Yesterday we met as a team for the first time. We ended up needing to focus on classroom based activities as there was a funeral at the cemetery, but we found some good ways to keep busy, build relationships, and begin to develop the skills needed for our work.

This course is a bit acronym heavy. We are using a blend of CEL and TBL, which is to say that the course is a Community-Engaged Learning course that employs pedagogical approaches from Team-Based Learning. So part of our introduction was to talk about what that means and how it works. The easiest way to explain TBL is to model it, so we did a practice session within the first hour. I’d asked students to review a bunch of things before day 1, including the Collaboration plan and the course syllabus, so right after forming up the two teams, I had them sit down to an individual quiz about those documents. It had questions like this one:

  1. How will the Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) portion of the course will serve the Cemetery Committee?
    • It will introduce students to the operation of GPR equipment
    • GPR will record the locations of all of the missing graves
    • Students will learn how to interpret GPR data
    • GPR may identify locations of missing graves and subsurface bedrock
    • The resulting survey will produce a complete map of the cemetery

After completing the quiz and handing in their answers, the teams re-did it together, using one of the IF-AT scratch cards. It was pretty clear within the first few minutes, how much better they performed as a team, which is part of the point! These quizzes are part of the Readiness Assessment Process (RAP) and encourage students to prepare what they need to ahead of time, so that they can better work with their team to apply the concepts from the readings.

We had a busy morning talking about the history and context for the cemetery and my RA, Sophia, ran them through what makes a good photo for our records. Then I sent them off to lunch with a warning that we’d launch into TBL for real after lunch and they might want to review that article I’d assigned (Acheson & McWhorter 2020 Reading the American Cemetery). While the individual quiz results were pretty abysmal, as I’m sure my students would agree, their team results were fantastic. Both teams did great on the team test – I was super impressed and this meant we were ready to launch into some application activities.

One of the tricky things about any cemetery space is working out the underlying arrangement of plots and the labelling system for the plots. Acheson and McWhorter underscore the ways in which cemetery organization can tell us about the cemetery overall, the people who use it, and the people who coordinate the space. It’s also essential to work out how to find plots within the space, or you can end up wandering around searching for a grave in entirely the wrong place! So, we had an exercise with an outline of the plan and some plots marked and I asked the students to work out which plot was the right one for little Ike Davis. They had his plot number, but the map was entirely unlabelled. It took a bit of negotiation, some discussions about row and plot counting, but they got there in the end. Then they had some more plots to pin including one that was bound to cause confusion, because after row I, things get confusing!

Plan of the cemetery indicating rows. Row U in the bottom right hand corner is marked with an arrow.

Plan of the cemetery indicating rows. Row U is marked with an arrow. (Adapted from The Jewish Cemetery of Victoria, British Columbia)

The tricky grave I wanted them to locate belongs to Morris Price (Plot U-10), the first person buried in the cemetery, back in 1861. One thing I’ve never been sure of is when his grave marker was placed. One of these days, I’ll start hunting through the archives to see if I can find some of those kinds of records.

As the afternoon progressed, we worked through activities relating to labelling the types of monuments present, recording information from monuments, and beginning to interpret some of what the information might mean. All in, they did some really great work together and I feel like the ice is well and truly broken AND they’ll be able to step into their work next week with relative ease. I’m feeling really good about where we’re at after the first day.

Want to try your hand at one of the activities?

I gave my students the photos you see on the right and asked the teams to attempt to fill in as much of the following as possible, using only the gravestone. Here’s what the question looked like: 

Activity 3a: Demographics

In order to begin answering demographic questions about a cemetery, it is important to identify who is buried within it. The list below is adapted from Acheson & McWhorter (2020), table 3. Looking only at the grave marker provided, which of the following information can you answer about who is buried in this plot? Note your answers on the page:

  • How many people? ____
  • Gender
    • Male
    • Female
    • Unknown
  • Names (surnames and other names) _______________________________
  • Relevant dates:
    • Birth _____________________________
    • Death ____________________________
    • Date of monument __________________
    • Other? ___________________________
  • Age at death ____
  • Affiliations
    • Religious
    • Ethnic
    • Social organizations
    • Other? ___________________________

Of the data you were able to collect on this monument, which element do you believe to be the least certain? Record your answer on the whiteboard and have one team member prepared to justify it.

What would your answer be to the final question? Feel free to tell me in the comments! I’ll see if I can convince the students to share their answers with you next week.


Inscription reads: In Memory of SARAH The Beloved Wife of DAVID OPPENHEIMER DIED Oct. 15, 1880 Aged 40 yrs. At Rest.

Close up of the inscription for the monument in plot E-09.

Pedestal monument for Sarah Oppenheimer. A tall marker made of stacked blocks of stone.

A more complete view of the monument in plot E-09. It has a lovely wrought iron fence and some tiles that you can’t quite see from these photos. Definitely a beautiful example of the period.

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Now that the course is kicking off in earnest, I’m hoping I’ll have student blog posts to share soon. Please check in regularly to see what we’re up to.