Finding the Facts Behind the Historical Fiction
Ms. Austin's Fourth Grade Class
HOW did we find out all this information?
While we were reading the book, Forbidden Friendship, we kept writing down questions we had about what really happened. Since North Adams, Massachusetts is right down the road from our school, we were particularly curious about the important places in the book, such as the train depot, Sampson Shoe Factory, and the Burlingame home where Lue Gim Gong and Fanny Burlingame started their life-long friendship.
After reading the book and organizing our questions into who, what where, when, and how questions we invited technology experts from Hampshire Educational Collaborative, or HEC, to come into our classroom and teach us the fundamentals of web design and storyboarding. We followed the same process that movie directors use, organizing all our questions, and deciding what was important, what wasn't, and what would be the best way o design are website for our "audience" - other fourth graders across the country.
Once we had our questions and design ideas we invited a local historian, Paul Marino, to come to our classroom and share what he knew about Chinese workers who came to North Adams. Lucky for us he had lots of information to share. With Mr. Marino as our own historical consultant, we contacted the North Adams Historical Society Museum and archivist from the North Adams Public Library, and set up visits. Thanks to a grant from the North Adams Historical Society we were able to hire a bus for the day and visited the museum, library, and took a tour of downtown North Adams. We spent the whole day looking at primary resources, and gather information to help answer our questions.
On our "research day" we first stopped at the North Adams Historical Society Museum, where Library curator, Gene Carlton, showed us a map of North Adams, from the same time period we were researching, 1870. He also shoed us an exhibit on the history of shoemaking in North Adams and gave us a primer on how to handle and interpret primary resources. We took photographs of some primary resources, such as magazine articles, maps and old photographs, and had a lot of our questions answered. We took notes and used all we learned to create this web site.
Next we went over to the North Adams Library Research Room and met archivist, Katharine Westwood. Ms. Westwood showed us how to look up primary resources in the library's archives. She then brought out all the resources we had picked, thinking they would help us in our search for the real story behind, Forbidden Friendship. We looked through government documents, such as censuses and death records, letters and newspaper articles, and lots of photographs. We took photographs, wrote in our journals, and had Ms. Westwood email us some documents we felt were important. One of our favorite things was when Ms. Westwood took us into the archive vault, a temperature and humidity controlled room where old documents are stored. Everything we learned her also went into creating our web site. We began to be amazed at how much we were learning about our own area and history through investigating just one small historical fiction. One students said, "Imagine what we would learn if we investigated all the historical fictions we read this year! Who could have guessed there is so much to learn about North Adams?"
We took everything back to our classroom and began putting together the story the primary sources were telling us. Mr. Marino helped us put our research into a story and our teacher, Ms. Austin, worked with us to put these stories into a web page. A parent of a students, Adam Richardson, volunteered as our computer expert, and helped us put this web site together. We found a lot of holes in the stories we were learning and soon realized that researching local history is almost never ending. Each person has their own point of view and story to tell- and all seemed interesting to us. It was hard sometimes, to stay focused on just our story - their was so much more we wanted to learn.