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Lisbon teacher brings history to life

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LISBON - Lisbon Central School students are living history.

A class of fifth-graders lived life under the monarchy called the “Queendom” created by their teacher, Jeannette E. Burns, this week.

In the “Queendom” only the teacher is allowed to wear red and sparkly clothing in the classroom.

The lesson is part of a teaching simulation, which mimics an actual monarchy so that students can explore, experiment with and understand governing concepts before reading about them in a textbook.

Ms. Burns said she came up with the idea after reading research on how real-world learning experiences have a positive impact on students’ motivation and learning.

“We could have spent time reading about the colonists going to the new world or reading about someone else’s experience,” Ms. Burns said. “But this way the students actually experience a little bit of what it was like and that sticks with them.”

The lesson began last Friday and continued until Wednesday.

The only time the students were allowed to wear red was during math class.

“It’s required by law and part of the Common Core curriculum,” Ms. Burns said. “But it’s clear that the students are not as engaged during math class completing work sheets. They are much more excited to learn social studies.”

Although the teaching method is not new, it has sparked some controversy.

Darlene Harper said she was not told why her daughter could not wear red, one of her favorite colors, by teachers or administrators.

“It threw me for a bit,” Mrs. Harper said. “Half my daughter’s clothes are red. She said she would not be allowed to wear red the entire year. I think it would have helped if the teacher explained it to us.”

Ms. Burns admitted she did not tell students or parents the goals of the project or that it would end this week in the hopes that students would make their own conclusions about where the lesson would go.

“If I gave the students answers now or their parents told them, they wouldn’t be able to make their own discoveries and the lesson doesn’t have the same impact,” Ms. Burns said. “Five students have already rebelled and left for a new world. There were three who chose to be explorers and two who wanted to be missionaries. Fifteen students chose to play it safe.”

Mrs. Burns said one student who wore red was sent to the nurse’s office to change during a lesson.

“Any student wearing inappropriate clothing was sent to change into their gym clothes,” Ms. Burns said. “The student did not have a problem with it and was excited. The next day she brought an outfit to change into and was one of the children who wanted to rebel.”

A letter was sent home to parents with children at the end of the school Wednesday informing them of the class project and its goals.

“It’s a very unique approach,” Superintendent Erin E. Woods said. “I have been down a couple of times to watch the class and the kids seem to have lots of enthusiasm. One parent has told me his son has not enjoyed school before as much as he has this year. As soon as he gets in the car, this is all he talks about with his father.”

Ms. Burns has been teaching since 2000. She has taught fifth grade for nine years. This is the second year she has tried teaching simulated history lessons. She said she would try the lesson again next year.

“I have not seen this many kids lit up or engaged in a classroom before,” Ms. Burns said. “Last year, it took me until November to teach them concepts they are already learning within the first two weeks of school.”

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