Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ancestry and Academics©

Case of Grandview High School, Grandview, MO.
It's not every day that a presenter can capture the attention of 50 students. Actually the experience of watching sleep-deprived teenage eyes widen with interest will make any teacher, or presenter, renew their conviction of being an advocate for integrated learning.  Twenty five students per class generated sufficient energy and healthy competition when genealogy was incorporated in their English class.

Grandview High School
Armed with a WWI military helmet, emancipation papers, a family quilt, photos of ancestors born as early as 1838, and an 8 generation chart beginning in 1807z, I was able to incorporate reading, math, science, writing, history, art and more in the curriculum of two English classes at  Grandview High School. 

Show and Tell
The students had recently read the life of Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  And, they seemed slightly interested. But when I brought in the show and tell, and walked them through their own family history, hands raised, questions were asked, and there were even correlations made to their reading selection.  Administrators and other teachers stopped by, the classroom teachers participated, and the students were engaged. Even students shy to answer, shared a bit.  By day 2, the homework assignment return rate raised to about 90%.  Like any good genealogist, they were required to do the paperwork before the online research. Computer time was an incentive, but not one of them wandered off to the social media sites.  They stayed focused and determined.

The Teachers
The student teacher, Diane, assisted with generation charts. Homework assignments were given for oral history from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

The race was on! We used the school library computers for research, and every student was able to find something.  Teacher Amy controlled the group as excitement mounted - "I found my great grandmother," someone shouted across the library, proudly printing off her 1930 census record.  A recently arrived Latino found information and microfilm rolls of his parent's pueblo in the Family History Library catalog.  An uninterested student found his father listed in the social security death index. He showed up on day 2 with a few more names on his sparse generation chart.  I even secretly pulled up an inmate index for a foster child who didn't think there were records to access. Yes, we had to use a bit more than, but there's so much to reference.

The Academics
The workshop for Ancestry and Academics© is flexible.  A time period must be determined.  At Grandview High the workshop was designed to accompany the Civil War Era, but the same can be created for Early Colonial period, Reconstruction or any other historical reference: 
Reading/Literature - Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl  (Harriet A. Jacobs)
Writing - oral interviews and reports
Math - generation estimates, birth dates, and other vital record dates to determine possibilities
American History - wars, politics, laws
Social History - slaves, slave masters, abolitionists and communities, food
Geography - underground railroad, north vs. south, colonies (allowed us to go before the Civil War)
Science - DNA (we didn't have time to go in depth, but enough to whet the thirst of a few)
Art - generation quilt.  Teachers assigned art project relevant to reading. They were hanging in classroom.

If time permitted, you could pull out Google Maps for charting routes, (another great way to incorporate math and geography. Discussions on flora and fauna as a means of survival can even work its way into a bit of botany. The options to use genealogy as a learning tool are unlimited. 

Kathleen Brandt


  1. You must have the magic touch...your post is very interesting to me (and probably others). I am really intrigued by your account.

    Is this a set program that only you do, or is it something that you could share so others can use it in other places?

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Randy,
    Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I just launched this program in March 2011, in the KC metropolitan area. I am hoping to obtain a grant for full curriculum development. As of now, I am tailoring the offering to particular classrooms. Grandview was most successful, since the student teacher, Diane, is a family historian, and understood the importance of incorporating genealogy to enhance her English class. I hope to share this offering, but have not worked out the business and operational kinks.

  3. I would have loved being in your class! And maybe I would have received an A. BTW, I hope you receive the grant.

  4. If only someone had done something like this in my high school history classes! Since I started genealogy, I have often thought that an approach like this could have a high rate of success in getting students interested and involved. Good luck in getting a grant!

  5. Kathleen and blog readers,
    I can't express to everyone how this small idea I had for the classroom worked out so well. Having Kathleen come into the classroom was one of the major highlights of my teaching career. Seeing that she now is launching this amazing program to help other area schools in the same capacity is brilliant. I hope that an organization or company (!) would see the benefits of such a grant and get this type of service available as soon as possible. Kathleen captured the mood and excitement that the students had perfectly in this article. I am so happy I was able to utilize such a strong, intelligent and versatile presenter! Good luck, Kathleen and keep me posted! You and I will be friends for life. :) -- Diane

  6. My hometown is very lucky to have such an option! You are also teaching valuable research skills...important to high school students heading off to college. And in the KC area you could also include a field trip option with more in depth research to the National Archives regional facitly, Midwest Genealogy Center, etc. Best of luck this sounds like a fun venture!

  7. Very impressive course, and a great way to get kids of all ages involved. I would think this format could be used by various schools/districts to incorporate various subjects with family history.