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The Upper Grand District School Board's Digital Historian Project (DHP) is an experiential learning program, in partnership with Dufferin County Museum and Archives, designed by Centre Dufferin District High School's award winning history teacher Neil Orford. Launched in the early days of February this year, the hybrid program is already drawing accolades from within the County and a lot of attention from outside school boards that see the possibilities for their own districts. “There is quite a bit of ‘buzz' about the program and many people are ‘dropping-by' to see what we are doing on a daily basis,” says Orford.
Seventeen Grade 11 history/math students from three Dufferin high schools, including Centre Dufferin, Orangeville District and Westside Secondary will spend a full semester in an intensive research experience in digital literacy inside and outside of the classroom. Students were selected by application and interview in order to be granted the opportunity to join the group and work with the National Library and Archives in Ottawa, the University of Guelph, the Juno Beach Centre and the Archives of Ontario as well as DCMA. The program covers four credits in History and Data Management at the Dufferin County Museum two weeks per month, and the rest of the time in completing curricular research and coursework in a regular high school environment. Teachers include Neil Orford and Asher Kirk-Elleker at ODSS along with museum staff and archivists.
“There are no other programs like this in Canada that recognize a school-museum partnership,” says Orford, “Giving kids who enjoy historical research an opportunity to pursue their passion and gain senior university level credits while doing an experiential learning program is long-overdue. We have invented a project that can afford a really unique opportunity for kids in the arts.... they see things quite differently working with experts who are not traditional classroom teachers. The kids ask extraordinarily incisive questions, when given the freedom to do so - and often they contact experts far-a field using the Internet.... that is a compelling case for this kind of experiential learning.”
“The primary achievement of the DHP,” says Orford, “has been the deep research that students have conducted into the profiles of over 70 Dufferin Veterans - 20 of whom are being honoured with a commemorative “brick' at the JBC in June. These profiles will be contributed to the Virtual War Memorial at the DCMA in perpetuity.” Students in the program have the opportunity to join Orford on the Battlefield tour with a Dufferin veteran.
As Program Leader of the DHP, Orford has been awarded “a significant grant from the Ministry of Education; Student Success Secretariat.” Orford says, “The grant will assist in providing a sustainable future for the DHP into 2016 and beyond.” Orford also has high praise for the DCMA, “This has been a huge undertaking for the museum, who have adapted their programs and infrastructure to become a ‘teaching institution' in our midst. Very few municipal museums in Ontario are that committed to education.”
Sarah Robinson, Curator of the DCMA says, “The Digital Historian Project has been such a positive endeavour for the museum. I sat down with a few of the students last week to give feedback on an artifact based research project - their enthusiasm is contagious.”
“Each day, it is reinforced for me, how remarkably astute our kids can be,” says Neil Orford, “given the right stimulation and provocation, they are not only inquisitive, but also make some profound connections. They are genuinely moved by the stories they uncover and challenge me to ‘up my game' in the classroom. They ask me many questions for which I do not immediately know an answer - usually not satisfied with my help, they go off to solve their own problems....I find that both a bit humbling, yet reassuring.”
By Marni Walsh
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