In this challenge, students contact other young people in an Inuit, Acadian and/or prairie community to learn about these people's perceptions of their community and the rest of Canada. The goal is not to solicit factual information about places and events, but to inquire into identityhow these young people see and feel about themselves, their community and the country. To prepare for this activity, you will need to contact other schools to arrange e-mail pals or pen pals for your class. (See References for suggested contacts.)
Introduce the notion of identity by asking questions that touch upon students' sense of identification with the people and places in their own community and in Canada (e.g., Is this a fun community or a boring community? In what ways do you feel good about living in the community? Are young people in other parts of Canada just like you or very different from you?) Compare the answers received. Wherever relevant, discuss why some students might have expressed similar perceptions, while others would have offered different perceptions. Help students to realize that individuals may legitimately feel and look upon things in different ways and that students can better understand each person by learning why these differences exist.
Invite students to consider whether young people in other communities they have been studying would feel similarly or differently from students in the class. Explain that in order to learn what living in these other communities is really like, it would be valuable to contact young people who live in there. Assist students in preparing a list of questions that would help them to better understand the feelings of young people in these communities and their impressions about other Canadians (e.g., Do you think we are the same or really different from you? Why?). With the class, identify criteria for an effective question (e.g., provides interesting information about people's feelings towards their community, is politely asked, is something we are curious about). As a class or individually, ask students to select several of the most powerful questions from the common list. Using e-mail or land mail, arrange for students to write to young people in another community. See Asking Powerful Questions (Modelling the Tools) for detailed suggestions on how to teach and assess the tools for student-generated questions.
When students have received responses from young people in other communities, compare the answers received. Discuss why some of the respondents might have expressed the same feelings and others would have offered different perceptions. Reinforce the appropriateness of feeling and looking upon things in different ways and the value of understanding why these differences exist. Encourage students to develop additional questions that follow up on the responses to their initial questions, especially in probing the thinking behind the multiple perceptions among the respondents (e.g., "Why do you think some students in your school feel that we are different from them and you believe that we are all the same?"). If respondents have asked questions of your students, be sure to respond to these questions. Arrange for students to send the second set of questions to their respondents, asking for additional insights.
After the experience, invite students to share their feelings about the exchanges and to comment on what they have learned that they might not have if they had simply read about these communities in books.