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Living Museum

On December 9, fourth graders impressed teachers and fellow students alike with their Living Museum, portrayals of prominent figures from around the American Revolution. 

This lesson lasts much longer than one day, though. Over the course of several weeks, students learn not just about a diverse group of women and men who shaped history 250 or so years ago. With guidance from a group of teachers, they learn how to research, write reports, and speak publicly for several minutes. 

Library Research Teacher Marianne Tembe helps lead the project. She begins by providing a list of prominent figures from that era to the students, and explaining that some of the names are well known while others have less written about them. For instance, Paul Revere is a famous for his midnight ride. The students learn however, that Sybil Ludington, then a 16-year-old girl, made a similarly heroic ride in 1777, helping American troops fight a British attack. 

As another example, students learn about the literary accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson, who helped author the Declaration of Independence and later became the third United States President. They also learn about Phillis Wheatley, who, despite being enslaved much of her life, was one of the finest U.S. poets of the 18th century.

“We look really hard to find the unsung heroes," Tembe said.

After these initial discussions, students pick names out of a hat and get to work. They read a minimum of two books and one news article about their person. They then write reports; not biographies but analytical essays that explain why (or why not) their person was a patriot of the Revolutionary War era. These essays include full bibliographies.   

Once the essays are complete, students spent a few weeks memorizing them thoroughly. They also design costumes so they can look like their figures during the Living Museum. 

The entire project lasts more than a month and involves several teachers. Tembe teaches fourth graders for 45 minutes three days per week. Courtney Morrall, also a Library Research Teacher, works with 4B and 4GB while Tembe is with 4A and 4GA. Lower School Teaching Associate Kathleen Locke, who works with the fourth-grade team on writing, helps the students transition their research report into a first-person narrative. The fourth grade teachers, Catie Ferguson, Kathy Lonergan, Janice Simone, and Maureen Speers, help students memorize the reports and strengthen their public speaking. Fellow classmates also offer help, as they brainstorm together when they are considering costumes and memorizing essays. 

On December 9, students took center stage at The Pit. For a full hour they stood tall, reciting essays and answering questions peppered at them by fellow students, teachers, parents, and grandparents who came by to learn.

Watching closely, Tembe was proud of the way the students handled themselves. They demonstrated not only depth of knowledge about their particular figures by of the era as a whole.

“This program shows what Norfolk Academy does best," Tembe said. "Take a topic and get students to dig deeper and understand more." 

 Here is a list of this year's historical figures in the Living Museum:

  • John Adams                                 
  • Samuel Adams 
  • Benedict Arnold 
  • Crispus Attucks 
  • Benjamin Banneker 
  • Benjamin Franklin 
  • Alexander Hamilton 
  • John Hancock 
  • Patrick Henry 
  • Thomas Jefferson 
  • James Armistead Lafayette 
  • James Madison 
  • Thomas Paine 
  • Paul Revere 
  • George Washington 
  • Abigail Adams 
  • Margaret Cochran Corbin 
  • Sybil Ludington 
  • Molly Pitcher 
  • Deborah Sampson 
  • Mercy Otis Warren 
  • Phillis Wheatley 
  • Patience Wright 


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