Becoming History Detectives

Pittsburgh's History Detectives logoFor 27 days this summer, rising fifth and sixth graders from the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy explored the History Center’s exhibitions and collections with one goal in mind: to become history detectives.

By using primary sources from the Detre Library & Archives to explore the story of Kay Gimbus, a Pittsburgher who served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC) during World War II, campers were able to develop the skill of analyzing photos.

The campers also explored the We Can Do It! WWII exhibition to learn how to analyze artifacts. They developed historical empathy and gained a better understanding of life on the home front by baking ration cookies using a World War II recipe.

Campers also used iPads to complete photo scavenger hunts about immigration in the Special Collections Gallery. Then they participated in a cooking demo and cultural discussion led by Dalel and Leila Khalil, of Khalil’s Restaurant. Finally, they explored the case of the Biddle Boys using archival sources.

Toward the end of the summer, campers worked in small groups to create short digital stories, or documentaries, with their iPads about a Pittsburgh history topic. They presented the digital stories to family members and their fellow campers on the last day of camp in the Digital Storyteller’s Theater. The digital stories covered such topics as the explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal during the Civil War, Josh Gibson and Negro League baseball in Pittsburgh, and the Westinghouse Electric Company’s contributions to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Student work from Summer Dreamers Academy
An example of student work from Summer Dreamers Academy.
Pittsburgh's History Detectives digital story screen capture
An example of one of the digital stories produced by campers this summer.

Campers earned up to nine digital badges through participation in the Pittsburgh City of Learning initiative. These digital badges show the learning that takes place outside of the classroom. Campers were able to show that they worked together as part of a Digital Story Production Team and that they were a Pittsburgh History Explorer.

You can learn more about the Pittsburgh’s History Detectives program by reading these three articles by student reporters from Pittsburgh Youth Media that covered it: Summer Dreamers Become Pittsburgh’s History Detectives, Summer Dreamers Turn History Detectives, and History Detectives Discover Local Pittsburgh History.

Summer Dreamers Academy: Biddle Boys
Archivist Sierra Green helps campers put together evidence in the Case of the Biddle Boys.
Summer Dreamers Academy digital storytelling
Campers used iPads to take photos of Pittsburgh immigration stories and present their findings.
Summer Dreamers Academy: WWII Rationing
Campers using a World War II recipe to bake ration cookies.

Nate Rodda is the education programs coordinator at the Heinz History Center.

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