Saturday, March 18, 2017

Civil War Adventures in the Library


Being a school librarian provides countless opportunities to support the curriculum in our buildings. We had been discussing how we might incorporate a collaborative program to introduce the Civil War to 8th grade social studies classes this spring. Coach April Lawson and Mr. Brooks Lee were on board for such an event. What happened next was actually two wonderful programs that provided their students with a variety of experiences to introduce the period. We also realized that these programs could easily be expanded in the future to further enhance the experiences!

Skype With The Virginia Historical Society

In a previous blog article, I discussed how we use Skype in the Classroom to connect with other places for virtual field trips, Skype lessons, and guest speakers. While searching for ideas to complement the social studies classes, I ran upon a Skype program through the Virginia Historical Society called "The Civil War: An American Turning Point." We were able to connect with a wonderful intern named Ben. He talked about the economic and industrial differences between the North and South. He also showed us artifacts that soldiers might have carried. Our students enjoyed the 50-minute program and went back to class telling the teachers about their experience!

Ben showed our students various items carried by soldiers

Library Collaboration

We decided to put together a library collaboration to further introduce students to the Civil War period. We chose to have 5 learning stations that included a medical tent, music, and art. Coach Lawson asked if we might possibly have a BreakoutEDU component. After working together for a few days, we came up with several puzzles to embed in the experience. Below are brief descriptions of each learning station.

1. Bill of Rights Display

We were provided a wonderful Bill of Rights display by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Archives and Records Administration. We decided to incorporate it into one of our rotations. Students were asked to analyze the Bill of Rights to determine which amendments were added after the Civil War and what this meant for former slaves.

2. Appomattox Courthouse Surrender Video

Students watched a video on the library laptop computers about General Lee's surrender at Appomattox. They were asked to answer questions based on the video.

3. Civil War Era Music

At this station students listened to the popular Civil War era song called "John Brown's Body". They were provided the lyrics to the song at the station. They were asked to respond to questions about the song after a period of listening was provided.

4. Medical Tent

Mrs. Peggy Schaeffer, one of our assistants, created a medical tent station in the library by using an old food service tent. She put white bulletin board paper all around the tent to give it an appearance from the era. She also posted various photos in the tent. Students were told a wounded soldier had dropped an important clue in the tent. They discovered a locked pencil box and envelope containing directions. The envelope clue led groups to another room where they had to read an article to discover the three digit number to unlock the box. Inside the box was a map, ruler, and additional clue. They had to use map reading skills to find how many miles soldiers had to travel to Fredericksburg. This knowledge would help them solve one of the final puzzles after all rotations were completed.

Students enjoyed searching for the clues in the lockbox at this station

5. Thomas Nast Art Selection

Mrs. Schaeffer found "Emancipation" by Thomas Nast. We decided to use this piece for an art station during the rotations. Students had to look at the artwork and write down four significant points that stood out to them.

6. BreakoutEDU Challenge

After all of the rotations were complete, we brought out BreakoutEDU boxes for each of the 5 groups. Students had to solve two puzzles to successfully break out. Teachers wanted to make this a final challenge to see which groups could win by finishing first. All students were very engaged during this last "mission".

Student Reflections

"This Civil War activity in the library for Mr. Lee's class was a lot of fun and a great experience. The most fun I had was the lock boxes. This is something I (would like) to do again."  - Amberly G.

"Yesterday my class did a breakout session during our social studies period. I really enjoyed being able to get out of our classroom and being able to interact with another class. It definitely was a challenge to breakout (of) the clues in the locked box. It was really fun in Station 4 when we had to find the classroom that had the clues in it. One way you could improve this breakout session is giving us more time. I don't think 7 minutes was enough to find our clues. Overall, this was a really great experience." - Jordan S.

Teacher Reflections

Coach Lawson's Reflection

We began brainstorming this type of activity several months ago on ways to bring the Civil War to life. With the help of all of our Library Staff ( Mr. Evans, Mr. Borel, Mrs. Kaitlyn Price, and Mrs. Peggy Schaffer along with Mr. Brooks Lee, and myself) we reached the idea of using our breakout edu resources. The process all starts with creating puzzles and activities that the student are given an essential question or a set of instructions to follow and they must work together to solve the data.

We developed 5 different stations ranging from a medical tent, search and find map coordinates (having to use cardinal directions), to music and video representations of that era. The students were provided their orders and set loose to work and learn together. These stations may have used primary sources via hands on or technical components to aide the students in solving their clues or puzzles.

To finish the process the student groups completed their orders and came back to main camp to receive their breakout trunk to solve and see which troops would be successful opening the trunk to be declared the troop that broke out and won the activity. This is our BreakoutEDU resources and the kids love them.

I believe the students and the instructors enjoyed watching and participating in the activity. Many students walked away a leader and feeling the success of leading their brigade to a successful mission. I believe there were key informational details on the topic learned by all students as well as some other staff that came by to see the progress.

Using this type of activity allows students to take on the role of learning in a much more active and fun manner. It’s a chance to bring history alive into the present day for them to better understand the connections of what the past has done or is doing within the present. I also believe students that are active in their learning are able to retain and understand the content as well as the skills and procedures that will help them be successful in their future educational journeys. I love being a project based instructor allowing my students to take on the role to guide their own educational experience and the unity of working together to collaborate and solve the issues. These skills will empower students to become stronger minded, more open and free willed adults and leaders of tomorrow.

We as educators involved in this activity have already started the brainstorming process to take this activity to the next level and really design a learning center that is alive and active as well as informational and fun for our future students. We have a GREAT team of educators working for the futures of our prospective eager and successful students.

Next Steps

As Coach Lawson indicated in her reflection, we are already brainstorming potential additional material for next year. We have talked to our school nurse and a community volunteer to add them to the medical tent station. The school nurse has even offered to dress in a Civil War era costume. We have all discussed the possibility of creating a "camp" scene outside the library and bringing in food selections from the period. All of us involved want to wear Civil War costumes and uniforms! If you can think of ways we might improve this program in the future, please, add your suggestions to the comments below or email me!

In addition, I plan to share many of the resources we found for this program in my April 2017 newsletter (be sure to subscribe below to receive these!)

Other Posts That Might Interest You: 

How we broke the language barrier in the library.

Adventures with OER and Google Groups.

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