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Face time for history

Rock Falls students create Facebook pages for famous blacks

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ROCK FALLS – If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a Facebook page, his cover photo might show him standing before a sea of people at the Washington Monument.

If Malcolm X had a Facebook page, his friends might include Elijah Muhammad, Fidel Castro and Muhammad Ali.

And if Jesse Owens had a Facebook page, his status update in August 1936 might have read, "I won four gold medals in the Olympic games."

Sixth-graders at Rock Falls Middle School created mock Facebook pages for famous people in black history – one of several elements of their 3-week-long projects during Black History Month.

Social studies teacher Todd Sigel and language arts teacher Sharee O'Donnell collaborated to create a cross-curricular project that engaged students in not only history, but also research, writing and public speaking.

"We wanted to bring in more intense research, more essay-type writing," Sigel said.

"We really wanted to focus on research – taking knowledge and applying it," O'Donnell added.

The students worked in groups of two or three to research a famous person in black history, then create a mock Facebook page for the person that included many of the same elements as a real Facebook page:

• A cover photo and a profile picture

• An "about" section that detailed basic facts about the person, such as birthday, hometown, family, education and occupation

• A "friends" section that included several people to whom the person was connected (and a brief explanation of the connection)

• A photo album that included a few pictures of moments in the person's life (along with captions and tags of others who might be in the pictures)

• A timeline of 10 events, written in first-person, like real-life status updates

The students did not sign up for actual online Facebook accounts to create their pages; they simply cut out photos and text and arranged them on posterboards to resemble the layout of real Facebook pages.

The students responded well to the project because of its tie to the ubiquitous Facebook – even among middle-schoolers, who technically are too young to use it, the teachers said.

O'Donnell said the students embraced the research portion of the project and internalized the information.

"They worked so well collecting the information, translating it into first-person and getting it ready for the Facebook page, that by the time it came time to write the paper, it was easy for them," she said.

Several students spoke somewhat off-the-cuff during their presentations Thursday and Friday. It was clear they knew their stuff.

The project has been successful and likely could be applied to other lessons beyond black history, the teachers said.

Sigel said he might use it for a unit on women in history.

"We just need to tweak it – pare it down a bit," so students don't spend too much time researching only to use a small portion of the information they collected on the subject, he said.

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