One hundred years ago, the world was re-bounding from the effects of the First World War and the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. These tragic, global events would have lasting impacts for generations. In this transitional era, when the values of the 19th century were being re-defined in a rapidly evolving 20th century, Dr. Frederick Banting discovered insulin. This medical discovery, which would improve the lives of millions, provided a good news story desperately needed by a world in recovery. 

The story of insulin’s discovery is one that holds important lessons for all Canadians. It reveals the essential attributes that contribute to ground-breaking science and more generally, creative innovations that can help benefit people’s lives. The story of insulin also demonstrates on the value of nurturing scientific literacy in all students regardless of their career aspirations.

Defining Moments Canada has prepared a set of lessons designed to engage learners in exploring the factors that contributed to the breakthroughs that led to insulin and the impact its discovery has had on the lives of countless people in Canada and around the world. The lessons are designed to stand alone as rich learning opportunities or to be used as a coherent set of “cascading” lessons organized around an over-arching inquiry and over-arching challenge. When used together, the lessons create the opportunity for students to engage in sustained critical inquiry with each lesson contributing to build background understanding and scaffolding the pieces necessary to prepare a rich response to the over-arching challenge.

When used to create a coherent sustained inquiry unit, the question “What are the most essential attributes for ground-breaking scientists who impact the future in positive ways?” is used to frame the learning. As students inquire into this provocation they are encouraged to use their learning to respond to the over-arching challenge: Tell a compelling story of the discovery of insulin in a way that can inspire powerful future actions to a selected audience using the most appropriate medium.”

The set of five lessons provided are designed to help students sequentially explore issues and develop materials that will contribute to the construction of their compelling story. The lessons also contain individual learning challenges and tasks which can be excerpted and applied across disciplines to foster critical, curatorial thinking

For more information on curatorial thinking, exemplars and activities, check out our resource page:

Curatorial Thinking (logo)

Alternate Formats

Use the links below to access alternate versions of the lesson plan and some of the key tasks. These plans are laid out in a template created and used by Nipissing University’s Schulich School of Education.

Curating Thoughtfully

Lesson 3 – Compelling Argument Solo Lesson

Lesson 4 – Task Appendice

Lesson Plan 4 – Equity and Personal Life Impact

Lesson Plan 1

Lesson Plan 2

Lesson Plan 3

Lesson Plan 4

Lesson Plan 5

Scientific Literacy Infographic

Introduction and Launch

Over-arching Question: 

What are the most essential attributes for ground-breaking scientists who impact the future in positive ways?

Over-arching task:

Tell a compelling story of the discovery of insulin in a way that inspires powerful future actions in a selected audience, using the most appropriate medium (graphic story, historical fiction, heritage minute video, radio drama, art panels, etc).

Lesson One, which invites students to respond to the question: “Which details are most important in re-telling the events leading to the discovery of insulin to highlight the key attributes of ground-breaking scientists?” helps to build students’ background knowledge by providing them with an overview of the events and influences that contributed to Banting and Best’s discovery of insulin while simultaneously engaging students in thinking about relative historical significance.

Lesson 1 – The Story of Insulin’s Discovery

Lesson critical inquiry question:

Which details are most important in re-telling the events leading to the discovery of insulin in order to highlight the key attributes of ground breaking scientists who make a positive difference for the future?

Lesson critical inquiry task:

Begin to design the story-board, using Defining Moments Canada’s Seven-Sentence Story Structure, for an inspiring story about the discovery of insulin and the search for a cure to diabetes.

Lesson overview 

In this lesson, students are introduced to the broader story of discovery of insulin through the careful examination of Insulin Discovery Cards, which contain sets of visual artifacts, and using the Defining Moments Canada Insulin100 virtual exhibit. Students work with a set of artifacts and a body of information to create one page/slide that tells of a particular aspect of the story of the discovery of insulin. To do this, they will need to connect the information to the essential attributes for a ground breaking scientist. As the lesson progresses, students will be invited to review and if warranted, revise their list of essential attributes. The lesson concludes with students using the Seven-Sentence Story Structure to create a storyboard that could be used for planning their compelling story. 

Access Google Slide Discovery Cards

Lesson Two builds on students’ understanding of the journey that led to the discovery of insulin by introducing them to curatorial thinking. Students will consider the question “How can curatorial thinking be used most effectively to create an inspiring story?” The lesson introduces a curatorial thinking framework, guiding through the process of Selection, Archiving, Sense-Making and Sharing. This provides an opportunity to to practice selecting, analyzing and communicating using important and relevant artifacts, a skill-set which is universally transferrable. 

Lesson 2 – Introduction to Curatorial Thinking

Lesson critical inquiry question:

Can curatorial thinking help to make sense of information and to more effectively create a meaningful story?

Lesson critical inquiry task:

Organize artifacts so that they tell the story of Fredrick Banting’s life in a way that provides insights into the experiences and influences that helped to make him a ground breaking scientist.

Lesson Overview:

This lesson is built around a belief that schools have a moral imperative to help students become masters of their own knowledge building by giving them the tools to think curatorially so that they a) do not get lost in the morass of information; b) can contribute to our understanding of the past; c) can contribute to positively influencing the future. In this lesson, students are introduced to the concepts of curation and curatorial thinking. Students uncover how thoughtful curation deepens the thinking involved when learning through the study of artifacts. 

Lesson Three extends the student inquiry beyond the history of insulin’s discovery to reflect on the impact of insulin and to consider the question “Should finding a cure for diabetes be a priority in medical research?”  In this lesson, students explore the implications for life with diabetes and consider the benefits and costs of further research into a cure for diabetes. Students engage with facts from math, science, geography, and other disciplines in order to assess the impact of diabetes. 

Lesson 3 – Finding a Cure to Diabetes

Lesson critical inquiry question:

What are the most compelling arguments for prioritizing a cure for diabetes over other medical research objectives? 

Lesson critical inquiry task:

Construct a compelling argument for a specific audience as to why they should support research into a cure for diabetes.

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students are introduced to both transdisciplinary thinking and prospective thinking. They will be asked to use evidence considered from a variety of subject disciplines to construct a compelling argument for why research into a cure for diabetes should be considered a priority. Students will first construct a series of simple arguments focused on evidence considered from individual subject areas. They will then construct a complex argument by considering the intersections between the collection of simple arguments.

Lesson Four shifts from the macro-consideration of the history and research into insulin and diabetes to a micro-examination into how insulin has impacted the lives of those affected by the disease. During this lesson students consider the question “How can the stories of individual Canadians be used effectively to add to the inspiring story of insulin?”

Lesson 4 – Impact of Diabetes

Lesson critical inquiry question:

Does diabetes impact the lives of all people in an equitable way?

Lesson critical inquiry task:

Create a social media post using a platform of your choice to share the 3 most powerful actions that should be taken to equitably improve the health of people diagnosed with diabetes. 

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson students consider factors that impact the personal life circumstances of various people and how those factors complicate the effects of living with diabetes. They then read case studies of Canadians from the past and the present who have lived with diabetes and compare their life stories. Considering the evidence revealed by the stories, students determine the most important changes required to ensure equitable access to social and health supports that ensure the effects of living with diabetes are reduced as much as possible. Students use the evidence and insights they gather to construct a statement on the need for actions that help all those living with diabetes minimize its effects.

Lesson Five draws together the collection of lessons by having students reflect on the question “What makes scientific literacy of vital importance to living a healthy life?” This lesson uses diabetes as a case study to consider the value in our everyday lives of being scientifically literate. Students are invited to create an infographic that connects the application of scientific literacy to diabetics living a healthy life.

Lesson 5 – Scientific Literacy For All

Lesson critical inquiry question:

What makes scientific literacy of vital importance to living a healthy life?

Lesson critical inquiry task:

Using scientific literacy, develop an infographic that highlights the best ways to help someone with diabetes lead the healthiest life achievable.

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson students explore what it means to be scientifically literate and develop their own capacity to be scientifically literate in the context of helping people with diabetes lead the healthiest lives possible. They gather, select, assess and use scientific information to make sound decisions about how to best help people with diabetes. Building on their previous learning regarding physical health, students broaden their understanding of living healthy lives, allowing them to expand how to best manage diabetes beyond traditional approaches. Students share their learning in the form of an infographic with a particular audience of interest to them in an effort to make a compassionate difference in the lives of others.