Over the course of our school year, our class has had a deep connection with the town of Seicheprey in France. We first learned about Seicheprey through our research about Sergeant Stubby, the war dog of the 102nd US Infantry. After learning about Stubby’s heroic tales and service, we developed a curiosity to learn more about this significant battle for Connecticut history. Due to this battle being significantly historic for the Connecticut veterans specifically, the importance of this battle gradually faded in memory and history when the Connecticut veterans passed away in the 20th century. Our class discovered several interesting facts and stories from the Battle of Seicheprey, such as one of our Suffield veterans at the battle serving as a cook. When we learned of the details when the German storm troopers overwhelmed the trenches, we were shocked to learn that the cooks responded by picking up their knives and fighting off the Germans with hand-to-hand combat. Along with these facts we found new events that were happening in the town of Seicheprey today. We took the liberty to spread our findings across the social networks of our class blog and twitter. Our posts were immediately recognized by many WWI historians and eventually by Stéphanie Trouillard, a French journalist studying the history of WWI.
More details on our academic network: https://twitter.com/Stbslam/status/957705999690936322
We reached out to Stephanie to find out if the town of Seicheprey was doing a commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Seicheprey. She took the initiative to reach out to the town hall of Seicheprey and received a response from Gérard Andre, the Mayor of Seicheprey. From this information we discovered that Seicheprey was honoring this historic battle on April 21st, 2018 and intend to make a fountain with several representatives from Connecticut in order to honor the 102nd division and Sergeant Stubby. After this interaction from Stéphanie, we were able to continue communications with the Mayor and other citizens from Seicheprey as well as students from the nearby school of architecture. While we were not able to attend the commemoration, these architecture students shared their local history project with us. Then we shared slides from our presentation with them. It was great to get positive feedback from students doing the same type of work that we were doing here.
An interactive exhibit from the commemoration
Pauline, a student from Seicheprey reached out to us and gave us a very detailed overview of what the town presented and the different activities that were going on in the town to commemorate this battle. These connections to Seicheprey have been the foundation of our class and we are extremely thankful to everyone who has helped spread the story of this forgotten battle#LeastWeForget.
The following image was captured from our classroom Twitter Account (https://twitter.com/caisct_pbl) and resides in our shared Google Document, which is one of the many documents in our Shared Google Drive #PBL folder. Students are working in pairs on writing original history about three Connecticut women who served in the #SignalCorps Unit during World War I. Elizabeth Cobbs recently published an amazing book telling the national story of this untold chapter in American history. It’s titled, The Hello Girls. I suggest that you order it for your school library so that students can enjoy this topic when they encounter the usual WWI topics in the typical US History Survey approach. The current World War I commemorative process rightly celebrates this forgotten episode, and our class is trying to dig a little deeper into the aspects of Connecticut history that illuminates this important story. We call these moments in our #PBL approach: #CTUntold
Many colleagues ask me how I use Google Docs in class, and I think some are afraid to ask me how I use Twitter. Here’s a great moment to explain both.
First Draft of Tweets
There are four small groups writing history about this topic, and everyone is approaching the stage of a good rough draft. We then thought it would be good for students to see what kind of feedback they could receive from experts outside our classroom before I grade a draft. Some teachers call this a #flatclassroom (paste #flatclassroom into the search bar of any Twitter account) moment because we are using social media to reach beyond the traditional walls of a classroom for this educational and authentic connection. Here are drafts of Tweets that we are peer-editing together in class before each student Tweets it from the one classroom account. With a standard of lyric poetry and a zeal to write unwritten history, I set a high bar for a tweet in that the composer should reflect on audience and have clarity of expression as well as a specific question (inquiry drives history!) that will hopefully illicit more useful information. I have included screen shots of some of this process.
Second Draft of Tweets
As an educator and English teacher, I find revising Tweets to be akin to collaborating on poetry. We really want to refine our communication and be sure our question is clear. The first screen shot is early in the process and students are still in the composing stage. That’s good because writing is a process. The second shot is a more revised version from our collaborative work in class. Of course, the most final draft is on the Twitter Account itself. You will see that we take a little time in the Twitter Account window that opens when one begins composing a tweet and revise there one last time! Then rubber hits the road and the real test of authentic writing occurs. Will anyone respond? Follow our work here: https://twitter.com/caisct_pbl
26 Minutes for Response Time
PS: I drafted this post after class, and before I hit the blue publish tab, The Connecticut Historical Society answered the students 26 minutes after they Tweeted! Wow! Get thee to Twitter, fellow educators. And model appropriate use, good manners, and excellent prose.
The American Studies class presented highlights from their fifteen week investigation about the history of Suffield’s homefront during WWI at the April meeting of the Suffield Historical Society.The program was also open to the public, and attendees entered the room hearing popular songs of the era, including the 1915 hit, “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier” as well as the iconic rally cry written just after our entry into the war in 1917, “Over There,” by George M. Cohan. The class presented over 130 slides of information, many of which were archival materials from Suffield Academy and the Suffield Historical Society. While many in the audience knew a good deal about the evening’s topic, many of the seniors wrote in their reflective writing assignments that they “enjoyed presenting to the Historical Society because this was a topic that they were interested in and they were able to learn new things from us.” Working together as teammates in a project-based learning environment, the students engaged well with the community audience and appreciated most the question and answer period and further discussions over refreshments. Please add your reaction to comment section on this post, and the class will get back to you with a response.
Many in the class play varsity sports, and Myles leveraged that spirit and stepped up to be a captain on the spot by helping everyone focus and leading the introduction gracefully. His contributions about Connecticut culture and the role of Connecticut manufacturing elicited great dialogue after the presentation. His insights about the anti-war movement, in particular about Carl Sandburg’s contribution to the peace movement was appreciated. Later in the presentation while he was elucidating trends in propaganda posters, Ben Sylvester also explained how the two above songs served as cultural markers that showed first the country’s stance for isolationism and then the spirit to enter the war and fight “Wilson fight for democracy.” Each student also conducted family research to how many ancestors were involved in WWI, and Senior Sedley Benitz pursued research similar to her ancestors’ services, such as ambulance driving and nursing. Along with researching espionage, a topic related to his own family research, Rory Tettemer also pursued important Connecticut history topics such as the 1920s census, the 1916 election, and the sinking of the Lusitania; the closest figure to Suffield from the event turned out to be one the heroines, Theodate Pope. Chase Moran adroitly explained how partisan politics polarized Wilson’s neutrality stance throughout the early years of the war against a strident national preparedness movement. While many in town knew that Suffield Academy was called Suffield School during WWI, they learned how Suffield School was one of the first schools in the area to order uniforms for students and have experienced officers conduct military training exercise. After Michael Burch explained how Sgt. Stubby (now a motion picture), was the first war dog in the history of the American Military, he shared the campaign that he, Rory, and Chase helped launched on Twitter (#BringStubbyHome) to request from the Smithsonian that Stubby be installed during this commemoration year in a Connecticut Museum. Michael explained how much the class learned of the request protocol of the Smithsonian Museums from their thoughtful response and how the campaign enhanced our Twitter network among Connecticut historians. He then illuminated how the class discovered an unwritten Connecticut chapter of history regarding the new national history being written about the “Hello Girls,” the untold story about America’s first female soldiers who were telephone operators along the front lines organized by the Signal Corps. While Owen shared narratives regarding the manufacture history of Connecticut and the national economy during the second decade of the twentieth century, he also explained his original research regarding data about an African-American enclave in Suffield from 1900-1930s. Using Stacey Close’s thesis from the seminal work, African-Americans Connecticut Explored, the class followed Rory’s insight to delve into Suffield’s 1920 census records as Professor Close explored Simsbury’s 1920’s census records to illuminate Great Migration trends in Simsbury. Owen reported the significant results when the class tested Professor’s Close’s thesis. Since the presentation, the class hopes to publish more content on this chapter later in the month on the classroom blog. Along with explaining the complex causes of WWI as well as each significant turn at the Battle of Seicheprey, Connecticut’s finest day in WWI, Dylan Chase leveraged his past courses on presentations and digital mediums and communicated some of our most challenging topics with clarity and confidence. On his reflection prose he appreciated the experience to share our learning in an authentic setting with an audience who turned the questions period into an engaging dialogue. Dylan was a great academic ambassador during the subsequent conversations that occurred over refreshments. Dylan’s reflection prose also captured the spirit of the night as the class had not had the time because of our recent schedule to rehearse the whole presentation in one setting. “I really enjoyed the presentation and getting the chance to be a part of a class that worked so well collectively. Everything really came together last night, and I can speak for everyone when I say I’m proud of our work.”
Twitter allows us to fine-tune our research skills and create an academic network that will help our class this year as well as other American Studies students who will inherit new inquiries yet utilize and build this network of historians, museums, librarians, journalists, writers, researchers, historical societies, and enthusiast who love history. And as someone who grew up learning how to appreciate cross-referencing skills and harvest great sources, key players, and important narratives at a card catalogue (of course, I’m “referencing” a 20th century library here) or in the notes and index of an amazing book, I now love to teach students how to apply the same techniques to books, internet searches, and Twitter accounts. Now let’s move forward with more research and curating. Onward #PBLResearch & #CrossReferencing!
As an educator who internalized the idea that keeping up with professional development is best practice, I constantly share with other educators that Twitter is a great place to network with other learners. What better place then to find historians who are in the process of researching and writing history as well as other educators who are scaffolding authentic projects for deeper learning! So within that big picture appreciation for Twitter in the classroom, I also think there is so much to learn from having students compose intentional and deliberate Tweets that illicit information and expand our academic network at the same time. What a challenge! Perhaps what is the most important thing about these challenges in class is that we are pushing the academic boundaries so much that we do not need to bring grades into the conversation. If your Tweet is not strong enough for this high standard, let’s all help you improve it. If it does well, meet the standard, and illicit much needed information for our authentic project as well as adds a new asset to our academic network: Huzzah!
Therefore, pause with me a little while and see how I use Twitter to slow down the learning process in a #PBL classroom. Let me summon some Whitman’s genius in section II of Song of Myself: Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, and suggest that Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (http://langwitches.org/blog/) and others in the #PBLChat know #PBL educators are sharing their micro steps on Twitter, and if you want to try your own version of #PBL and want suggestions or ideas from other practitioners, then get thee to Twitter, fellow educators. And model appropriate use, good manners, and excellent prose.
As we prepare for our public presentation for the April meeting of the Suffield Historical Society, we are also keeping an eye on social media sources “over there” for the upcoming events at Seicheprey. This is such an important anniversary for Connecticut History. #CTHistory! During this battle, the German army sent special stormtroopers over the top and attacked the American line here in this quiet sector to see what type of fighting force the inexperienced American were. After getting knocked out of the trenches by the Germans, the Americans successfully re-established themselves in the trenches, which began by the cooks takings meat cleavers and fighting the Germans back with hand-to-hand combat. Back in December when we read about the battle, we researched some of the men from Suffield who were in the 102nd or the Yankee Division, and we all were shocked and awed by the fact that William Habikai from Suffiled was listed in the records as being a cook!
Here is a list of social media sources that we are following to help us appreciate the significant battle of Seicheprey in real time back here in Connecticut. Do you have others to suggest? The text, When Connecticut Stopped The Hun, is available online from several libraries. If you have any suggestions, please add that content to the “comment” thread incorporated with this post.
Our #PBL class also enlisted the help of one of our French I classes to help us with researching sources on the French language landscape. They are helping us out on the “left flank” or here “in the trenches” if you appreciate how war idioms infiltrate our daily language. The latter “in the trenches” still seems to be alive and well in the modern vernacular. They will be researching and reading media and cultural materials in French for us so that we can appreciate the French dimension of this Commemoration period.
Do you have other sources to suggest we add to our list? Please comment below with a link and a few words explaining the value of the source. A #PBL thanks in advance for your contributions!
What famous Connecticut women made history in your community? Who is making history now? What significant woman’s contributions to your community history has been overlooked? Forgotten? Undervalued? Start researching and writing about your local history. We will plan to do the same research and share research methods when we published our discoveries on this CAISCT PBL blog. Bill Sullivan’s class will also be putting on a community presentation to the town’s historical society in April of 2019 where the students will share what they learn and show how they learned it. In some ways, CAISCT students and teachers can find their own venues to add more depth of authenticity to the way they share their local history discoveries with their community. Perhaps it is best to consider this work as another form of service learning.
Curious about using a classroom blog and student-operated Twitter account to accommodate project-based learning? Plan to join our day hike for the 2018-19 academic year and dive into this authentic, local history challenge. Any CAISCT learner is welcome to collaborate on the CAISCT-PBL blog and Twitter account. So provide your students the opportunity to write history and appreciate the discipline form another perspective. They will soon learn that Connecticut’s history is complex, and one ingredient of our historic inquiries acknowledges that a local history perspective will CAISCT learners shed a new light in the historiography of Connecticut’s narratives. Lisa Leveque from Rectory School and Bill Sullivan from Suffield Academy will share their students’ learning experiences while working on one blog during the 2016-17 academic year in which they investigated freedom and slavery in the pivotal year of 1774 as well as the 2017-18 academic year, which pursued homefront issues of WWI.
When the American Studies class began its investigation in December with a trip to the Suffield Academy archives, students were very curious to find young students one hundred years ago were wearing military uniforms. After researching our local and national history, the students are ready to share insights about the preparedness movement in Suffield, the region, and nationwide to help explain how Suffield School (now Suffield Academy) was one of the first schools in the area to start such a military prep program that provided students military uniforms and training. While following the research methods of Connecticut Historian, Stacey K. Close, the American Studies students used his chapter in African American Connecticut Explored as a model to look for patterns of the Great Migration here in Suffield. Close’s chapter, titled “Black Southern Migration and the Transformation of Connecticut, 1917-1941,” centers around migration trends in Simsbury. Please join us to learn how the American Studies students discovered similar patterns in Suffield. The class will present during the Suffield Historical Society meeting, which is open to the public, on Tuesday night, April 24th, 7-8pm at the Suffield Senior Center on 145 Bridge St, Suffield, Ct. Finally, like everyone in Connecticut who is excited to learn about the story of Sargent Stubby and see the newly released film, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, find out about four of the WWI veterans from Suffield who served in the famous 102nd of the Yankee Division, alongside “Stubby,” the first service or therapy dog. For more on the movie that was just released, click here: http://www.stubbymovie.com/