It might be 124 years after the 1889 Johnstown Flood, but it still continues to be an intriguing piece of American history.
This past school year, seventh- and eighth-graders from A.J. McMullen Middle School in Markleysburg, Fayette County, completed a project on the flood for the Literacy Design Collaborative, which is a loosely affiliated group of teachers and other partners building out a template-based approach to the literacy demands of college and the workplace.
Projects are to be developed with a common framework so instruction can be shared across a wide variety of grades, content areas and instructional approaches.
“We are hoping other districts in this region will see our work and be encouraged to follow our example,” said Joshua Scully, the social studies teacher who oversaw the project. “The flood is pretty local for us and the kids were somewhat familiar, so this gave them a chance to better understand how amazing a situation it was, and for the most part they were fascinated with it.”
The project was supported by the Teaching with Primary Sources Department at California University of Pennsylvania, which donated a classroom set of David McCullough’s book “The Johnstown Flood” to Scully’s pupils.
Instruction specialists from the university come to the school once a month to read excerpts from McCullough’s book and talk about the flood.
Because the railroad played a significant role in the story, pupils took a field trip to the Fayette Central Railroad, a now defunct tourist train.
“This allowed the students to experience what riding on the railroad would have been like for individuals at that time,” Scully said.
And thanks to a grant from the Uniontown Target, the eighth-graders were able to take a trip to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial in South Fork, where they saw the former lakebed, the remains of the dam and the park film.
The project culminated with pupils having to write a persuasive essay discussing what party they felt was at fault for the flood.
“A vast majority thought it was weather based and that the club owners (South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club) were at fault,” Scully said.
The final step was to take everything the students did over the course of the project and present it to the Literacy Design Collaborative Showcase that was held Wednesday in Lancaster.
“The goal was for students to thoroughly know the story of the Johnstown Flood and understand the different possible causes of it,” Scully said.
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