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Save Our Stories project brings American history close to home in new Bartleby courses

Veteran talking to students
Posted On: Thursday, October 11, 2018

On Tuesday, Elizabethton High School students got to interview local veterans, and they’re going to write a profile for each as part of their Save Our Stories project. These students are in a new Bartleby course offering – integrated English III and US History.

The teachers, Tim Wasem and Alex Campbell, say the content naturally overlaps, which allows students to draw connections independently and to use class time more efficiently. At the conclusion of this project, their work will be made public online, in print, and in a podcast.

“I believe they're motivated by the knowledge that what they create will be out there in the world and could have an impact on our community's sense of identity and relationship with local veterans,” Wasem said.

Student Hannah Woodby said this project allows students to go beyond the books and to get to know the people in the stories. She explained that each conflict has a cause, action and result that is different and unique from others. “It’s important to understand why people served and made the decisions they did, and it also gives us an idea of what’s going on around the world.”

Woodby interviews veteran

The project spans nine weeks, and students have spent the last few weeks researching, giving oral presentations on American conflicts and their causes, and testing on the content. Then they prepared for their first-person interviews in meetings with public library Archivist Joe Penza, who has interviewed more than 150 veterans from all wars, and Bartleby Director Terry Smith, who hosted a television series for several years where he interviewed hundreds of World War II and Korean War veterans.

During the week prior to one-on-one interviews, World War II veterans Ken Wiley and H. C. Moretz visited the class to share their stories and participate in a class interview. Wiley drove the landing boats up onto the beaches of seven D-Day invasions in the Pacific, and Moretz fought throughout Europe including at the Belgian Bulge, France, the Rhine River, and Berlin.

Ken Wiley and H. C. Moretz

Students also spoke with professor and author Steve Edwards after reading a profile he wrote on his granddad “Seeing Private Everyman.” His granddad was featured in Life magazine during WWII. Edwards was impressed by the intelligence of their questions, which were aimed at helping them better understand the format they'd be expected to write in following interviews.

This week, they interviewed veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam, the War on Terror, Dessert Storm, and the Gulf War. Woodby said this allowed her to develop a personal connection to history and how it impacts her life today. “We see letters and documents and have a concept of what’s going on, but when I talk to these people, I understand what they went through and what happened,” she said.

Student interviews veterans

This inquiry-driven, project-based learning allows students to connect with the material, share what they’re learning with the public, and to make an impact in their community. Campbell said this allows them to do much more than recalling information for a test and helps them develop skills like being able to analyze current social and cultural problems with historical perspectives.

Students said this project makes history relevant and allows them to practice research, reading and writing for a purpose. “We are telling someone else’s story, and it impacts our lives,” Woodby explained. “It’s not just a history assignment, we’re going through someone’s life and it’s a story from beginning to end. It’s a reality check that these aren’t just stories, but the lives of human beings with stories to tell.”

These integrated courses began this year, and though they are not taught together, lessons are planned together so standards and expectations are aligned. Evaluation is based on mastery of state standards in English III and US History as well as XQ Learner Goals, 21st Century Soft Skills, and EHS Academic Merit Badges (AMB). XQ Learner Goals are for students to be Masters of All Fundamental Literacies, Holders of Foundational Knowledge, Generous Collaborators, and Learners for Life. 21st Century Skills include critical and creative thinking, communication and social skills, technology literacy, initiative and productivity, leadership, and flexibility.

There are five AMBs for English and five for History.  In English, these include skills like development of empathy for characters, understanding events that led to a character’s decisions, passionately and effectively communicating through writing, and ability to research and develop an evidence-based argument. In History, these include effective critique of historical actions and how they addressed problems, ability to evaluate current events through historical lens, predicting future events based on history, ability to research and explain causes for events and their impact on culture today, and identifying problems created by history as well as strategies to correct them.

As Bartleby expands to be a school-wide program, administrators are looking at other options for integrated coursework. The goal of this type of teaching is to give content greater relevance so students are prepared to solve real-world problems in college, career, and life.

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