Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 4, 2014

Junior high students dig into pre-Civil War history

By Boris Ladwig Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG – From building detailed models of Fort Sumter to crafting an Abraham Lincoln-style top hat and making home-made apple pie, Greensburg Junior High School students found diverse ways to engage the country’s pre-Civil War era last week.

The project-based learning unit allowed students to explore the era’s seminal developments — the election of Lincoln, the Missouri Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act — in their own way. The school’s social studies teachers said students know how they learn best, and a project-based approach engages students more than lectures and allows them to better grasp the material.

One student had brought home-made apple pie for her fellow students to try. Another student wore a tall top hat in the style of Abraham Lincoln. Even Principal Matt Clifford visited the cafeteria to snap photos of the eighth-graders’ projects.

Tristin Smith, 14, drew an acrylic painting showing a slave in the center, with one white man holding on to his chains, and another white man freeing him of his shackles. The slave being pulled into two opposite directions symbolizes America being torn into two.

“I have a very creative … imagination (and) as I researched (the Fugitive Slave Act), an idea began to form,” Tristin said.

She said she enjoyed expressing in a painting what she learned about pre-Civil War era history much more than listening to a lecture.

Zoie Rynard, 14, and Erica Evans, 13, built two models of Fort Sumter, S.C. On Sept. 18, 1861, shots rang out over the fort, marking the beginning of the Civil War. Zoie and her father built a Styrofoam and duct tape model depicting the fort before the battle. The ramparts hold figures of soldiers, toy cannons and even small ammunition boxes.

“My dad and I love building, and so does Erica,” Zoie said.

“I like the history behind it,” Erica said.

The two students joined forces to also build a cardboard model of the fort after its destruction, to show the amount of damage the fort sustained.

For their research, the two looked up diagrams and read books to assure their models’ accuracy.

Both Zoie and Erica said they had much more fun with hands-on learning than in a traditional classroom.

“In class you’re just doing paperwork,” Erica said.

Vanessa Brickett, 13, and Haley Brown, 14, learned about the Confederate States and built models of the First White House of the Confederacy and Fort Sumter.

The White House model included a porch with white columns, steps leading up to the porch and wax paper for windows. As the model’s front door, the students used a print of a photograph of the actual building’s front door.

Social studies teacher Jason Tucker said that while some kids struggle in a traditional classroom setting, most students get more excited about learning the material when the lessons involve some hands-on projects.

Fellow social studies teacher John Tindell said the approach allows students discover on their own, within certain parameters, in what way they can learn best.

The students also had to give presentations to their fellow students about their projects, and Vanessa relayed that the White House of the Confederacy was occupied only by Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s sole president, when the Confederacy’s capital was Montgomery, Ala.

Vanessa said that conducting the research on her own and in her own way helped her understand and retain more of the material. And Haley said that putting your hands on the physical representation of the White House or fort brought history to life, making it easier to understand.

James Dreyer, 13, and Kael Claybrook, 14, built a model of Fort Sumter out of Legos.

“You can get the point across in a really fun way,” James said.

He, too, enjoyed the hands-on learning.

“I think it’s way better than just taking notes in class,” he said.

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com