8th grade students at West Hills recently investigated early Michigan through the lens of a Social Studies and Science cross-disciplinary project. 8th graders shared their researched presentations with 4th and 5th grade students in the building. Simone Jasgur, 4th grader, explains, "I learned a lot about Michigan and our history. The land was really flat so it was easy to build houses. I enjoyed playing games like Kahoot!, and watching the 8th graders who put on the plays. And I liked looking at the pictures on the slideshows. I liked the mixture of learning something and making it fun!"
8th grade Social Studies teacher Laura VanGemert explains that this is a new interdisciplinary unit this school year. VanGemert and Science teacher Brendan Harrington explained, "we researched as many original settlers as possible to ensure that they were viable research subjects for our students. We narrowed it down and then taught the kids some mini lessons to give them some scientific and historical context. These lessons were about specific land features in our community such as ground water, and the impact of water on the local environment. History-based lessons focused on the Eerie Canal, and early pioneer life. After these lessons and explorations, we assigned the final research product. We also reached out to several local historians through the Birmingham and Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society. They were kind enough to watch a practice round of student presentations and offer them feedback, as well as additional information. It was great! One of them, Leslie Pielack, the director of the Birmingham Historical Museum, has recently authored a book, The Saginaw Trail: From Native American Path to Woodward Avenue. She presented material from her book, and we look forward to working with her in the future. She was a wealth of information regarding local Native American history!" 8th grade students were assigned small groups and a specific settler, and spent time researching the settler as well as the Michigan land on which they lived, before developing an interactive presentation.
8th grade students researched 30 early Michigan settlers in total. Alexa Kessler explains, "My Bloomfield settler was Elizabeth Denison Forth, who was the United States' first African American woman landowner. She was born in slavery but ended up being admitted to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2017." 8th grader Justin Chappell shares, "Our person was Austin Eli Wing. He was a big politician. He joined Congress and the House of Representatives, and was a US Marshall for the district of Michigan. He was born in Conway, MA, and then moved to Ohio." Alex Parker, who was in the same group as Chappell, explains, "For our presentation, we went through his whole life. I acted out a role. It was fun - I liked acting it out. Some of the other presentations had a Jeopardy game."
Jayden Roth, another 8th grade student, explains, "We had choice in how we presented the project, based on how we wanted to execute it. Ruby Stoller and I researched Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, who was born in Hillsborough, NH, and moved to Michigan because he served in the Army at Fort Mackinac. He bought 160 acres in Birmingham, MI and Pierce Street in Birmingham is named after him. He never actually lived on that land. He travelled for 38 years in the Army, and that's mainly what he did with his life. He had three wives that all died at age 25 years old."
A common theme in the presentations was the difficulty of life in early Michigan history. Lily Novetsky, 4th grader, shares, "They taught us about what the settlers would do if a problem happened, like when people were sick, or there was a big snowstorm. Sometimes they didn't overcome the conflicts." Learning about the intersection of early settlers and the land on which they lived is just one example of how interdisciplinary studies enrich a student's understanding, and create intriguing and fun learning opportunities!