Heritage Fairs present opportunities for students to engage in learning about persons, places, events and traditions of the Northwest Territories and/or Canadian history, culture & heritage.
Heritage Fairs in the NWT are coordinated by the NWT Heritage Fairs Society. This volunteer-based organization is dedicated to encouraging young people in the NWT to explore and share the histories of their family or community, as well as the heritage of the people and places of the Northwest Territories. The opportunity to take part in a Heritage fair is enriched when students explore a “personal connection” to their heritage.
Heritage Fair projects encourage students to develop good research skills using a variety of sources. Projects are intended to encourage students to pursue topics that have a meaningful connection to their lives. Research that goes beyond the use of books and the Internet is encouraged, and this kind of research may involve other skills such as interviewing, collecting artifacts, photography, etc.
NWT Heritage Fairs President,
NWT Heritage Fairs Society
- Fall – Teachers/Administrators make contact (see side bar) to indicate interest and receive NWT Heritage Fair information & teacher resources.
- January – Students select topic and begin projects in order to meet deadlines for school & community fairs. (dates set at the school/ community level)
- March and April – School and regional fairs take place
- End of April – Names of participating students for Territorial Fair need to be submitted to Heritage Fair Society.
- May – Territorial Showcase.
The regional board representatives are:
|South Slave:||Brent Kaulback|
|Beaufort Delta:||Meghan Wilson|
Time to start thinking about Heritage Fairs
There is substantial research demonstrating that students learn best and are most engaged when the topics they study have personal meaning and when they have an authentic audience with whom to share their knowledge. In northern classrooms we have increasing anecdotal evidence of this as well. One great tool for making this kind of learning happen are the NWT Heritage Fairs.
What is a Heritage Fair project?
- Student-created projects that explore and share the history of their family, community, regions of Canada, heroes and legends, milestones and achievements.
- Projects may be completed in a variety of mediums: creative writing, performances, multimedia, painting, sculpture, poetry, prose, music or computer based.
- Projects are presented in situations/locations which provide the students with an authentic audience of parents and other members of the community.
- Projects are judged. Winning projects may go on to regional and territorial fairs.
10 Best Practices for Successful Heritage Fairs
1. Plan ahead.
Include heritage fairs in your year plan and ‘talk it up’ with your class to get them thinking early.
2. Get students excited!
Share with your students the slide show of past projects that can be found on the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre website. Share exemplary projects from the year before with your class.
3. Know what’s going on around you!
Connect with your regional heritage fair representative so that you are kept up to date about the heritage fairs program from a regional and territorial perspective.
4. Chart progress.
Break down all the tasks into smaller parts and post a chart with due dates. This will make the task seem less daunting.
5. Choice, choice, choice!
Allow for broad choice in topic selection. The more open the selection process, the more engaged students are in their topic and the better the project – and more importantly, the more they’ll learn in the process of doing their project.
6. Why should I care?
The judges will base their evaluations on the students’ personal connection to the topic. Ensure you ask your students, ‘what personal significance does this project have for you?’ early in the topic selection.
7. Use benchmarks!
Especially during the selection of project topics, guide students’ ideas through several filters or ‘benchmarks’. Using these benchmarks will help students build some of the skills important to social studies learning, and will help the projects they build be powerful and meaningful to them. The six Benchmarks of historical thinking that will be useful in this process are:
- Establish historical significance (why should we care about certain events today)
- Use primary source evidence (i.e., interviews)
- Identify continuity and change (what has changed and what has remained the same over time)
- Analyze cause and consequence (how and why certain conditions and actions led to others)
- Take historical perspectives (show understanding of the past with its different social, cultural, intellectual, and even emotional contexts that shaped people‘s lives and actions)
- Understand the moral dimension of historical interpretations (show understanding of how the same event may be viewed differently by different people)
8. Engage families!
Encourage parent, grandparent and community involvement. Conversations between generations are important. This can be done intentionally by starting the project with a homework assignment where they students interview someone in their family to help select their topic.
9. Students should know what to expect.
Share the judging rubric with the students. Have students use the rubric on their own projects. Have a class ‘practice fair’ where students use the judging rubric to interview three other students. This allows for peer learning on the specific topics as well as practice on project delivery. By using this technique students will also learn from each other what makes a good project.
10. Find a diversity of judges.
During the school fairs ensure there are Aboriginal and French language judges. Ask all judges to arrive early and have a session on how to judge so that there is as much consistency as possible.
Participating in a Heritage Fair
What can a Heritage Fair Project look like?
All student projects should have a display board component that is approximately 80 cm (d) x 150 cm (w) x 100 cm (h). Projects should be able to be modified for travel purposes. Students are encouraged to develop their projects in any of the official languages of the NWT.
This visual display can be enhanced in a variety of ways, including:
- audio/visual components
- performance pieces
- computer presentations
How can students and teachers participate?
There are 3 different ‘levels’ of fairs that students may be able to participate in:
At the class/school/local level:
Students K – 9 can create projects as individuals, partners or class groups. Students in grades 4 – 9 taking part in one/any of these fairs can be considered for the Territorial Showcase
At the regional level:
Regions may choose to organize fairs that bring together student projects from several schools and/or communities. Rules for participation are established at a regional level. Students from grades 4-9 will be eligible to participate in the Territorial Showcase, and only if a project meets the minimum standard for their grade level as set out in the judging rubric.
At the territorial level:
The showcase will be held in Yellowknife from May 8-11.
In most cases class, group and partner projects are presented by 1 (one) project representative at this event.
What are the judging criteria?
Judges base their evaluations* on the following criteria:
- Personal connection to the project topic: “What personal significance does this project have for me?”
- This personal connection is enhanced through also exploring “How does this project connect to larger parts of northern and Canadian history?”
- local/northern focus
- uniqueness/presentation of topic
- creative use of chosen medium
- quality/ depth of research
- level of commitment and time given
- variety of sources
- ability to elaborate and speak knowledgeably
- information must be historically correct
* Contact your regional Heritage Fairs Coordinator or the NWT Heritage Fairs Society for a judging rubric for project/fair preparation.
Why Heritage Fairs?
There are many reasons why Heritage Fairs provide an excellent learning opportunity for students, their teachers and families in the NWT. Click on each of the following tabs to read some of the stories that illustrate the power of Heritage Fairs.
Heritage Fairs Engage Students
Two of my students decided to do medicines from the land. Neither of these two are usually the leaders in their class in academics. In fact, one had missed the first three weeks of school and when she returned was paired with another because it was too late to get her own project. These two surprised themselves and me as they were the first to be finished. First they read some materials that the Aboriginal language teacher had given them so they had some knowledge. They then used a tape recorder and went and spoke with both of their grandparents about the plant medicines. They collected some medicines and made a display that included recipes on how to prepare medicines and what they were used for. They feel very proud of their accomplishment.
~ Grade 7-8 Teacher
I’ve never seen the students so focused (and I mean really focused) for that long on anything! I also appreciated the offer for us to call him back in a month or two, we’ll definitely be taking him up on that. Today was the highlight of the year for them, what an addition to their project!!
~ Grade 8 Teacher
We get to have fun and be independent – I like to be original. I like game shows so I wanted my project to be a game show and I don’t think my teacher would have taught it that way.
~ Grade 5 Student
Heritage Fairs Engage Families
One of the main goals of a Heritage Fair is to bridge the gap between family and the school community. For many reasons, not all parents feel comfortable in the school setting. Heritage Fairs can create an opportunity to work on this relationship between family and school.
I’ve been doing Heritage Fairs for several years now. At first the parents didn’t help out too much but as we worked more and more together they started to understand their role and I also got better at helping students pick projects that required their families input. When we have a Fair now our gym is full of parents. Last year the parents loved the kids’ work so much they wanted to take them home to keep them. To me, it’s worth all the extra work.
I was really proud of our daughter and how hard she worked. I enjoyed listening to the story she wrote to go along with her project.
~ Pam Lafferty, Behchokǫ̀
It’s much more fun to do a Heritage Fair project than what we do in class because we get to discover things on our own rather than the teacher talking and doing it for us.
~ Kyra, Grade 5
Heritage Fairs Encourage Intergenerational Conversations
We’ve always had Elders coming into the schools, but this time it was different. When different Elders came in as experts on each particular topic the students were prepared ahead of time with questions. They had a reason to be listening to the Elders and had some prior knowledge. They were very interested in what the Elders were saying and so the Elders got more into it too. It was very rewarding to have the Elders share their knowledge for Heritage Fairs.
~ Program Support Teacher
I loved listening to my grandfather tell me stories about the old days. I learned lots of medicines from him.
~ Lisa, Grade 7
I emailed my grandfather who lives in England about what he did during WWII. It was really neat to learn about the war from him.
~ Sam, Grade 5
My grade 3-4-5 class went on a community walking tour with the language instructor at our school. It was amazing because she remembered the days when there were only wall tents here. She showed the children the first two log homes built in town and told stories about who lived there and when. One of the children in my class was the great -grand son. We took digital pictures of all the buildings and made postcards with descriptions of each location.
~ Grade 4-6 Teacher
Heritage Fairs Help Students meet Historical “Benchmarks”
Dr. Peter Seixas from the Centre For the Study of Historical Consciousness at the University of British Columbia discusses the importance of ‘historical thinking’ to ensure students are not just memorizing historical facts, but that students are able to make meaningful connections between what they are learning and their own lives (Seixas, Peter. (2006) Benchmarks of Historical Thinking: A Framework for Assessment in Canada. Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness: UBC.). As such, they can be very useful tools for teachers to be aware of as they are encouraging students to pursue quality research.
The six Benchmarks of historical thinking that are useful in this process are:
- Establish historical significance
- Use primary source evidence
- Identify continuity and change
- Analyze cause and consequence
- Take historical perspectives, and
- Understand the moral dimension of historical interpretations.
The following are illustrative examples of each of the ‘Benchmarks’ being met by NWT students through Heritage Fair projects:
1. Establish historical significance (why should we care about certain events today).
Two of my students chose residential schools and had an incredible interview with a survivor which they recorded and made into a movie. They were able to talk about the impact residential schools had on their families and on their lives today.
~ Grade 9 Teacher
I learned about how Aboriginal women were discriminated against by the Federal Government when they lost their status when they married white men. Although that was a long time ago it affects people today because some people have different rights than their other family members.
~ Grade 8 Student
2. Use primary source evidence (interviews, photographs).
Dene Hand games are an important cultural activity in many communities. One of the boys’ projects included having experienced players teaching the boys the rules and sharing stories of playing in the old days as well as playing in tournaments today.
~ Grade 8 Teacher
3. Identify continuity and change (what has changed and what has remained the same over time).
My kindergarten class interviewed the Elders at the senior home about how they stayed warm when they were young. I photographed each student in their snow pants when we were sliding. Their project consisted of three panels; one with their own photo in which they labelled their clothes in English and this panel was labelled ‘now’. The second panel was a photo the student took of the particular Elder they interviewed and the third panel was a drawing of the Elder wearing the clothes they described to the student. This one we labelled ‘then’ and written in South Slavey.
~ Kindergarten Teacher
4. Analyze cause and consequence (how and why certain conditions and actions led to others).
We did our project on the bushman and there is hardly anything written about them. They are pretty interesting but scary. Richard VanCamp is a famous Tlicho author. He’s written a lot of books and he also wrote a really great story about the bushman. I interviewed him asked him how he got so good. He thinks he’s a good author because he grew up around great story tellers.
~ Grade 8 Student
5. Take historical perspectives (show understanding of the past and the various social, cultural, intellectual, and even emotional contexts that have shaped people’s lives and actions).
The Firth sisters are my heroes. I’m a skier so I know how hard they must have worked to accomplish what they did. I read their book, Guts and Glory and it must have been so hard back then to train in the dark and away from their families but because they’d been raised on the land they really knew how to work really, really hard. They are both still so active in sport and set an example for young people like me.
6. Understand the moral dimension of historical interpretations (show understanding of how the same event may be viewed differently by different people).
One student discussed how the decline of the caribou and the ban imposed by the Government of the Northwest Territories is causing conflict in the communities. He attended meetings and made a movie. He was able to describe the different perspectives of different people.
Heritage Fairs Help Students have Pride in the Community Members and Stories
In a project-based setting, teachers act more as facilitators than lecturers. The teacher’s job is to help frame worthwhile questions, to assist in where and how to find answers to their students’ questions, to provide clear guidelines and to assess. Teachers do not need to know, and in fact often don’t know, the content the students are learning. When students have the opportunity to meet and learn directly from the talented people in their community, it can help them gain a sense of pride.
I liked learning about Yamoozha and how his stories connect us as Dene. I liked painting our Dene Nation logo and learning what all the symbols mean.
Our project was on the northern lights. We learned about the legends around the north but we also learned about an artist from our town, Ray McSwain. He’s made books. He came and helped us paint our backdrop so that it looks like the pictures in his books. That was really cool.
Heritage Fairs Provide an “Authentic Audience”
Heritage Fairs provide a relevant purpose for their work. We all invest our energies more when we understand and value the purpose in what we are doing. In Teaching Essentials by Regie Routman, she says that students too often see writing as a ‘school thing’ and typical writing examples from Grade four look like second-grade work (Routman, Regie. (2008). Teaching Essentials. Expecting the Most and Getting the Best from Every Learner, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.). However, they are much more likely to take it seriously and to put in their best effort when they have an authentic audience. The power of having an authentic audience is a concept much explored in ELA curricula in the NWT.
I want it to look good because other people are going to see it.
~ Grade 8 Student
My friend went to the Territorials last year in Inuvik and said it was really fun. I want to go so I’m trying hard.
~ Grade 4 Student
Heritage Fairs Help Students Practice Presentation Skills
Presentation skills are important learning objectives in English Language Arts, Social Studies and other curricula. Throughout the research many teachers stated that ‘my students don’t talk that much’ or ‘my students don’t answer questions’, or, ‘my students are too shy to speak to the judges’. Through practice students gain skills that will help them in many other areas of their life.
I’ve been pulling my teeth out over the last two years with my students to get them to improve their presentation skills and although little by little they’ve been getting better they took a big leap when preparing for the Heritage Fair. I want them to be proficient speakers and through all the work I’ve given them this [Heritage Fair] was probably the biggest boost to my crusade and what they learned here will definitely pay off in other subjects.
~ Grade 9 Teacher
Heritage Fairs Provide the Opportunity for Students to Express Themselves Through a Variety of Mediums
Heritage Fairs provide the space for ‘project-based learning’. This type of learning is better because it’s hands on engagement and more self directed. I know it takes more time for the teachers but the students seem to be having success. In schools where they’ve been doing it for a couple of years, you see the students and the teachers get really good at it, and you’ll see a variety of mediums including models students have built, taped interviews, dances, PowerPoint presentations and even edited videos.
~ Program Support Teacher
Heritage Fairs Provide the Opportunity for Cultural Exchange Within the North
Heritage Fairs provide an opportunity for this type of exchange between communities. A lot of our kids from the smaller communities haven’t been to the larger centres and the kids from the larger centres have not been to the smaller ones. The cultural exchange that happens within the North is very important for all of us to understand each other. We have 11 official languages so we’re a diverse place. Getting together and learning each other’s traditions, dances, food, community amenities…it is such an eye-opener… a way of developing children’s empathy towards the local stuff.
~ Heritage Fair Society Member
Heritage Fairs Can Have Other Benefits
The organizing committee in Behchoko asked a Grade 11 student to write an article for the local newspaper. When she came into the gymnasium to interview the participating students and visiting family members she said,
Sometimes I feel like our culture is dying, but when I came in here I got excited because it’s just like our culture is alive.
~ Grade 11 student, Behchoko
Heritage Fairs Teacher’s Resource Manual
This Teacher’s Resource Manual will outline how you can promote quality heritage–based project work in your students, especially projects which have significant personal connections.
While there are many paths to a successful Heritage Fair in your school community, the manual also offers a collection of the wisdom of many teachers who have participated in Fairs in the Northwest Territories over the last 10 years. A growing body of research and experience in the North suggests that for projects to successfully explore ‘heritage’, there are certain approaches that offer helpful starting points. Many of these approaches have been compiled here.
The NWT Heritage Fairs Teacher’s Resources Manual was prepared by Mindy Willett of Cranberry Consulting.
Heritage Fair projects are judged for a number of qualities including approach, appearance, depth of research, spoken presentation, and the Q&A with judges. The full rubric can be downloaded below.