Use the Activities
Putting It All Together
The following activities engage students in learning about the role of schools and education in communities past and present. Students will have the opportunity to compare their own school experiences with those of students in the Freeman School in Nebraska.
Activity 1: And Today In School....
Explain to students that they will be assuming the role of a teacher at the Freeman School and recreating one month of journal entries. Students will be responsible for writing four entries, one for each week of the month they choose. They may choose from one of the three time periods: 1870-1890, 1890-1910, or 1910-1930. Remind students to reexamine the readings, photographs, and paintings from this lesson for details they may want to include along with their textbooks for the national context. Journal entries should include daily school attendance, subjects taught, and other events that took place at the school. Some difficulties teachers might have faced would include inclement weather, maintenance problems with the building, supply shortages, illnesses, student discipline, or curriculum disagreements with parents or school board members. The journal may take note of after-hours activities and special events held at the school.
After the students have completed the journals, divide the class into groups of 4-5 students. Ask them to share their journal entries with each other about what happened at their school for the month. Other role-playing activities might be from different points of view (a student or school board member) or presented in a different manner (an illustration such as George Marsden's painting or a skit).
Many teachers in one-room schools kept records or journals of what went on at the school in which they taught. These journals of record, as they were called, documented the happenings in the classroom and the after-hours activities at the schools. Some teachers wrote every day in their journals while other teachers wrote once every week or two. Teachers were the keepers of the school and responsible to the county superintendent of schools. Eventually many of these journals became excellent primary sources of information about the one-room schools. Unfortunately, the Freeman School records were destroyed in the late 1960s when the school closed.
Activity 2: To Preserve or Not to Preserve
A. Members who want to preserve the school in some form or other
Divide the class into groups with 6-8 students in each group. They will be role-playing a citizens' group who has just bought (or been given) 5 acres of land on which the abandoned but historic Freeman School is located. Each citizens' group will need to decide for their community what to do with this building. Assign students to play one of the following roles:
1. A farmer whose family helped to build the historic school
2. A former student of the historic school
B. Members who want to see the historic school torn down to make room for their project
1. A business person who thinks the land would be a perfect spot for a new business
2. A land developer who thinks the land is perfect for building a new subdivision
C. Members who are neutral
The remaining committee members are undecided about what to do with the school and have no feeling one way or the other about its fate.
The students playing members who have a strong position (either for or against) will try to persuade the undecided committee members to vote for their solution. Ask students to discuss the following questions in making their decision:
1. If they tear it down, what will they do with the land? How does it benefit the community? Does it benefit all members of the community or only some members? What costs (economic and cultural) come with a decision to tear it down?
2. If they keep the school, what should they do with the building? Should it be redone to an early appearance or left as it is? If they decide on a restoration, how will they pay for it? Where will the skilled workers come from to carry out a restoration? What kind of activities should the group allow at the site?
The whole group will need to vote on the question: Should they tear down the building or keep it? Each member should justify his or her decision about the future of the building and the land. When they have finished, have the groups share what they chose to do with the rest of the class.
Activity 3: How Did My Town Grow
1. What other buildings were located around the school?
Ask students to find out which school in their city or county is the oldest and then conduct research to recreate the history of this school (or alternately about the school they are attending.) School historical information may be found through the district superintendent of schools, the local library, a local historical society or museum, community newspapers, or interviews with former students or teachers. Information the students should try to locate should include:
2. Was the school the first building in the area? Sometimes, communities sprung up around early one-room or first schools in an area. Was this the case with their community's school?
3. What types of activities took place at the school, both educational and community?
4. Has the building been changed, replaced, or demolished? If there are early pictures or floor plans, describe the changes. Why might these changes have happened?
Then ask students to share their findings, through oral, written, display, or computer slide-show presentations. Contact the school district's records managers to see if they would like to attend the student presentations, possibly for the purposes of adding the student research to the district's collection.