- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - What if you could rewrite history - more specifically, the Civil War? Going further, what if you could turn it into a comic book, an alternate-universe newspaper, a movie script, or a gaming app? If you’re an eighth-grader, how would that sound?

Two Challand Middle School teachers are learning that sounds pretty doggone good.

Social studies teacher Adam Gee and science teacher Megan Davis have joined forces for five periods a day. There’s an open lane between their classrooms, situated right around the corner from each other, so students can freely ask questions about either subject, as they bring home one of four project options.

They could write a hypothetical script for “Back to the Future 4,” in which they’d send Marty McFly and Doc Brown back to the mid-1800s. Carter Lehman, 13, latched onto that idea, and has just about finished his script. Once he puts some finishing touches on it, he’ll create a snapshot of what he did and what he learned.

He’s a fan of the movie trilogy, and he leaked a cliffhanger of a spoiler.

“One of them might not make it,” Carter said.

Areyana Stark and Chloe Gladhill, both 13, are examining the ripple effect of real-life characters’ fates. Areyana is developing an online class, and Chloe is creating a newspaper, both of which will tell the story of the war - if the South had won.

“We’d learn about the Civil War differently,” Chloe said. “We’d have a different point of view.”

“Obviously, slavery is a big part of it - that’s what they were fighting over,” Areyana said.

Other students took the popular gaming app Clash of Clans and adapted it to the Civil War. They didn’t actually redesign the app - it’s a quarterly project, not a yearlong one - but showed how aspects of the game would change if rifles replaced arrows, and the war played out on American soil, rather than fictitious kingdoms.

Trevor Vos and Adan Ramirez, both 13, and 14-year-old Brandon Ducoing are getting close to a finished product. Better yet, they’re remembering what they’ve researched.

“It’s a lot better than just going into a textbook and trying to remember stuff,” Brandon said. “I don’t remember stuff like that. This is fun, and you look forward to it every day.”

Jada Rhodes, 14, knew a lot about Harriet Tubman before she chose the option of turning a historical figure into a superhero, then creating a comic book. Not a comic super-fan, per se, she’s learned how much work goes into creating one. She’s using the app Book Creator, while Sam Smith, 14, is finishing an old-school, colored pencil-and-paper comic. She’s a huge fan of Marvel comics, and is having a blast giving Confederate spy Belle Boyd the power of invisibility.

“This is lots of fun,” Smith said. “I just love it. I think this will help me understand more about the Civil War. I never even knew there were spies during that time.”

Four weeks of researching five events Tubman was involved in, and in which her invisibility, super-hearing, -speed, and -strength could alter history, left Jada with a greater appreciation - and a sense of empowerment.

“Any teacher can sit up there and talk about the Civil War, but learning about it for yourself, and directing your own learning, makes it more fun and interesting,” Jada said. “You learn about what you want to learn about - not just what the teacher decides to learn about that day,”

Gee doesn’t take offense - not in the least. He’s pleased, really, with the outcome of the first social-studies-science cross-curricular project.

“They’re hands-on, it’s all tied to standards, but it’s not me saying they need to learn this,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to explore their interests within topics, rather than listening to me drone on and on all day, and then they don’t remember anything.”

Davis said most students flocked to the “Back to the Future” and Clash of Clans options, and that the hardest option was the alternate-ending-of-the-war project.

“It was the trickiest one to get science into it,” Davis said. “I had them focus on weapons and how different weapons would react with Newton’s laws. Only a select few kids picked that option, but the ones who did seem to be making the connection just fine.”

Following the restructuring of state learning standards, bringing them into line with Common Core standards, math-science cross-curriculum projects became no-brainers.

What Challand is doing makes equal sense, once you see it in action.

“It sort of breaks down the barriers between the subjects,” Gee said.

“At first, it was kind of nerve-racking, because it was breaking past what’s normal,” Davis said. “But once we saw how kids were reacting once the barrier was broken down, and they saw two subjects at once, it became interchangeable.”

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Source: The (Sterling) Daily Gazette, https://bit.ly/229D5S1

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com

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