller, the YMCA Academy Dungeons and Dragons Club members cooperatively scour maps, lay out plans, brainstorm solutions, and tackle enemies all through the power of imagination.

This week the companions trekked across dangerous, forested wilderness on their way to gather some key information at an abandoned town a few days’ march to the north. The party is tracking their missing Dwarven employer who was captured by a band of goblins. Their investigation has taken them from a sleepy mining town, through damp caverns, through wild forests and to an abandoned ruin of a village where a dragon has made his lair.

The world of Dungeons and Dragons is only possible through the power of shared story telling. As the Dungeon Master, I set the scene by narrating the opening sequence of a story: I describe the scenery, the time of day, what local people or creatures are nearby, and I explain any activity that is taking place. Players then make decisions based on their character and what is taking place. The outcomes of those decisions are determined by the roll of dice. Then I describe the outcome based on the dice roll, and the cycle starts over again.

I can’t express enough the value of this game. Besides the literacy, numeracy, problem solving, divergent thinking, communication, conflict resolution, and geography skills that are practiced, the social benefits of the game cannot be ignored. Every Monday, a group of students, who range from boisterous to downright shy, join together as a close-knit team to overcome a series of new challenges. Players come out of their shells and take on newfound confidence in leadership roles, they learn to encourage and uplift one another, they learn to listen to one another, they learn to recognize the power of choice, they learn to laugh at mistakes (and bad dice rolls), and they learn celebrate one another’s victories.

WWII Newspapers – Touching History

YMCA Academy Grade 10 Canadian History students excitedly crowded around a Montreal Star newspaper dated August 11th, 1943, laughing at the prices of new business suits at $5.95. Once the stack discoloured papers were distributed to each student they were asked to become historical investigators and look for clues about the past in the articles and advertisements. Primary sources offer a window into historical perspective that many historical texts, and papers can’t match. There is something exciting about being able to reach out and touch the past.

An advertisement for Leg Tint caught the eye of some students, leading to a discussion on why women from Canada in the 1940s would want to tint their legs. The concepts of rationing, standards of beauty, price inflation, modesty, and paratroopers all organically sprang up from the conversation around a single advertisement from 1943. It made sense that nylon was being diverted to making parachutes making nylons to come by for women during the war. It was surprising to learn, though, that women would use makeup to tint their legs and draw fake seams in order to give the appearance of wearing nylons.

Students also discussed the feelings that people from the past might have had when reading about certain victories and defeats in the newspaper. These stories may have inspired pride, or fear, or anger for a variety of reasons. The hands-on, experiential inquiry that can happen with objects and documents from the past allowed the Grade 10 Canadian History class to get a little bit closer to seeing the past through the eyes of those that lived there.

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Remembrance and Peace Ceremony

On the morning of November 10th students at The YMCA Academy gathered for the yearly remembrance and peace ceremony. The Grade 10 Canadian History class ran the event, introducing the idea that Remembrance Day is an opportunity to reflect on the significance of armed conflicts, and the steps we can all take within our communities to promote peace. The presentations focused on honouring the past through poetry and first hand accounts, acknowledging the present by learning about the Canadian Legion and current conflicts, as well as looking to the future through a discussion on how to promote peace.

The remembrance and peace ceremony was echoed the next day with a minute of silence at 11:00am, to mark the anniversary of the end of the First World War. In class students continued the conversation about the importance of remembering past conflicts, and how it can help us today to promote peace in our everyday lives.