Macon Early College (MEC) hosted its annual Civil War Expo on Mar. 14, MEC teacher, Meghan Reynolds has required her United States history class to do a research project every year focusing on a part of the Civil War, such as a battle, person, or societal event. Each student chooses a topic that interests them and then they are required to write a research paper, create a PowerPoint presentation, and then create an “artifact” that represents their Civil War topic, all culminating with the Civil War Expo. The students then gather in the lobby of MEC with their presentation boards and/or “artifacts” and engage passers-by in conversation about their chosen topics. The person, whether it is a student or not, then fills out a questionnaire describing the presentation and the presenter's performance.
In the lobby Thursday morning, the small space was overflowing and Kishin Aruwani, the excitement among the students was palpable. Noah Miller excitedly described his presentation board, energetically moving through the timeline of the presidential showdown between George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln in 1864, that potentially could have changed the course of the war and life in the United States as we know it. The Duke University hopeful has two more years left at MEC and said he enjoys certain eras of U.S. History, the Civil War being one, and he appreciated the significance of the project.
“It was a good experience and I learned a lot. It's important to know about history,” said Miller. “It is important because events in the past impact the future through precedent.”
Second year MEC student, Hope Voorhees, told the story about the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine credited with sinking of the U.S.S. Housatonic in February 1864, only to sink a short time after the attack. It was found 136 years later off the coast of Charleston.
“I went to Charleston and I got to see the Hunley,” said Voorhees. “It was just really cool getting to see it and now doing this project to learn more about it. My favorite thing to study is science, but I really enjoyed this project.”
This is the third year that Reynolds has had her students work on the research expo. She uses the experience to teach students how to research efficiently with not only the sources they use, but in consideration of time constraints as well.
“I used to assign the project later and they got it done in a couple of weeks, but this year we kind of spaced it out,” said Reynolds. “I create a list and they choose what they want to research. I think it's important that they get to choose what they are interested in. Not to mention, a lot of the people they are presenting to, know a lot about the Civil War so if they give some false information they are going to get called on it. It's important for them to learn how to conduct good, solid research.”
Though the presenters often seemed nervous in the beginning, by their closing statements the shaky voices and nervous laughter had calmed, leaving the students with pride for the knowledge they had just passed along to the person eager to learn about Winfield Scott (presented by Elena Dykes), John Brown (presented by Kishin Aruwani), Abraham Lincoln (presented by Ryan Gillig), or Thomas J. Jackson (presented by Zayra Diaz), among many others.
“A lot of these kids are 15 years old, they don't have any experience in public speaking,” Reynolds said. “This is sort of a no pressure way of getting them used to it. It's a one-on-one or one-on-two situation.”
“I can’t take all the credit for this idea. I drew inspiration from our English teacher, Holly Cabe, who does a short story fair every year,” said Reynolds, “It’s basically along the same lines as the Civil War Expo, where students are assigned a series of short stories and they must research the author, then present it to the school. I borrowed this idea for the Civil War Expo.”