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Sandy Journal

Altara Elementary students showcase creativity and knowledge in biography project

Jun 04, 2024 02:47PM ● By Julie Slama

Altara third-grader Asher Cornia presents his biography poster on Albert Einstein to his class. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

In a main hallway at Altara Elementary, there were likenesses of actress Julie Andrews next to novelist R. L Stine and basketball star Chris Paul sharing the wall with primatologist Jane Goodall. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks shared the space next to her with Edward Teach, better known as the pirate Blackbeard.

These, and many other posters were drawn by third-grade students. On each poster were highlights of the famous people’s achievements.

Third grader Will Thomas chose to spotlight surfer Bethany Hamilton.

“She’s a professional surfer who survived losing 60% of her blood during a shark attack in Hawaii when she was 13,” he said. “I first learned about her from the movie ‘Soul Surfer,’ which my dad really likes so I was excited to read about her.”

Will said that by reading a biography about her life, he learned that it was a tiger shark that attacked her and bit off her left arm. 

“She still went back to surfing; she didn’t let it stop her. She talks to people about it and tells them they can do hard things,” he said. “I’m hoping people learned that when I presented my poster about her in class.”

Will, and others, shared what they learned by reading biographies, most commonly books from the “Who Is?” series, in class.

Classmate Grace Sorenson also learned about resilience while reading about author J.K. Rowling.

“She was turned down by 12 publishers before one decided to print her books,” she said. “She never gave up even with all those rejections.”

Grace also learned that the publisher worried about printing the novels under her real name, Joanna.

“They told her that boys likely wouldn’t read it if a female wrote it, so she used her first initial. She didn’t have a middle name, so she added one, so she’d have a middle initial,” she said. “It was fun to present it to my class, but I had to wait a week for my turn.” 

Their teacher, Marcy Hadean, said the book report assignment begins with students selecting to read a biography on someone who interests them.

That meant in the 57 reports, there were a couple Taylor Swifts and six Abraham Lincolns.

“Neil Armstrong was another popular pick because we just finished reading an article about him being the first man to step on the moon in our space unit,” she said. “I hope by picking out someone they wanted, students enjoyed reading about people and gained an understanding that this is another form of reading that’s enjoyable. I hope they’re learning to love reading.”

The process began with selecting a book in October and creating a poster about their famous person. 

“Some of them took a strong interest and went on to learn more about their person by doing more research or watching a television show or movie,” Hadean said.

Each day a couple students presented their posters to the class; they finished the process in February. 

The project falls in line with the state core curriculum with speaking and listening. She said they also learned how to make eye contact, project their voice, summarize what they learned, provide accurate information and many, memorized their presentation. 

“I want them to learn to be comfortable with presenting to a group to have the knowledge and the confidence to be able to express themselves,” Hadean said.

For Will and Grace, presenting was their favorite part aside from learning about their famous people. 

“I love watching the kids’ excitement; mostly they glow. They love who they’ve picked; they fall in love with their person, and they think their person is the best. So, they are really excited about sharing about these people’s lives,” she said. 

For others like third-grader Evelyn Rowe, a favorite part was creating the poster.

Hadean gives students time to put them together well so others can enjoy them.

“I want students to explore what the person thought, what they saw, what they felt and believed in, and then what they did,” she said. 

For example, Evelyn learned about Helen Keller, an author and advocate for people with disabilities. 

“She was happy when she was learned how to communicate,” she said. “She wrote about her life and the first time she could understand ‘water’ by feeling it and realizing it with finger spelling. I learned that once she could communicate, she set her mind that she could do anything.”

Her classmate, Charlotte McFarland, learned about zookeeper and conservationist Steve Irwin.

“He grew up with his parents who owned a zoo and he and his dad had a show, called ‘The Crocodile Hunter,’” she said. “He taught a lot of people about animals and told them they shouldn’t harm any animal. He died when a stingray pierced his heart, but he died doing what he loved.”

The biography reports are a tradition at Altara that began before Hadean, and she’s been teaching at the school for 12 years.

“Everybody’s always excited to see the biography posters go up and older students remember who they did,” she said. “We leave them up for a good solid month, so parents can come and see and enjoy them and other students can learn from them.” λ