May 4, 2013
Students chronicle community
Cortland seventh-graders make ‘museum’ about Cortland
Seventh-graders immersed themselves in a hands-on project that required research and writing about what makes up the community of Cortland.
English teacher Bill Lee led 101 of his seventh-grade students through an eight-week project that focused on collaborative group work requiring research and writing skills in various settings.
“This is a project that showcases student skills that cannot be measured on a test,” Lee said.
Titled “We Are Cortland,” students learned about the community in which they reside, its history, public attractions and officials.
Students began the project by brainstorming in small assigned groups things that make up Cortland. They developed a list of topics, ranked them in order of preference and awaited the official go ahead from their teacher to begin work.
Students translated their research, writing, and hands-on experiences into a tangible display, which was presented to viewers in Lee’s classroom in the context of a museum on Friday. Artifacts were viewed by the public after school until 5 p.m.
Featured research included the 1890 House, Cortland Community SPCA, Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture, local parks and schools.
“I never knew anything about the SPCA, as far as what they did,” student Shayla Marsh said. “After going to the site, I got to see it and learn all about it.”
Students used various online resources to assist in data collection.
Although most students went to designated places, they first had to gather information from specific websites, Lee added.
“When students began the research project, they quickly learned there is more than meets the eye,” he said.
Students eager to work on a project that would outline the history of city mayors quickly learned they needed to shift focus based on availability of information, Lee said.
“But these are all lessons in real life,” he said. “We all have to learn to be flexible in any profession.”
Projects included interviews with community leaders, such as SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum, Police Chief F. Michael Catalano, Superintendent of Schools Michael Hoose and Mayor Brian Tobin.
Students generated their own interview questions as a group before connecting with public figures, Lee said.
Depending on the project, students made arrangements outside of school to visit individuals or locations.
Artifacts in the form of three-dimensional projects showcased the data collected through interviews, face-to-face visits and observations. Projects were displayed through a museum theme in an effort to educate peers and community members about what they learned.
“What was so interesting for me was learning about Cortland through these student projects,” student Marleyna Warner said. “When we go around the room, you learn something new.”
Having taught this unit for a number of years, Lee added that the artifacts displayed through a museum setting has been the theme for the past three to four years.
“I’m impressed by students’ overall motivation to work on these projects,” Lee said. “Some of these kids are giving up their lunch periods just to finalize the artifacts. I’m pleased with the insights and skills they gained.”
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