#Writeout: When Students Explore History Through Writing

This is a bit of time-warp sharing, I guess. Although the two-week Write Out project formally is coming to a close this weekend, this writing camp project at our local National Park Service site — the Springfield Armory — happened just before Write Out started. But I finally got a video together to share out as we sorted out media permissions of students. Write Out is a partnership from National Writing Project and the National Park Service to connect educators to park spaces for place-based writing activities.

Our free summer camp — Minds Made for Stories —  was aimed at middle school students from a social justice middle school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Funding for the camp came from Mass Humanities. Coordination of the camp involves the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Armory, the school system and the Veterans Education Project.

A component of this project is a series of Professional Development sessions that I facilitated with the Springfield teachers, who then helped run the camp. We are planning more PD at the Armory for the Fall as well, thanks to a grant from the National Writing Project.

We had nearly 20 students for a full week, at the Springfield Armory itself, exploring primary source material, using the museum itself as our “text,” welcoming visitors to the program to talk about women’s roles during WW2 and the Double V campaign for civil rights as well as a soldier’s life in the Civil War, and lots of different kinds of writing.

What kinds of writing?  Some of the activities …

  • Every day, they wrote into the day in notebooks, reflecting on different topics that then framed the learning and exploration of the day
  • They conducted some research on issues related to the role of the Armory in history as a source of innovation and technology and chose from different genres to share their learning
  • They designed museums of their interest as architectural drawings, imagining themselves as architects and presented their plans to the group
  • They created an advertising campaign aimed at women during World War II after learning about propaganda and the ways words and image can come together
  • They wrote about our visitors — one women helped them understand rationing during the war as well as the role of the mythical Rosie the Riveter, another was a Vietnam War vet who talked about being a black American in the armed forces and the role of the Double V Campaign to spark the Civil Rights movement, and a third was a Civil War Re-Enactor who marched our campers through the fields
  • They reflected on their learning as they wrote out of the day in their notebooks

The video captures some of the student explorations, and one of our final “publishing” events for the camp was the creation of a public display of student work that is now on the floor of the Springfield Armory museum, giving Armory visitors a look into some of the writing that students did this summer.

All this to say, while a lot of Write Out work took place outside, and in beautiful forests and mountains and streams, there are also plenty of urban landscapes and history-rich buildings to explore, too.

Peace (in time),
Kevin

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