Two eighth grade U.S. history teachers at Finley Junior High School are traveling back in time with their students using a new approach to teaching: “Hands-on with History.”
Ashley Huber and Scott Cieri said teachers are always searching for ways to have their students engaged in learning. In the fall of 2017, the two presented their idea of Hands-on with History to the Waxahachie Education Foundation. The tandem was awarded a $2,658 grant to fund the program.
When they presented the idea to the Education Foundation committee, Waxahachie ISD Director of Public Relations Jenny Bridges said this program stood out compared to the others.
While this is the first school year to implement Hands-on with History, Huber and Cieri have already done four activities. This program allows the students to experience the period they are learning about firsthand.
The program gives students something to look forward to at the end of each unit and Cieri said it’s reflecting positively in the student’s test scores. Cieri stated that more students are passing.
“I don’t think it’s that they have learned more necessarily than last year, but I just think they are trying harder. It’s just motivation and wanting to do better,” Cieri said. “The fact that the students enjoy it a little more, more of them are trying.”
At the end of each unit, students participate in an activity that relates to the lesson they studied. For the first activity, students brewed and drank English tea.
Eighth-grader Emily Petty said the colonial tea party was her favorite because, “We actually had nice china and actual tea, as well as little cookies you could dip with and sugar cubes.”
What stood out the most to Petty was the fact that people in England would put milk in their tea.
“I personally liked the tea, but not everyone else did. That’s just my opinion,” she said.
It’s not just the students who are time traveling — it's also the teachers.
For each time period, both Huber and Cieri dress up in attire that relates to that era. When the students were learning about the U.S. Constitution, they dipped quill pens in ink to write the preamble. That day, both of the teachers dressed up like Benjamin Franklin.
Huber reiterated how teachers are always preaching to get the students engaged, but using Hands-on with History also requires the teachers to get out of their shell and make things happen.
Bringing history to the students is more than fulfilling as a teacher, as the experiences and memories the students share are essential to Huber and Cieri.
“A lot of students at Finley don’t have a deep wheelhouse of background knowledge for these experiences,” Huber said. “Like drinking tea. For some of them, it was a different concept.”
The eighth-grade students just wrapped up learning about Westward Expansion and the Gold Rush. When students entered the classroom, Gold Rush-era music played, and a picture of miners was projected on the board to get the students in the right state of mind.
For this time period, students panned for gold. Petty said it is in those moments — when she’s tasting the tea or getting dirty — that allows her to apply what she has studied and put it into perspective.
During the Revolutionary War section, students sewed together flags, which symbolized the country they created. At the end of one segment, the students chose a person in history to represent and did a living history museum for the sixth graders to walk through.
Cieri said seeing the expressions on the younger kids' faces shows they are eager to do the same activities once they reach eighth grade.
“Especially the sixth graders, but when they see that the older kids are doing this, I feel like in their eyes we can actually see they are looking forward to be doing this later,” Cieri said. “So, I think we are already making an impact before they even start the year.”
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