Persell Middle School Students Take Photographs of Local Issues to Bring Social Studies to Life

On a recent sunny day, you might have seen groups of Persell Middle School eighth graders walking through downtown Jamestown wielding cameras and notebooks. This wasn’t an ordinary field trip. The students were using their cameras to document local issues, seeing how “the other half lives” in Jamestown, as a precursor to their upcoming social studies unit on the work Progressive leaders were doing in the early 20th century.

“This idea came about naturally because it is one of the first units with a plethora of photographs that the students can examine,” said Persell Middle School teacher Jason Kathman. “Having the students take photographs of their community and its issues is a natural fit as our students take many photos on a daily basis with their digital devices. We are combining what students are doing right now in their daily lives with the work that Progressive leaders were doing at the turn of the 20th century. We also thought the field trip was important because of the citizenship piece that is built into this idea. The students traveled around their community and took photos in hopes of bringing positive change.”

Part of the upcoming social studies unit talks about Jacob Riis, who was photojournalist in New York City in the late 1800s. His purpose, and that of other Muckraking Progressives, was to expose issues in society to the rich and powerful in hopes of making them notice and make changes in the community.  Riis created “How the Other Half Lives” in 1890 to document and publicize his discoveries and raise awareness of local concerns. Persell Middle School social studies teachers, Mr. Kathman, Jeff Kresge, Jayme Genco and Allyson Smith are tying in what students are learning in the classroom with what they saw and photographed on their field trip in downtown Jamestown.

Besides the connection with digital devices, which students love, participating in a multi-media experience helps students relate their own experiences to historical events, shows them that society today isn’t perfect but has improved from the past, and gives students a better feel for the work of Riis and others as they are putting themselves in their shoes and replicating their work.

“Getting out of the classroom and relating what we are learning to real-life always makes learning more interesting,” said Persell Middle School eighth grader Beck Anderson. “It shows us how people are living or what problems are in cities today and then, we can compare and contrast that to what we learn about in the past and decide if it’s better or not.”

Students said that during the walk they noticed issues that otherwise they might have driven past and also realized that they have the power to both ruin and improve society by taking the right actions now and in the future. The teachers plan to use the photographs in the next few weeks to help bring their social studies unit to life for their students.

posted on 11/07/2014 - filed under: Academics, Community, Middle School, Social Studies, Spotlight, Students, teachers