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Toy soldiers illustrate W.Va. history project

By Chelsea Fuller

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN -- History leapt off the pages and into the hands of the eighth graders at South Middle School who learned about the French and Indian War through an innovative game.

Darialouise Collins, a West Virginia Studies teacher at South Middle, was preparing her lessons on the French and Indian War when her teaching assistant Phil Caskey, a secondary education master's student at WVU, suggested a creative game that would allow their students to recreate pivotal battles while learning history.

"Phil ordered 140 authentic toy soldiers that represented the British Red Coats, the Native Americans, the French and the Colonial militiamen," Collins said. "He had the students paint them according to how they would have actually looked during that time."

After three or four days of painting their soldiers and completing research on the subject, the students played a two-day game that recreated historical events, including the ambush that the French and Native Americans sprung on British Gen. Edward Braddock as his troops traveled to Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh, officials said.

"Once the painting was done, I brought in a table top to recreate the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755," Caskey said. "We re-created the battle perfectly using trees, sand for the roads and other items."

Collins said the enthusiasm expressed by her students was shocking.

"The students were so excited to get to class and play the game," she said. "They didn't even want to leave, and how often does that happen in a history class? They were talking about it all throughout the day."

Earlier this month, the students created "what if " scenarios that forced them to think of alternative occurrences that could have changed the outcomes of the battles they studied, Caskey said.

"This part really made it come to life," Caskey said. "It is experimental learning -- recreating history puts it tangibly in their hands. The beautiful thing is that once you study something like we did with the war and the different battles, you can recreate different aspects of it to show how things could have worked out differently."

Collins said the whole experience was just as great for her and Caskey as it was for the students.

"I thought it was wonderful, because so many times, students don't get a real hands-on learning experience when learning history," Collins said.

Caskey, a history aficionado, said he got the idea from his father, who was also an educator. After some thought, he knew the toy soldier game was the perfect method for teaching his students about the French and Indian War.

"It's really cool, because it makes history come alive and you don't get that from a book or doing a worksheet," Caskey said. "Some students are good with textbook learning, while others are better with hands-on and audio-visual learning. This lesson did it all."


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