Phil Campbell brings history to life
For Phil Campbell Elementary School sixth graders, the stories of the main characters of American history aren’t just printed on the dusty page of some old textbook. These students brought the histories of people like Nancy Reagan, Molly Pitcher, Clara Barton, Elvis Presley and Benjamin Franklin – joined by names that will go down in history like Michelle Obama, Donald Trump and Taylor Swift – to life in a Living Wax Museum.
Students dressed in appropriate attire and worked for weeks to memorize the life stories of their chosen American figures. Social Studies teacher Nina Jackson said this is the third year she has carried out such a monumental project with her students, and this was the biggest class yet for the undertaking – 71 students, as compared to the previous largest class size of 54.
The hands-on lesson is inspired by a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
“Kids have to be involved. They have to take ownership of it so they will learn it,” Jackson said. “They enjoyed it. They had a great time.”
Jackson allowed students to choose the character they wanted to portray from a list she compiled. The only non-American was Anne Frank. After selecting their character, students researched the historical figure to write a research paper based on prompts Jackson provided. From their papers, they crafted one minute speeches.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break, students welcomed parents and the community to their “museum” in the PCES gym. As a museum attendees approached, the “wax” student would snap to life to recite the highlights of their characters, from Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, to Rosa Parks, to Charles Lindbergh and many more. Each student played a part of in the diverse museum, and most would agree the time and effort they put into studying their characters was evident.
Jackson said in addition to this year’s group being the largest, it was also the best in other ways – namely, in parental involvement and in the effort students took to ensure their costumes and their backgrounds were authentic – not to mention the work they put in to memorizing their speeches. Jackson said she even heard students reciting their speeches to each other in the lunchroom. She said the museum was also a positive opportunity for students with learning challenges, who took on the project with as much gusto as any student. “They were experts on their characters, just like everyone else was,” Jackson said.
As an additional special feature, Jackson recorded each student giving his or her speech in front a green screen and was able to place each student in a time-period-appropriate scene. The students then got to watch the playback.
Jackson said she hopes the museum, as well as other hands-on lessons, will instill in her students an appreciation for history and how it brought them where they are today.