CHAMPAIGN — If you need to learn anything about the civil rights movement — from the events that influenced it to how it changed society — a fifth-grader can probably fill you in.
Fifth-graders in Katie Snyder's class at Stratton Leadership and Microsociety Magnet School in Champaign spent part of Thursday afternoon teaching parents, mentors, students from other classes and administrators about various facets of the movement.
They were putting on an expo after researching specific topics of their choice relating to the movement.
They then wrote reports, made projects (called artifacts), pulled out facts for a spoken report and actually gave the report to their classmates and expo visitors. Each student shared a section of a presentation board, on which they created displays and hung their written reports.
The activity is meant to combine literacy, writing, oral literacy and social studies, Snyder said.
"It's more fun for the kids," she said, because they're researching topics they're interested in. They're also motivated to read at higher levels as they examine sources for information and are expected to learn more about their topics as they make their artifacts.
Snyder said she likes to invite people to the expos to show what she called the students' "authentic learning."
Many Stratton fifth-graders were obviously passionate about their topics, which varied widely.
For example, Rowen Enstrom carefully explained how escaping slaves communicated without words, using quilt squares. For example, a "Wagon Wheel" square could be used to tell others to pack, and the "Flying Geese" square tells those who see it to head north. The "Drunkard's Path" square told escaping slaves to travel in a zig-zag pattern to confuse anyone who might be following them.
Nearby, Cayla Risinger and Audrey Adelston shared what they had learned about slave escape routes and safe houses where they stayed on the Underground Railroad.
Fifth-grader Silas Jones showed visitors an enamel "colored" sign used to enforce segregation. The sign belongs to Snyder and was originally from Texas. A friend of her brother-in-law's took it down when Jim Crow laws were changed.
Snyder showed her students how the sign, made out of enamel, was built to last, as if those who made it and put it up expected the laws not to change.
The sign is an example of a real artifact from the civil rights movement, but Snyder's students also made their own and are expected to learn more about their topics by doing so, she said.
Fifth-grader Samaia Jones researched Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman, the first African-American woman to become a licensed pilot.
She made a clay plane, which was painted gold and featured a spinning propeller and a small pilot. Her classmate, Yaara Amit, demonstrated a small pilot falling out of the plane, which is how Coleman died.
Nearby, Dominick Long showed the artifact he made after learning about Emmett Till and his importance to the civil rights movement.
Inspired by an illustration in the book, "A Wreath for Emmett Till," Long made several models of open caskets, filled with flowers. The caskets featured typed facts about Till and the civil rights movement, both positive and negative, on their sides.
Snyder said she hosts several expos in her classroom each year, on topics such as World War II, the Great Depression and more.
As students take state standardized tests this week, listening to each others' spoken reports and preparing their classroom for the expo allowed students to "let off steam" after taking tests while still learning, Snyder said.
Long said he enjoyed learning about Till, as well as the topics his classmates studied.
"I liked that, eventually, blacks stood up, and they won, just out of courage," he said.