This past fall about 120 eighth grade Carpenters Middle School students did research papers on everything from the history of Cades Cove to the history of the Smoky Mountain Raceway.
Teacher Courtney Whitehead said the project culminated in a Local History Extravaganza on Nov. 19 at the school where different guest speakers from the community came and shared their stories with the students.
“We had eighth grade teachers take this on as a cross-curriculum project and students did reports from different areas,” principal Mike Crabtree said. “Then they had guest speakers come in.”
Whitehead said the first-time project stemmed from the state coming down with new standards. “The new standards are rigorous at best and this was an effort to cover those standards,” she said.
Whitehead and Beth Brown team teach, meaning Whitehead teaches grammar and writing for 45 minutes and Brown teaches reading for 45 minutes. The two team teachers opted to do a research paper that would turn into a project/speech. “That would cover a good chunk of the standards. That was the effort behind that,” she said. “As far as it being local history, that goes in line with getting the kids interested.”
Whitehead said she has found assigning topics such as “The Pyramids of Egypt” often didn’t interest the students like asking them to do research on a subject closer to home. “We spent two weeks on local research. They picked their own topics with my guidance and approval.”
Topics ranged from Cades Cove history to the history of the Smoky Mountain Raceway. “The topic doesn’t matter so long as the students learn skills required by TCAP,” she said. “If they learn how to document sources and learn how to write a research paper correctly, the topic is irrelevant,” she said.
This was the students’ first research paper where they had to give parenthetical citation and have a work cited page. The students also had to interview people in addition to using sources. “The students did a good job. What surprised me most was that they did a good job of talking to parents, grandparents and neighbors,” she said. “I don’t think they realized how much history they have surrounding us.”
Whitehead said the parents also got involved and that helped keep students motivated. “It got parents in here and made kids realize their work had a reason,” she said.