Bringing research to life

Gause Elementary students host Famous Person Museum

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Students, parents and staff of Gause Elementary School had an opportunity to “visit” with famous people from history such as Neil Armstrong, Steven Spielberg, Jane Goodall, Jackie Robinson and Milton Hersey.

And how did this happen? It was during second-grade teacher Julie Taie’s “Famous Person Museum” in the school library on June 18.

During the event, Taie’s students share research they have completed over the past several weeks. They stand like statues around the library, many dressed as the famous people they have studied. When someone touches the “magic” red dot on the back of their hand, the students come to life as that person and explain what made them famous.

“I am so proud of the kids,” Taie said. “They did such a great job of researching and sharing their information.”

Through this project students learned and used skills in conducting online research, reading non-fiction materials for important information, writing, creating posters and public speaking.

Taie began doing the Famous Person Museum five years ago, when she had a group of students who were reading above grade level.

“I wanted to challenge them and thought researching about famous people would be both motivating and challenging for them,” she said. “They thoroughly enjoyed it and it was exciting to see them get so wrapped up in the person they were researching.”

Three years ago, Taie decided to expand the project for all of her students. After some research, Taie found the “Who Was” series, which was written at or close to most of the second-grade reading levels. She purchased a few books with her own money and has continued adding to the collection.

“I’ve been tweaking the project for the past couple of years, trying to find ways to make it easier for everyone,” she said. “With support from some wonderful parent volunteers, some at home research, and sources written at their level, the students are able to pull out and find the important details about their famous person’s life.”

Samuel Evers chose baseball legend Jackie Robinson for his research project.

“I wanted to do him because I love playing baseball,” Evers explained, wearing his own grass-stained Washougal baseball uniform and ball cap.

What surprised him most about Robinson was that he played many sports. “His biggest challenge was being the only black player for the Dodgers,” he said.

Taie said she had incredible parent support on the project from Tracey Stinchfield, Jacqueline Chase, Jenae Dryden and Jess Lowery.

“I appreciate them so much and they really helped this come together,” she said.

Taie jokingly said she has also convinced her fellow second-grade teachers to join her “insanity,” next year.

“We purchased a few other biographies with some grade level funds, and we’ve talked about trying to apply for some grants to purchase some more books from the ‘Who Was’ series,” she said. “Hopefully, next year, we can get all of our students involved and set up a large museum in the cafeteria or gym.”

Taie mentioned that both the previous state standards and the new common core requirements ask that students be able to read and comprehend informational text, which is what they do when preparing for the Famous Person project.

“I started the year off by teaching the students about main ideas,” she said. “I told them to think of nonfiction text as having gravel and gold (and sometimes garbage). They need the gravel to walk on to get them to the different pieces of gold that are scattered along the path. I gave my students spray painted gold rocks and a piece of text. They were to place their pieces of gold on the main points in the text.”

In mid April, the students got to choose a famous person to research. Most ended up working with a partner.

“I had the students read their books first, without worrying about ‘finding the gold nuggets,’ just so that they could get a sense of who their person was and what his or her accomplishments were,” Taie said. “After that, they took one chapter at a time and listed out the important ideas. This is where my parent volunteers were such a huge help.”

The museum event was the culmination of several months of preparation.

“It was great to see and hear all of my students, including my at-risk readers, read and speak fluently,” Taie said. “While several were nervous, they sounded so confident. I was so proud of them.”

Taie adds that one of the greatest benefits of this project is introducing the students to non-fiction reading.

After they finished their research, she gave them the option of reading from fiction books or reading about some of the other famous people.

“They dove for my ‘Who Was’ books,” Taie said. “They got so excited when they made connections between their famous person and the new person they were reading about. I even had several parents tell me that their children were so excited that they had to go to the library or bookstore to find some more ‘Who Was’ books.”