In this challenge, students investigate what life was like for young people in Alberta in the past. Students interview adults who were the students' age 50 or more years ago and then decide whether or not things were better in the old days. See Comparing Then and Now (Modelling the Tools) for detailed suggestions on how to teach and assess the tools for this challenge.
Introduce the topic by asking students if they have heard the term good old days? Discuss its meaning and suggest that students try to determine if the phrase is true for young people. Was being a 10-year-old in the old days better, worse or the same as being a young person now?
Ask students to interview one or two adults who were the students' age 50 or more years ago. If possible, ensure that the class confers with seniors, both males and females, from various groups, including Francophones, First Nations and immigrant groups. The interview should include topics, such as shelter, fun, diet, home duties, school duties and worries.
Based on the interview results, ask students to compare the qualities of life then and now across areas, such as those listed above. Encourage students to consider the whole picture; e.g., greater access to cars has obvious advantages but also negative side effects, such as more pollution, greater danger of accidents and more expensive public transportation. Ask students to think of ways that they continue to experience things that existed in this earlier time. For example, invite students to share what they do when they go camping and there is no electricity; e.g., play outside, tell stories, sing and play music, make crafts, play games. Encourage students, while adopting historical empathy, to infer less obvious effects; e.g., without television, people are likely to be more physically active, do things that are more satisfying, avoid conflict in the family about what to watch, know each other better.
Ask students to compare information about the past to conditions in the students' lives, using a chart or Venn diagram.
After assembling the information, ask students to decide whether the old days were better than, as good as or worse than today.
Invite guest speakers from various groups, such as Aboriginal peoples, Francophones and immigrant groups, to share their stories about the past and answer student questions. Encourage students to compare changing conditions across cultures.
Adapted from Selected Critical Challenges in Social StudiesIntermediate/Middle School, edited by John Harrison, Neil Smith and Ian Wright (Richmond, BC: The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2004, ISBN 0-86491-247-1) pp. 63-73.