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Experiential Exercises put students in a situation where they can “experience” similar emotions, thoughts, sensations, etc., as were experienced in the historical topic being studied. Such activities can enable students to empathize or understand Social Studies topics and themes on a deeper level. For example, when studying 1900s immigration, push desks together and crowd students between them to create a packed boat. Play ocean sounds and project ocean and ship images. Teachers can also read poetry or first-hand accounts from immigrants who made the trip, or pose a creative scenario for students to consider during the experience. Make the experience as believable as possible by using sound effects, costume pieces, props, etc., and channel your acting skills to really involve students in the moment. Provide time for student reflection after such activities, allowing them to respond with their feelings, experiences, thoughts, etc., and connecting these back to the actual history throughout the lesson.

Historical projects have long been used to enhance learning and challenge students’ and parents’ critical thinking skills. Even in pop culture, we see this effect.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is a 1989 American science-fiction comedy buddy film and the first film in the Bill & Ted franchise in which two slackers travel through time to assemble a menagerie of historical figures for their high school history presentation.

The film was written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and directed by Stephen Herek. It stars Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston, Esquire, Keanu Reeves as Ted "Theodore" Logan, and George Carlin as Rufus. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure received generally positive reviews upon release and was commercially successful. It is now considered a cult classic. A sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, was released two years later. Bill and Ted are dimwitted metal head slacker high school students who must get a good grade in their final history oral report and pass the class. Should they fail, Ted's father, Police Captain John Logan (Hal Langdon), plans to ship Ted to a military academy in Alaska, ending Bill and Ted's fledgling band, the "Wyld Stallyns", thus altering the future. Bill and Ted struggle with the report, which asks them to envision how three historical figures would see San Dimas in the present. The two befriend Billy the Kid (Dan Shor) in The Old West, 1879 and Socrates (Tony Steedman) in Ancient Greece, 410 BC before stopping in London, 1461 where they become infatuated with Princesses Elizabeth (Kimberley Kates) and Joanna (Diane Franklin). The teens anger the princesses' father, Henry VI of England (John Karlsen), who orders their beheading, but they are rescued by Billy and Socrates. They are forced to leave without the princesses and, in the escape, the telephone booth is damaged. Dialing a random number, they land next in the Utopian future, where Bill and Ted are amazed by the music playing and that the citizens worship them. They leave after a brief stay and, believing they have plenty of time before the report, start collecting more historical figures for extra credit, including Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) in Vienna, 1901, Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David) in Kassel, 1810, Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin) in Orléans, 1429, Genghis Khan (Al Leong) in Mongolia, 1209, and Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron) in Washington, D.C. in 1863.

Check out the historical and hysterical report scene here!

An article in Educational World Historical Figure Day tells the story of a celebration held at a middle school in Moorpark, California which serves as an alternative to the traditional Halloween hoopla. Bringing together a unique collection of such personalities as Socrates, King Tut, Napoleon, Sacagawea, and Levi Strauss, this school-wide event takes on epic proportions! Find out how Mesa Verde middle schoolers get into character and bring the past to life. Included: Teacher Mike Winters shares project details, and students voice their reactions to a great learning experience.

"So many times in history classes, great emphasis is put on learning dates and places of important events, but many times we lose the personal side of what happened," teacher Mike Winters told Education World. "The goal of Historical Figure Day is to show students that the people who have changed the world throughout history were just normal people like you and me." During the Halloween season, students and staff at Mesa Verde Middle School in Moorpark, California, dress up as significant figures from the past. Historical Figure Day is the culmination of nearly two months of research for the students, who choose or are assigned a figure for study. The characters are historically significant and representative of the time frame that each grade level covers during the school year. Sixth-grade students study ancient civilizations, seventh graders examine European history, and eighth graders investigate United States history to 1945. As Winters, who teaches eighth-grade history, explains: "We hope that by participating in past events, students will learn not only about their historical figures' lives and achievements but also about the times when those people lived. Although it sometimes is a lot of work for the students and parents -- and teachers too -- I think that it is a really fun time for all!" In preparation for Historical Figure Day, students have a few weeks to research their chosen individuals and find sources of information, such as books, encyclopedias, and approved Internet sites. Students take on two to four assignments, depending on grade level, that help them develop a deeper understanding of the significance of their historical figures.

Assignments may include
  • Design an illustrated time line that lists ten important events in the life of the historical figure.
  • Develop a map that shows dates and locations where the historical figure accomplished important events in his or her life.
  • Create a day that celebrates the importance of the historical figure; include a catchy name for the day, a date to celebrate it (selected because of its significance in the figure's life), a slogan for the day, a logo, and the events to celebrate on that day.
  • Write a biographical sketch that describes the life and achievements of the historical figure.
  • Give a first-person speech in costume; the speech should describe the character's life and achievements.
All students are required to dress as their characters on Historical Figure Day and remain in costume for the entire day. Some of the figures students have portrayed include Socrates, King Tut, Napolon, Sacagawea, King Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Levi Strauss, the Wright Brothers, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As with any assignment, Winters says, some students simply view the day and the assignments as "more work." Many rise to the challenge, however, and really get into the learning experience, finding out as much as they can about their chosen historical figures. "It is really neat to see when a student goes above and beyond and does his or her best job on all aspects of the day," Winters stated. "A large amount of credit also goes to the parents of our students. Many times, they are one of the motivating factors behind getting the assignments completed and the costumes made. Without them, Historical Figure Day would not be as successful as it is."

Ten Ideas for Historical Figure Day Projects!

  1. Write a journal that recounts important events in the figure's life.
  2. Create an interview with the individual and read it, record the conversation on tape, or videotape it with a friend.
  3. Using paint or other art media, make a portrait of the figure.
  4. Write a poem about the experiences of the figure, and record it as a song.
  5. Design a Web page that highlights facts about the figure.
  6. Write a play about a pivotal moment for the historical figure.
  7. Make a scrapbook of "mementos" from the life of the figure, and explain their significance.
  8. Write and record the figure's "will" on videotape.
  9. Build a model of an important location for the figure.
  10. Create a board game based on the experiences of the figure.

Check out our website, or stop in our stores for an amazing selection of period costumes for projects, plays, dress up, Colonial days and villages and so much more!

Remember that our friends at Genesee Country Museum are having special historical events all spring and summer long!

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