Class project gets students out of books and into history

February 5, 2014 

Greg Brashear, a social studies and core teacher at Henderson Bay High School, felt his world history students had created some historic reconstructions which ought to be of interest to Kids’ Corner readers. He was right.

I was in his classroom with a collection of students who were working on their studies and getting ready for a Seattle Seahawks victory in Super Bowl 48 (Roman numerals confuse me).

Brashear explained the origins of his class project and noted that, in world history, there are a lot of opportunities to learn about important events and interesting people.

“Seldom are we able to build these things and see them in reality unless we travel to Europe or other famous historical sites,” he said. “That is why we do the castle project. It gives students a sense of wonder and gives them a chance to express themselves through history and art. They can create and be part of something they see as special.”

Seniors Megan Hensley and Zach Staser made a motte-and-bailey castle.

“We spent lots of time putting in hard work with every little detail, especially by coming to school on Wednesdays,” they wrote in an email. “It has become one of the best projects in school and a good way to learn what these items would be like. Doing hands-on projects has been our favorite thing in world history.”

Callie Douglas and Shelby Hakenson said the castle project might have been the most fun and challenging thing they’ve done.

“Both of us were out most of the second week, so we resorted to Mihecraft (sic), a computer-based building program. We weren’t exactly familiar with it, but it was easy to learn and fun to use. It taught us the value of taking time in things and how to bring reality to life. We were able to bring our own castle to the real world in the exact way we dreamed.”

Sophomore Sierra McCormack thought the castle project was effective because it’s hands-on, and it takes students out of books.

“It’s helpful to your understanding of the middle ages,” McCormack said. “Applying hands-on to history was great. It really left me with an understanding of the period. Sometimes reading and writing isn’t enough.”

Junior Caitlin Koechel said it was a great experience.

“It’s a chance not to work in the textbook, to learn how to work efficiently with a partner and to be creative,” Koechel said. “It helped me learn about the many requirements needed to protect the people during that period, and helped me learn how to use my time more efficiently.”

History is one of junior Sammy Hohlbein’s favorite subjects.

“It allowed me to use all the information I learned to build a castle,” Hohlbein said. “I was able to display my creativity and historic knowledge all at once. It was a great activity because it gave my classmates and me a fun way to express ourselves and learn at the same time.”

Brashear agreed.

“This gets students out of the textbook and into the real world, where they have to collaborate, plan, execute and implement their plans into amazing projects,” he said. “The project combines many disciplines, including computer-aided drafting, some mathematics and engineering.

“My students always love this project, dedicating hours to their work, and always talk about it when they come back to see us at Henderson Bay. This truly is a special place for our students, and for educators as well.”

And that’s the truth!

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@

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