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Presidential history comes alive at Timber Ridge

Posted November 20, 2012 in Community Blogs, Johnston

Willow Applegate studies up on her chosen presidents as part of her classroom project.

Fifth grade students at Timber Ridge Elementary have been working on an American history project for about a month. But it’s not the average report and presentation. It’s safe to say their projects have come … alive.

American history is a fifth grade curriculum cornerstone. Combined with the presidential elections, students got a big dose of our country’s leadership lineage this fall.

Working across the disciplines of social studies, writing, and reading, fifth graders first chose a president or first lady that interests them. Some chose more modern presidents, some chose popular names, such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and others simply chose their figure on a whim.

The first component of their projects was writing a full-fledged research paper, complete with at least three cited sources. Writing classes focused on making notes into an outline, and taking an outline to a typed paper, all the while learning editing skills.

The next step of the project was writing up a speech with five important facts on their presidential figure. Kristen Gearhart, one of the fifth grade teachers heading up the history project, said the speech is often the most intimidating part for students.

Taylor Timmerman sports all the fitting attire as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

“At the beginning of the project, students will say they don’t think they can memorize the speech or speak in front of people,” Gearhart said. “But as they learn their information, the speech becomes natural to them, and then they’re saying ‘Hey, I know this! This is easy!’ – seeing that self-confidence grow is amazing.”

As a balance to the research and public speaking, students stretch their creativity with a poster of their presidential figure. Teachers then incorporate technology into the project with creation of a Fakebook page.

“The students create a Fakebook page for their person and sort of modernize it – they have to pick a favorite song for their character, what sort of pictures would be on their profile, and explain how it all relates,” Gearhart said. “The program is an approved web template for all students to use.”

As the month progresses, so do the projects – the last step was bringing the presidents and first ladies to life in “wax museum” of sorts.

Nick Crandell, dressed as George Washington, and Sam Wiggins, dressed as Abraham Lincoln, portray their favorite presidents from years past.

“Students dress up as their figure, complete with props that represent something about them,” Gearhart said. “For one day, they use the common area as a museum and all the other grades come up and learn about the various presidents. Each student has a button that when pressed, observers will hear their speech. It’s so neat to see all their hard work come to life that day.”

Parents are also invited to see their student’s learning at work.

“Students take this unit seriously, and because of that, they become experts on something, and they are so proud to show that off,” Gearhart said. “Parents walk away impressed with the effort and time their child has put into this project. As a teacher, it’s all very rewarding to see it come together.”

Gearhart said her fifth grade teaching colleagues – Lisa Johnston, Scott Short, and Robin Kuhns-Cunningham – play a huge role in working together to make this project successful.

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