Living History

Students bring Alaska's past to life

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2003

From the Northern Lights to northern peoples, students in three sixth-grade classes at Redoubt Elementary School brought Alaska's history, culture and environment to life earlier this month with their own Alaska Museum.

The project, the culmination of first-quarter social studies units for the students, encourages students to work alone or in groups of two or three to research an element of Alaska. Then, students prepare visual and verbal presentations on the topic. The other classes in the school, as well as community members, get to tour the "museum," learning from the sixth-graders.

"Each of the kids chooses something their family is somehow connected to. Everybody moved up here for some reason," explained sixth-grade teacher Jennifer Haddix, who brought the project from Tustumena Elemen-tary to Redoubt Elementary this year when she transferred schools.

For example, Jared Ramm and Neil Gallagher provided an exhibit on Alaska gold mining.

Dressed in overalls and faux beards, the boys taught museum visitors about the history of gold mining in Alaska, while letting younger students search for "gold" BBs in a pan of gravel and telling tall tales from their imagined adventures.

"My grandpa panned for real gold," Neil said, explaining the source of the project.

While Neil had background from his grandfather on the gold mining days, other students had help from families, friends and even community members.

Anna Byrne and Leisha Denison offered a display on mushing, complete with a sled borrowed from North Star Sleds and Repair.

Anna said she's been mushing for years, while Leisha simply was interested in the sport. Together, the girls provided detailed explanations of the equipment and animal care necessary to the activity, all while showing a video of mushers in action.

Brittnie Thayer and Grace Valencia taught their visitors about Yupik traditions, using a full range of hands-on and multimedia artifacts. The girls had lots of information to share, as well as mukluks for visitors to touch and smoked salmon to taste. In the meantime, they also had Native songs playing on computers and a video showing Native dances.

TJ Earll used his own experiences to teach others, offering an exhibit on moose and moose hunting. While instructing visitors on a wide range of moose facts, TJ also displayed a couple moose racks and demonstrated the use of a bugle used to call the ungulates.

TJ said he researched some of the facts, but other portions of the lesson were learned in real life.

"I hunt with my dad," he said.

Lydia Forbes and Lauren Rigby looked to the skies for their exhibit. The girls, one of whom has lived in Alaska only a few short months, researched and explained the aurora borealis, using both a video and their own tie-dyed shirts to illustrate the lesson.

Katie Morrill, whose father works on an oil rig, discussed the particulars of Alaska's oil industry, displaying a piece of petrified wood her father found 10,000 feet under ground.

And, with a little help from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kaley McDowell, Brittany Haselow and Kelly VanMeter taught visitors about some of the state's most awed and feared creatures: bears.

The girls showed off skulls and skins, on loan from Fish and Game, while teaching younger students and community members how to identify the different species of bear on the Kenai Peninsula.

And that's only a sample of the wide range of displays. Other students had displays about the trans-Alaska pipeline, winter sports, earthquakes and volcanoes, to name just a few.

"They worked really hard," said Haddix, explaining that the one-day event took about a month and a half of work from the students. "They've got some pretty amazing things."

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