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Showcasing Maile Peachey and "Boalsburg Grant Project"

"When Loretta Jeffreys and I began brainstorming ideas for a grant project for students to complete, we knew that we wanted it to connect to our American history curriculum and that we wanted it to connect to history in our backyard," recalled Maile Peachey. "We wanted a topic that students would be able to investigate firsthand and in-person.

As we began to think about the locations nearby and the historical events that occurred there, we decided purposefully to avoid using Penn State as our topic. Our community is so much more than just a university town, and our most exciting conclusion was Boalsburg, the birthplace of Memorial Day!"

Students in fifth grade at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania, embark on a year-long unit called "The Story of America." The district doesn't use traditional text books for its social studies and language arts curriculum. Instead, students gather information by reading articles, participating in simulations and class discussions, watching videos, listening to guest speakers, and completing projects.

"Throughout that unit, students see that Pennsylvania played an important part in many key events of American history, from the writing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia to the many stops on the Underground Railroad in our state," explained Peachey. "And, we visit Gettysburg battlefields for a firsthand view of an historical site. Many students, however, still seem to believe that nothing exciting ever happens where I live."

Eager to make use of special technology training, but lacking the tools to do so in their school, Jeffreys, who has now retired, and Peachey applied for a Pennsylvania Digital Grassroots grant. They hoped to gain computers and digital video cameras for student use and wanted to help students make connections to the curriculum and see that history has happened -- and continues to happen -- where they live, not just in far-away places. When the grant was approved, the teachers' plan went into action.

"The purpose of the Boalsburg Grant Project was to engage students in documenting the past, present, and future of historic Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, on the Internet," said Peachey. "In order to do that, the children learned such skills in technology as designing Web pages, creating and editing movies using digital cameras and iMovie software on Mac computers, using scanners, exporting photos in jpeg format to the Internet, and linking other related Web sites."

The two fifth-grade classes met to discuss the project overview and select information that would be part of the finished Web site. Small groups were formed and assigned topics, and students gathered information online and in books. Volunteer guest speakers addressed the town's history and local "ghost stories." The students took three different field trips to Boalsburg for research.

"Each class visited the working blacksmith ship and the Boalsburg Heritage Museum and took the walking tour of Historic Boalsburg," Peachey stated. "After the tour, we had lunch at historic Duffy's Tavern, in operation since the 1700s. We visited the Pennsylvania Military Museum, the Boalsburg Cemetery, the Memorial Day Statue, and had lunch at the Boalsburg Firehall. In small groups, the students visited assigned organizations with parent volunteers and conducted interviews with local business owners and community members."

Its difficult for Peachey to identify a favorite page from the project. Like the children themselves, each of their creations is unique! Each reflects a specific personality, perspective, and skill level. Peachey and Jeffreys wanted the children's work to be polished and informative, but they avoided insisting that every page have a standard, professional format.

"Looking at the whole project, my favorite aspect is that all the work on more than 100 Web pages was done by ten- and eleven-year-old kids, with minimal adult assistance," said Peachey. "They took ownership of the project and felt great pride about what they accomplished. Each student came away feeling that important people and events really are located near them, not just in places typically discussed in history textbooks."

Based on her experience with the Boalsburg Project, Peachey advises other teachers to dream big and plan big. "Don't underestimate your students' abilities to learn technology skills in a short period of time," she added. "A project like this appeals to all learning styles and ability levels, and it creates fun, happy memories and learning that lasts!"

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
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