Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Projects That Bring Unsung Heroes to Life

May 22, 2017

William Smithyman LM Class visit 2 1000w

By Bill Smithyman (KS '15)

Last summer I was transformed by my visit to the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott, Kansas, where, with last year's other LMC Fellows, I learned how to guide students through Unsung Hero research projects. I vowed that my students would use this museum to accelerate their own hero projects.

This spring, our on-level 10th grade ELA students went to the Hall of Unsung Heroes to learn more about how to research and "sing" an unsung hero. My two co-teachers and I knew that LMC Executive Director Norm Conard (KS '92) and Program Director Megan Felt would deliver some strategies and ideas that our kids could take back to their groups at school. But they did more than that; they truly inspired our kids. As the students meandered through the packed exhibits, they wrote down some of their best insights to guide their own research upon returning to Overland Park.

William Smithyman LMC Class visit 5 1000w

Since then, these students have been laboring daily on podcasts, documentaries, and websites that are truly blowing us away. "Rough cuts" were due recently, and I am still reeling.

In the words of just about anyone with a teaching license, "The best teacher is simply the teacher that steals the best stuff." Our next development is a clear derivative of the museum's opening last summer. At students' request, we will conduct a "screening" of their Unsung Hero projects during our final exam period. Parents, students, and many of the contributors to these amazing projects will get to see them up close and personal in our performing arts center on the last day of school. The real-world nature of presenting these projects to the very people that they are "singing"—or those who have provided pictures, interviews, and research leads along the way—has kids working overtime with each other to create narrative arcs worth watching. I'm answering some of the greatest "what if" questions I've ever had from on-level students, and I'm watching them gain real-world leadership, cooperation, and problem-solving skills along the way.

During "critique week," students will weigh in on each other's projects for the last time before the public screening. I am confident our kids will have some serious contenders for museum space in the Hall of Unsung Heroes!

William Smithyman LMC Class visit 6 1000w


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