In studying the American Revolution, Class I historians sought to uncover the largely untold stories of women who were "Unsung Heroes" of the war. In guiding them, Amanda Blicharz, assistant director of the Virginia Wing Library, found surprisingly that almost none of the women were in the online reference materials to which she typically directs students. Inspired by the girls' project, Fact Cite worked with Ms. Blicharz and history teacher Libby Parsley to add new resources on every one of the historical figures that the girls were studying! Below, Ms. Blicharz reflects on the project and some broader lessons about research that girls are learning:
What excited you about the girls' research into "Unsung Heroes"?
I am so pleased that our Winsor students are learning about these heroines from a historical period in which the information they study is dominated by the feats of men. It is enlightening for them to discover powerful, smart, brave women who fought for what they believed in and often were able to do so in part because of the false assumptions that they were powerless, unintelligent and meek.
What do you enjoy most about these kinds of projects?
I enjoy seeing students' eyes light up when they make a discovery about their topic and it inspires them to dig more deeply into it. I also always learn some new interesting facts in these assignments, which I love!
How did Fact Cite get involved?
Fact Cite has a set of databases that are very accessible for the younger grades at Winsor so I encourage students to use them for their research. In this case, though, I found that almost none of the women that the Class I students wanted to study were represented in Fact Cite. I reached out to my contact there to suggest that it would be helpful to have more women of historical importance included in their resources. I thought they might make some changes in time for the project next year, but to my surprise they were able to add all of the women in a few short weeks!
What research skills do you focus on in Class I?
From a research-skills perspective, much of the Class I year is spent developing the skill of paraphrasing. One of the first times I visit Class I history classes in the fall is to introduce this skill. The students use it all year to take their history notes as well as in assignments in other classes. Now that they have the basics down, the challenge is to sift out the information that isn't as relevant to their needs.
How did this project build on those skills?
In this project, history teacher Libby Parsley and I wanted the students to focus only on the information that was important to the historical figure's life as related to the war, rather than other biographical information such as childhood experiences. Therefore, they needed to recognize which parts of their sources needed to be paraphrased and which were extraneous. After paraphrasing information in several sources, the students had to synthesize it into their own retellings as well as go a step further and think about what information is missing from the historical record and what would they ask of this person if they could have an interview.
What do you hope to instill in students as researchers?
I hope the students learn to harness their curiosity to propel them into deeper inquiry and discovery as they get older, using the foundation that they have built in their early years at Winsor. We also focus a lot on persevering and trying different strategies when research becomes challenging, and making sure the information they use is credible.