Elvis, meet Malala

Students portray historical figures they researched

Liam Simmons learned about candy tycoon Milton Hershey (photo: Alina Pawl-Castanoñ)

Lining a packed hallway recently at East Oakview Elementary, some 75 historical figures stood ready to share about themselves at the press of a virtual button.

Cassie Coy as American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart with teacher Katie Gilbert

There was baseball legend Babe Ruth, bestselling author J.K. Rowling, gorilla expert Jane Goodall and Dr. Seuss.

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks, also known as Naveah Munson, stood beside first lady Michelle Obama, played by fourth grader Kelsey Milanowski.

A few classrooms down the hall, Daphne Doners made like pioneering chemist Marie Curie. “I was going to be Queen Elizabeth, but that was taken,” Daphne explained. And Curie seemed a better fit anyway, because “I really like science and stuff like that,” she said.

Tyler Denboer was decked out as ancient Egyptian pharaoh King Tut, someone he was keen to research because “I like Egypt stuff a lot,” he said.

Jake Brown really got into character as rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley (photo: Alina Pawl-Castanoñ)

Select, Research, Present

This year, teachers Kathryn Gilbert, Kevin Rosner and Tricia Wiseley bumped up the presentation portion of nonfiction learning objectives to include a biography “wax museum.” Classes used the “Who was…” series of books for the bulk of their research.

Parents, grandparents, younger siblings and those in lower grades packed the hallway to take in the culmination of the fourth graders’ three-week research efforts.

“We figured the students are doing so much work on this, why not share?” Gilbert said. “It’s a great community builder; we knew families would be coming, but we were blown away by the number of attendees.”

Paxton Butler shares his research on Dr. Seuss with a visitor, who told him ‘I’ve read all your books’

The project took about a month, Gilbert said. Fourth graders read the books in class, learned how to take notes and select which biographical facts to share. They also practiced writing in the first person, and how to speak clearly and look at their audience. 

Completed notes and note cards were turned in as part of their grade, and all students presented in front of their class before museum day.

Gilbert said a second grader told her,  “‘When I am in fourth grade, I want to be that girl with the beads in her hair (Cleopatra).’ It created a sense of excitement for the younger students of wanting to do this.”As for the fourth graders, she said, “They really stepped out of their comfort zone with these presentations, and I think they ended up loving it.”

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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 or email Morgan.

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