Lessons in learning: Warde students teach history at Jennings
Updated 7:14 pm, Sunday, January 6, 2013
Instead, 17 students in Fairfield Warde High School teacher James D'Acosta's U.S. History class on Friday made five- to 10-minute presentations on those topics to all three fourth- and fifth-grade classes at the Palm Drive elementary school.
Ryan McNeil, an 11-year-old fifth-grader, said he most liked a board game made by Warde juniors Meghana Damaraju, 17, and Morgan Miller, 16. In the game, students moved pieces based on a roll of dice and whether they could correctly answer questions that Damaraju asked about the California Gold Rush. The game even included chocolate coins wrapped in gold-colored foil, but students weren't allowed to eat them.
"I liked the game because you got to have some fun with it, and she also taught us some interesting facts," Ryan said of Damaraju.
Rebecca Weinstein, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, said she also most liked the board game, but also enjoyed the presentation by Warde juniors Justin Gaudet and Blaise Kirby on what travelers on the Oregon Trail ate.
"I liked the cooking one because I kind of like to cook too, and I'm also reading a book on the Oregon Trail," Rebecca said. "It was cool to learn about what they ate and what they had to bring along with them."
Gaudet and Kirby, both 16, said they also learned a lot from researching the Oregon Trail for their presentation. "It's pretty cool to learn how limited the stuff was but they could still live off it," Kirby said of the food that travelers on the Oregon Trail ate over their six-month journey. The food included biscuits, Johnny cakes (pancakes made with corn meal instead of flour), corn meal mush and corn dodgers. "Most of the stuff was really bland tasting," Kirby told students.
Brendan Miner, a 16-year-old Warde junior, told Jennings students about his great-great-great grandfather, who fought for the North in the Civil War at the Battle of Opequon and Battle of Cedar Creek. He said soldiers in the Union Army outnumbered soldiers in the Confederate Army in both battles and that the Union Army's goal in the battles was to secure Washington, D.C.
In the Battle of Cedar Creek, the Union Army had 31,000 soldiers vs. 21,000 for the Confederate Army, Miner said. "This was the final battle to secure Washington, D.C., and the Union was able to keep it safe from the South," he said.
Miner said his great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Ryan, survived both battles but died about five years later of illness.
Before his presentation, Miner said he learned of his relative's service in the Civil War from his great aunt and from www.ancestry.com, a website that enables people to research their family trees. "It gave me all the information about who he was, where he lived and the battles he partook in," Miner said, adding that he was "very impressed" by his relative's service in the nation's bloodiest war.
Jennings' students also learned about the underground railroad, a series of safe houses that enabled slaves in the South to travel to freedom, from Ana Hernandez, a Warde junior who built an elaborate model of a safe house and told students about its secret rooms, doors and passages. Before her presentation, Hernandez said she likes arts and crafts and that D'Acosta suggested she build a model of a safe house for her project.
Jennings' students also learned about the California Gold Rush from Warde junior Dylan Bender, who wrote a children's book about it.
"Rumors of gold in California had existed for years before the Gold Rush. People came from all over America, and even internationally, for the gold from California," Bender told students.
Gold initially could be picked up from the ground, but miners later had to find gold from panning in streams and rivers. The Gold Rush ended after gold became harder to find and silver was discovered in Nevada, Bender said.
Damaraju said gold-seekers didn't have an easy life. They stayed in tents on their trips to California and some caught typhoid fever from contaminated drinking water and scurvy from a lack of fruits and vegetables, she said.
Miller, Damaraju's partner, said she learned a lot about the Gold Rush and was glad students liked their board game. "I was glad they wanted to play and were excited about learning about it," she said.
D'Acosta said students in his U.S. History classes have made annual presentations in Fairfield elementary schools for the past 16 years and that this year's students could choose any topic, as long as it had something to do with U.S. history between 1840 and 1890. Other topics covered Friday included cowboys, the hunt for President Lincoln's assassin and Billy the Kid's boss.
D'Acosta said his students also make presentations to elementary school students in Stratfield School and North Stratfield School. "My students are always surprised by how intelligent the questions are and how probing the questions are from the elementary school students," he said after the 45 minutes devoted to presentations ended. "They get challenged and get positive feedback for their academic work."
Mary Ann Rooney, a fifth-grade teacher at Jennings, said her students "get to see the level of detail that goes into a high school history class, as opposed to what we cover on the surface in elementary school." She said elementary school students also can relate to high school students.
Tony Vuolo, the Jennings principal, agreed, saying fifth-graders by nature are interested in and motivated by older students. "A lot of the projects add value because they're pertinent to things they've studied or will be studying," he said.