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Historical Scavenger Hunts

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Keywords: observation skills, field trip, scavenger hunt, video, digital photography
Subject(s): History, Journalism, Science, English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Photography, Music, Special Needs, Podcasting, Technology, Social Skills, Video, Art, Drama
Grades 6 through 8
School: Paul Junior High School, Washington, DC
Planned By: Chris Magnuson
Original Author: Chris Magnuson, Washington
Please note: This lesson has been used in many different venues. We have studied the Civil War at Ft. Stevens Park, the Temperance Movement using the DC Temperance Monument and Native American cultures at the Smithsonian. You will read about a method that can be used studying anything in your community and also within any discipline. Read the lesson below and apply it to your hometown today.

1) Students will be able to explain how the Civil War affected their community.
2) Students will learn how to “read” a monument by looking carefully at the details.
3) Students will be able to use their imagination and creativity in showing what they have learned by acting out various people in history.
4) Students will be able to use digital cameras to take detailed photographs and to shoot short interpretive videos.

Materials: Three detailed photographs of Ft. Stevens Park, paper, pencils, digital cameras that have video capability (enough cameras so that two or three students can share one)

Lesson Steps:
1) Bring in three photographs that focus on a small important detail of the area you are going to be studying. The photographs should be close enough to the subject that you can not tell what it is immediately. Choose to take photographs that are mysterious yet important to the significance of the area you are studying. For example: When we studied Fort Stevens in Washington, DC, I brought in a zoomed in picture of a cannon wheel, a wooden wall and a detail of a monument which shows a man being shot.
2) Students in teams look over the photographs and try to determine what is happening in each picture. Students take notes on paper to record their first thoughts.
3) Students in teams discuss what connections there are among these photographs. In the Fort Stevens example, students are trying to figure out what connects a cannon, a wooden wall and a man getting shot.
4) Students record a short video of each of them explaining their hypothesis as to the significance of this mysterious place. (This is a documented pre-reading activity which engages the brain and pumps prior knowledge).
5) The class then travels to the place and races to take photographs of their team in front of each of the subjects of the photos. So teams scatter trying to get a photo in front of the cannon, the wooden wall and then trying to find the small monument with the man who was shot. This is fun and also adds some competition while at the same time gives students a chance to exercise and practice their observation skills.
6) Students then must research about the significance of the place. So they are encouraged to read the information that is found on the spot in order to determine if their hypothesis was correct. At Fort Stevens, there is plenty of information onsite for students to read, but if you take your students to a place with very little posted information then this would be a time to hand out readings that would tie in the importance and reason for your visit.
7) Students then record a short video assessing the accuracy of their hypothesis. This is an opportunity to also check for understanding as students record their videos.
8) Recap and assess how accurate your class was. Ask them how they were wrong. More than likely, middle school students do not go into depth so this is an opportunity to push them to move more in-depth and to remind them to do so the next time that this type of lesson is done.
9) Students then choose a character to play. In the example of Fort Stevens there was a Union Soldier, Abraham Lincoln and a Confederate Soldier. Students are then given time to incorporate what they learned into the role of their character. (Fort Stevens is the only instance in which a sitting U.S. President came under fire during a war. Lincoln went to Ft. Stevens to review his troops and ended up becoming a target by the Confederate troops.)
10) Students record videos of themselves acting out their historical roles according to a rubric of acting and information excellence.
11) Return to the classroom.
12) Download and organize all photos and videos.
13) As a class, review all hypotheses videos and calculate the percentage in your class who guessed accurately as to the significance of the place. Take time to discuss how students guessed accurately. Were they paying attention to different details? How did they connect all three pictures? Were they just the ones who followed directions?
14) Next, review the information videos. (The videos that students took after they researched the significance of the place.) Take time to discuss who gave the most accurate summaries and why. Be sure to ask students what makes a good summary.
15) Finally, watch the character videos in which students are acting out different figures connected to your location (Lincoln, Union Soldier and Confederate Soldier). Each student can have a rubric in front of them and assess their peers on acting and also on the accuracy of the information.
16) Wrap up this lesson by having students create a newspaper article, political cartoon, academic paragraph, podcast or short film which explains the significance of the events that happened at your site.
17) Do not forget to use the videos and photographs from the lesson as a means for assessment too.
This is a great lesson to start a unit! It gets students excited about the subject and it also gives them a physical experience with the subject. If you are not able to go and visit an area then you can use a camera and take really close-up shots of your textbook or magazines and then have students do a scavenger hunt in the classroom.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
This is mainly a method that can be used in every discipline.
Once your students get the hang of how these work, take them to a new place and have them take photographs. Teach them how you choose the items to photograph for the three clues in the scavenger hunt. Then walk them through taking close-up shots. Then take all the photographs back to your classroom and have students vote on which ones are the best in terms of capturing the significance of the place, monument, event etc.
Links: Fort Stevens link if you are interested
Materials: Cause and Effect, Slideshow, Social Studies, Science, Math, Flash/USB Drives, Batteries, Camera Bags, Point and Shoot, Mobile Labs