Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

Brookwood students immerse themselves in lives of historical figures

Mar 08, 2023 04:42PM ● By Julie Slama

A third-grade student dresses as Leonardo da Vinci at Brookwood Elementary’s Museum of Biographies. (Abby Wilcox/Brookwood Elementary)

One student wanted to learn about Malala Yousafzai and make a parallel connection about wanting to gain an education. Another chose to learn more about Marco Polo because her dad was born in Italy as was the Venetian merchant she studied. A third student related to Neil Armstrong as they both are in Boy Scouting, and he wants to be an astronaut just like the lunar explorer. Another picked Pablo Picasso as she likes art and discovered the world of cubism through studying his great works.

These, and others, dressed like Sacajawea to J.K. Rowling, shared the stories of these famous individuals to schoolmates and parents during Brookwood’s Museum of Biographies.

For more than a dozen years, Brookwood’s Museum of Biographies has intrigued and inspired third-grade students to learn more about famous individuals and what made them famous. It’s a cumulating activity for the 88 third-graders who each was charged to read a book in the “Who Was” biography series that shares stories of trailblazers, legends, innovators and creators, said teacher Abby Wilcox.

“They read the book a couple of times, then for three weeks, they work on research projects,” she said.

The project also includes drawing of their person and a class presentation about who they researched. The presentation could be through several projects such as a PowerPoint, painting, poster, papier mâché or paper as well as an oral presentation about when the famous person was born, died, and facts about their life. 

Their drawings were mounted on folders and are displayed during their biography fair where each student could dress up similar to their “Who Was” person.

“They get really invested in the people that they choose. It’s fun to see them take a lot of ownership in their project and their work,” Wilcox said. “They like to dress up. We had some really great costumes. We had a girl that did Maria Tallchief, so she dressed up as a ballerina. We had Leonardo da Vinci that came in a full beard and whole outfit, and we had Mark Twain in a white suit.”

She said students wore their own clothing, such as a sweater for Bill Gates, to making or buying pieces of their costumes.

“The dress up part isn’t always extravagant, some wore their normal clothes, just depending on who they pick to research and how much they take it,” Wilcox said. “Some of them really wanted to purchase a costume so they worked to earn money and save up for their costumes.”

The choice of famous people extends through the 250 titles from Harriet Tubman to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

“Over the years, they’ve added a lot more books in the series so there are some more current people like the Obamas or Oprah or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. People are being added all the time so that’s fun because we’ve got a mix of people like Mozart and then we also have Barack Obama,” she said.

Students or adults could ask questions so the third-graders could share facts and the timeline of the famous person they researched.  

“Some of the students know about it if they have siblings that have done it, or if they remember coming to see it last year, and they are excited when it’s announced and may have an idea who they want to study. When we start the project, we give them a couple of days to read an overview of a couple different people, then they can really decide who they are wanting to research,” she said, adding that the rubric is based on completion and how well students present their research.

Wilcox said the biography unit brings in written and oral communication, social studies, literature, research and learning about people in past and current communities—all skills that tie into core curriculum studies.

The Museum of Biographies is a long-standing Brookwood tradition.

“It’s a fun way to get students involved and matches with our social studies curriculum. Everybody is empowered and invested, and they’re excited to share their projects,” she said. “This is our first big project that we’ve done this year so hopefully, our next projects that we have coming up, they will be excited having already done this one. Our next big one is our critter menagerie, where they each will catch an insect and they do research on it for 14 days. They’ll watch how it eats, how it changes, what it does.”