Evidence of Education

Fourth grader Brooklyn Elza, 10, a student at Ashland Elementary Charter School holds a Chinese crossbow model constructed by her and her project partner Jolynn Burke, 8, a third grader at the school. The project was part of the school’s “Evidence of Education” evening at the school. Students have been researching ancient civilizations and creating a model of what they feel is the most important contribution from their civilization. In addition to a model, students created interpretive signage and wrote opinion pieces about their findings.

For some students, learning about ancient civilizations and cultures comes out of a textbook.

That kind of exposure might be adequate to pass a test, but to get a real flavor for the societies and peoples who have gone before us, it is necessary to delve a bit further.

That kind of immersion in the subject is the idea behind the “Evidence of Education” events held at the Ashland Elementary Charter School. The most recent of these events, held Thursday at Lake Superior Elementary School, focused on ancient civilizations and required Charter School students to create models of what they considered to be among the most important contributions of the civilizations they studied. They were also tasked with creating interpretive signage and writing an opinion piece essay about their findings.

It’s a process that goes well beyond the typical study of history at the elementary school level, but it’s a demonstration of how things are done at the Charter School.

“All of the things we do at the school are highly integrated and collaborative,” said Charter School lead teacher Mary Zoesch. “We do three big projects a year. This year our curriculum focus is culture and this project focuses on ancient cultures. The goal was how to think about they could teach others about ancient civilizations and contributions.”

The students did this by creating models of things what they considered to be important inventions from that time period. The students then explained their models and the context of their importance to the time frame and location involved.

The depth of their understanding about the topics they presented could only be described as extraordinary. At each demonstration, the students were fonts of knowledge about the subject their project encompassed.

“They started out by thinking of different cultures that interested them, and chose the one that interested them the most,” said Kaite Sweval, who also teaches at the Charter School. “They started out by creating a project proposal, thinking about all of the things they already knew about a culture, the things that they needed to know.”

A teacher approved the projects, and the students then began to research their project.

The goal, said Zoesch, was to keep learning as authentic as possible. She noted that in the Charter School, students were taught to collaborate at an early age.

“They have to deal with different group dynamics and think outside of the box in terms of what resources we have to show them,” she said.

The event gave students an authentic audience for their presentations.

“Instead of presenting to students or their teacher, the same people they are in school with every day, who may have access to the same information they do, they can present to actual people, a real audience,” said Charter School teacher Emily Van Der Puy.

Van Der Puy said the effort from the students was “highly motivating for teachers.

“When you see students who come in and have never done anything like this before, and they crank out some of these really nice presentations and their social and presentation skills, it is just awesome as a professional to watch.”

The students involved were excited by he process, and clearly enjoyed being able to present their knowledge.

“This is one of the main reasons I chose to be in the Charter School,” said Bergan Brew, a student in Emily Van Der Puy’s fourth grade class. “I think all the projects are really neat, and right now I am working on an independent project where we get to choose whatever we want to work on.”

Bergan said it was definitely more fun to learn this way.

“And usually if it’s more fun, I learn better,” he said.

Bergan’s partner Justin Defoe said he agreed with that assessment.

“It’s a lot more fun than reading out of a book,” he said.

“It is very different than regular schoolwork,” said Maya Lampson.

“I wanted to learn more about this,” she said gesturing at a model of the Mayan calendar she and teammates Emma Brouder and Bella Roman had prepared.

“It’s a very fun project, agreed Brouder. “Finding out about ancient cultures was very interesting. It was very different back then than now. And the Mayan calendar, which we researched was much, much different and much more complicated than the one we use now.”

Another Evidence of Education night, in the form of a cultural fair is planned for May, said Zoesch.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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