This lesson is based on viewing the Wop May biography from The Canadians series. It explores the life of this "Ace" First World War pilot. After the War, May became a bush pilot delivering airmail to the North.
Students will work indidividually and in groups to develop criteria for determining the importance of historical figures of interest. Using this criteria, students will research and write biographies about their selections.
Allan, Iris. Wop May; Bush Pilot. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966.
Boulton, Marsha. Just a Minute: Glimpses of Our Great Canadian Heritage. Toronto: McArthur and Company, 1994.
Reid, Sheila. Wings of a Hero: Canadian Pioneer Flying Ace Wilfrid Wop May. St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishing, 1997.
Wop May was the sort of prairie individualist who went his own way. Born in 1896, in Carberry, Manitoba, his family moved to Edmonton when he was five. At a demonstration of the first airplane to fly in Alberta, he set the goal which would consume his life: to become a pilot. His opportunity came with the First World War when he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and became a combat pilot. His first day of action saw him involved in a dogfight with the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen. Instead of becoming Richtofen's 81st victim, May entered the history books as part of the allied team which shot down and killed the infamous German pilot.
By the time the war was over May had become a highly decorated Canadian "ace," but he struggled to find a job when he returned to Alberta. He was only able to continue to fly by barnstorming and doing stunts at small town fairs. His endeavours to set up a flying business were met with repeated failure until the advent of air mail and bush flying in the North. May's courage and tenacity saw him open up a vast, resource-rich territory to exploration and development. In 1932 he led the first aerial manhunt in Canadian history, tracking Albert "The Mad Trapper" Johnson to his end on the remote, frozen Eagle River.
With the coming of the Second World War, May returned to the South to take a leading role in training the young pilots who would fight for freedom over the skies of Europe. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan took over the Edmonton airport, Blatchford Field, where for the duration of the war a plane landed or took off every minute. Watching over the mammoth operation was "the old man," as the pilots called him, Wop May, the lone wolf of the northern skies.
Time Allowance: 1 - 4 hours
Put a variety of pictures on the board of well-known people from around the world. Ask your students to create two columns in their notebooks. The titles of these columns will be "Important Historical Figures" and "Not Important Historical Figures." Ask your students to put each well-known person into one of these categories. Have your students do a think, pair, share with this information. Have them discuss why they put each person where they did.
Give some background information on The Canadians series. Tell your students that they are going to be responsible for either creating an Important Canadian Historical Figures Website or biographies for their school newspaper. You can choose the assignment depending upon your school resources.
Ask your students to take two minutes to choose one Canadian who they think should be included as an important Canadian historical figure. Ask them to then list reasons why they consider this person to be important. Divide the class into groups of four or five and ask them to each take a turn sharing who they chose and why. Give your students an opportunity to discuss their answers as a group.
After each student in the group has had a turn sharing their answers give each group a piece of chart paper. Ask each group to define the criteria that they would use to select a person as an important Canadian historical figure. Have each group present their list to the rest of the class.
Tell your students that they are going to watch a video on the life of Wop May and each group will have to decide according to their list of criteria if they think he should be included as an important Canadian historical figure. There are five segments in the video. You should stop after each segment so each group can discuss what criteria has been met.
At the end of the video each group will have time to list on the chart paper each criteria that was met and why they feel some criteria may not have been met. As a group they will present this to the rest of the class. Use the information arising from this class discussion during these presentations to create a class set of criteria that each student can use for the homework assignment.
Have each student write a short reflection on the criteria that they and their group had chosen and if and how their individual ideas had changed throughout the lesson. Have them hand this into you before they leave the class. Mark it out of five and return it the next class.
Each student will choose an important Canadian historical figure according to the list of criteria the class has devised. They will be responsible for bringing information on this person to class. They will use this information to create a biography of this person next class. This information could then be put on a Web site that the class would create, or be included in the school newspaper in weekly installments.
Alternative Lesson Activities
1. Have your students record important information about Wop May's life before, during, and after the First World War. In small groups have your students compare these segments of Wop May's life. How was his life different during each of these segments and why? How was he treated after the war? What would you consider to be a "turning point" in his life? Why?
2. Have each student ask someone in their family who they would consider to be an important Canadian historical figure. What reason did they give for choosing this person? Have each student share this information with the rest of the class. Students could give an oral report, write newspaper articles, or create a poster.
3. While watching the video ask students to record how progress in technology affected Wop May's life. What technological advances were made during his lifetime? Which technological advances affected Wop May the most? Why?
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