OES Fifth Graders Dive Into Researching Declaration Of Independence

by Ryan Bray

ORLEANS – On most days, students at Orleans Elementary School come into class ready to learn. But on Feb. 5, the school’s fifth graders stood in the gymnasium ready to teach others.

Students spent weeks researching the individual signers of the Declaration of Independence, culminating in a presentation for students, family and visitors from around the community about what they learned.

Each student selected a signer to research. They prepared written reports, including diary entries written from their subject’s point of view, and also drew a portrait and a map.

“Then they put everything in a travel chest…because that’s what they used to go to the Continental Congress,” said Alan Peterson, a fifth grade teacher at the school.

Some students, including Zach Ricard, came to their presentation dressed in costume. For his project, he decided to research the life of Samuel Adams, who he learned to his surprise attended Harvard University at just 14 years old.

While students relied largely on the internet for their research, Zach said he had to work a little bit harder to get some information for his project.

“It was kind of a challenging project,” he said. “For the most part, it was kind of easy to get information. But some things were kind of hard to get.”

Mimi Gibson chose to research John Adams, who in addition to being the nation’s first vice president and second president was also part of the first father-son duo to hold the office of the presidency.

“Everyone thought he was obnoxious, but he didn’t care,” she said. “I think that inspired other people to not care about what other people thought of them.”

William Martin picked a more obscure name from the list of signers. He chose William Williams, in part because he liked his name.

“He wanted to be a priest, but he couldn’t because he fought in the French and Indian War,” he said. For his map, William used spilt coffee to give the paper an aged and worn look.

Peterson said students were excited to present their projects, noting that presentations are commonplace at the school for students across all grade levels.

“I think for the kids when they do projects, they want it to have a purpose,” he said. “Here at Orleans Elementary, any project we do, we present it to younger grades.”

“Here, we do it from first grade on,” said OES Principal Elaine Pender. “Our students here are actually very comfortable with presenting. It’s really nice to see them have that level of confidence speaking about something that they know and addressing people that they don’t.”

Pender said presentations have value for students beyond academics. They also help them develop social skills that will come in handy later in life, such as the ability to look someone in the eye while speaking and standing up straight. Teaching those skills carries added emphasis in an era where students can too easily retreat into phones, tablets and other devices, she said.

“It actually has become even more important now than it ever was,” she said.

For Peterson, the fun comes in watching students flex their creativity in their projects. Every year, he said, there are at least a few projects that “blow you away.” There’s also the hope that the presentations create positive memories for students.

“It was a fun project,” William said. “I really liked it.”

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com