Students teach students in history-making collaboration

Jennessa Byl, left and Madison Milmeister work on their history review project

Ingrid Fournier’s eighth-grade challenge social studies class is working to solidify their knowledge of the American Revolution. In the process, Fournier has hit upon a new way to pass on that knowledge to students being introduced to that part of American history.

Using fifth-grade textbooks to follow curriculum standards, her eighth-graders at Northern Hills Middle made 3- to 5-minute videos on chosen aspects of the revolution. The videos will be offered to elementary teachers in the district to show their students as part of their introduction to the Revolutionary War.

Teacher Ingrid Fournier said the wider goal is that her eighth-graders will better absorb and retain their more in-depth study of the Revolutionary War

Explained Fournier, who previously taught at Northern Trails 5/6: “In my dream world, I’m a fifth-grade teacher just starting, say, the Continental Congress. I can click on the videos for that, and there’s an eighth-grader from this district, giving my students an introduction.”

While originally conceived as TED Talk-style videos, Fournier’s students have let their imaginations soar via “history reviews” they think can best engage fifth-graders in the lessons.

To describe representative government, for example, fifth-graders will be asked to compare being told what bedtime is versus being able to voice concerns about it and bring about change.

Owen Bosio’s history review is about the advantages and disadvantages of both sides of the war.

“I use humor to explain it,” he said. “They’re fifth-graders, so you have to keep them entertained. Also, my sixth-grade brother approves.”

Catherine Murphy said she relied on simple language to explain complicated concepts.

“Rather than ‘Britain was in debt,’ I say they had money problems, and instead of imported goods, I say ‘stuff,’” Catherine said.

Natalie Williams put her artistic talent to good use with a series of drawings of cartoon animal soldiers that became a video she uses to make sense of the Battle of Saratoga, Battle of Yorktown and their importance to the Revolutionary War.

“They are all so different,” Fournier said. “This has the potential to be really great.” (And it is: see videos)


Natalie Williams’ project

Goes Both Ways

Fournier said the wider goal is that her eighth-graders will better absorb and retain their more in-depth study of the Revolutionary War.

“I think they will forever remember it because they’re teaching other kids,” she said. “That part of this is really giving them ownership.”

Rachel Lebo, forefront, and Abby Almassian work on their history review projects

Northern Trails 5/6 teacher Kirstin Sharma collaborated with Fournier on the project and plans to use the videos with her fifth-graders. Sharma is also a teacher consultant with Lake Michigan Writing Project, whose motto is “Teachers teaching teachers.” The history review effort with Fournier is a spinoff of that “and could easily be called ‘Students teaching students,’” Fournier said.

Sharma called the videos “a whole different echelon of learning,” especially since she has students this year who are siblings of a few of the eighth-graders.

While she hasn’t used the videos in class yet, she plans to, and said they are done so they can be used year after year. “In all I think (eighth-graders) did a really good job of being succinct, keeping the language at a level they can understand and covering the important information my fifth-graders need.”

But the learning won’t stop there, and it will go both ways. Sharma’s students will film their own critiques of the videos.

“It’s important for my students to be able to give feedback, which is something teachers are always striving to give enough of,” she said.


Lexi Slywka, Owen Bosio, and Caleb Fish’s projects

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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