The Misadventures of Martin Van Buren and other U.S. Presidents

Last class we were able t meet and discuss inquiry. Not only were we able to discuss this buzzword of a topic but we got to go on our very own adventures. First, I would say we had a misadventure with our beginning activity. It started just like any other day, then Kristin told us, “Time for you to do a report on the U.S. Presidents! Here’s a sheet that you fill in, with the rubric on top”. But to spice things up, we got to pick from pieces of paper which president we would be researching. I landed with Martin Van Buren (Thank goodness youtube has a song about him).  Sorry, Mollie, you really had absolutely no choice in your pick of the draw.

I loved that we played out this activity. It brought back those feelings of first excitement, and then complete boredom and annoyance, I remember having in elementary school through high school. I’m also glad we were able to recap why those feelings were occurring. I know part of it was, I didn’t feel challenged enough. All I needed to do was fill in the blanks, and then I’d be good with the assignment. The juicy stuff, like odd personal stories and facts about the president wasn’t highlighted, or weighted. I felt creatively stifled in some ways, but also lacking a whole lot of motivation. The assignment wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It didn’t help go off of people’s passions, and interests. Creating something that allows more for ownership, will make a more creative and meaningful project for a student. Why I also loved part II of class, the guided inquiry approach. We listened to an article from NPR and learned about Grover Cleveland’s scandalous tumor removal. Who knew Grover Cleveland was so fascinating?  Who knew there were so many health implications of past presidents? Not only did this way of introducing the topic of presidents allow us to start asking interesting questions, it also gave us the freedom to explore what interested us. That was an amazing outcome, as well in seeing where people’s creativity took them (the history of facial hair, mistrust in government, 1890s surgery, public image, ethics… wow!!)

I love guided inquiry. It allows us to hit on so many things at one time. We can give students choice and ownership, we can validate their feelings and interests, and we can also challenge not only them, but also ourselves, and we all learn something new.

I think now what is on my mind is, how as a freshly pressed media specialist do you implement guided inquiry strategies that will be effective for your students and meet teacher’s goals? Is it another case of baby steps, trying a little at a time? I think for me, this would be the way I go about it. Start to get my toes in the water, assess, and then go a little further until I’m pretty sure the sharks are fairly far away.

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4 thoughts on “The Misadventures of Martin Van Buren and other U.S. Presidents

  1. The juicy stuff, like odd personal stories and facts about the president wasn’t highlighted, or weighted.

    So true! My president was William Henry Harrison, and in reading the Wikipedia article about him (yes, I know, mea culpa), I discovered that he was sent off to school by his father, a plantation owner, and that there he fell in with some friends with strong antislavery views. As soon as Harrison’s father found out about this, he pulled him out of school, because Harrison’s father was strongly pro-slavery. All fascinating stuff…and there was nowhere in the assignment for interesting information like that. If you weren’t already interested, you wouldn’t even have to read that part of the article.

    • foresterkma says:

      That’s crazy and so interesting! I think helping to show people,especially figures of presidents, that they aren’t figures but they’re people is a very powerful and intriguing thing. We so easily make them one-dimensional beings, when in actuality that is totally not something that exists.

  2. skcram says:

    A couple days after this assignment, I had a student come to the library with a list of questions for a report on Utah (capital, landmarks, etc.) It was almost exactly like the president assignment, and I have to say, it made me really sad to see. It also started me thinking, do public librarians have any power to help teachers develop richer assignments?

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