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Interactive History

Pardeeville High School freshmen Arianna Morrison, left, and Jackson Parker share their progress with history teacher Kathryn David at a classroom station Tuesday morning. The students worked in small groups as muckrakers researching social problems like “slum life.” Interactive history is part of a new approach at the school, offering freshmen hands-on activities from the textbook, History Alive!

PARDEEVILLE — History teacher Katie David’s students didn’t read out of a textbook during class Tuesday at Pardeeville High School. They learned on their feet.

About 25 freshmen listened to her instructions for five minutes, before the sounds of shifting papers and small-group discussions took over. Instead of a lecture, students had “fieldwork” — moving from station to station as “muckrakers” who needed to get to the bottom of social problems like “slum life.”

Tuesday’s dose of interactive history is part of a new approach at Pardeeville High School, one that offers freshmen hands-on activities from TCI Publishing textbook, History Alive!

“They get into this. They get excited about it,” said David, in her fifth year teaching history and English to freshmen in Pardeeville. She also teaches a course called Street Law to seniors.

“It brings it to life. Today, if they want to learn about tenements, they have to climb up on the chair, to the 10th story.”

Pardeeville last year revamped its social studies department, moving the citizenship unit from freshman to junior year, Principal Jason LeMay said, something “fortuitous” now that seniors in Wisconsin have to pass a citizenship test in order to graduate. Eighth-graders in Pardeeville now learn early American history to Civil War, and the freshmen learn Reconstruction Era to modern day.

“This is about trying to get bigger concepts, ideas to come alive,” LeMay said, noting Pardeeville will consider using more interactive history for sophomores through seniors next school year. Seventh- and eighth-graders already use History Alive!, but freshmen so far are the ones doing more activities.

“It gets the kids up and moving. History can be dry at times, so they can see how things happened in the past relate today. It’s not just a rote memorization — ‘here’s some dates, here’s some names, memorize these’ — it’s actually get up, see how this could have been for your ancestors, for people who were here.”

Freshmen Ashton Osterhaus and Lucas Prochnow, taking a break from muckraking, seemed to agree with David’s and LeMay’s assessment.

“Me, personally, I hate sitting,” Osterhaus said. “So when we move it’s a lot better for me. But it also helps when the partner you’re with also wants to do something.”

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Prochnow said. “It’s not like a lecture in college where you sit there and take notes. You get to actually participate and see what it’s sort of like. You can appreciate it a lot more because you actually know what they’re doing, the trials of it.”

The students earlier this school year learned the trials of immigrants passing through Ellis Island, an activity David said students still talk about weeks later. David invited Spanish teacher Nicky Jordarski into class to ask several questions of the students, simulating the language barrier immigrants faced. Students also had to pass a “health inspection,” asked to cough, show their hands and walk around. Some were told they had a limp or a cough.

“This really stuck with them,” David said. “They realized what they had to go through. Some (of the students) couldn’t get in.”

Students started that day not knowing anything about the Ellis Island activity David planned, adding to their mental strain.

Their muckraking unit, like most of the others, is about a week-long, and when the students are finished they’ll report what they learned as news writers. Another week-long unit had students learning westward expansion, using images to write songs about topics like the gold rush or land purchases.

“These (units) are in your face — you have to pay attention,” David said. “I hoped it would resonate with students, and I think it does.”