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Fifth graders learn history through native American housing projects

Published 12:00am Thursday, November 11, 2010

NATCHEZ — Spending a few hours with his grandmother constructing a tepee from canvas, thread and wooden sticks helped Morgantown Elementary fifth grader Jacolby Williatems appreciate ancient Native American culture — especially the females.

Williams’s social studies teacher, Warren Brown, pointed to Williams’ tepee, which was less than two feet tall.

“How long did it take Native Americans to build that?” Brown asked.

“Fifteen minutes,” Williams said quickly.

The fact stuck out in Williams’ mind.

“And who built them?” Brown asked.

“The women,” Williams said.

Brown has been teaching a unit on ancient Native American shelters and lifestyles for the last six weeks, and Williams’ tepee was one of 145 projects recently completed by the fifth grade.

Actually constructing the projects helps students become involved in what they are learning, so it is more likely to stick with them, Brown said.

In addition, since the students built the projects at home, parents and grandparents got a chance to get involved in their child’s education.

Brown said the parent involvement has been great, and he has heard positive responses from the parents, as well.

Brown said his students have found the cultural clashes and similarities among various Indian tribes the most interesting.

Instead of rote memorization, students can apply what they know about their own lifestyle to make connections and contrasts to what they learn in school.

And by adding a hands-on element, the culture becomes more real.

Each student chose from four types shelters. The shelters included a tepee, a Roundhouse, a Pueblo and a Longhouse or large house.

Before digging into the Elmer’s glue, popsicle sticks and other hobby shop items, however, students were required to conduct research of their shelter of choice and write a paper about it.

From there, the students took over, and were able to gain respect for the craftsmanship of ancient tribes firsthand.

Williams said his favorite part of the project was the trial and error process of trying to get the Teepee to stand up.

In the end, two sticks leaning in one direction and two sticks leaning the opposite direction planted his accident dwelling perfectly upright in the green felt-covered, cardboard-box-bottomed earth.

And the best part about the hands-on project for Williams was the shake up it provided in his after-school routine.

“It was fun because it took up a lot of time instead of sitting in front of the TV,” Williams said.