What if breakfast cereals promoted historical figures?

A few years back I was lucky to go to a PD on teaching with Heroes. Dennis Denenberg is an amazing presenter. His joy for teaching history with heroes is catching. His presentation was both entertaining, informative, and up lifting. I love going to PD’s that teach a concept the way it should be taught, meaning, this guy didn’t just talk at us, he involved us just as he would involve his students. So as I was looking for a project to keep my 7th graders from imploding the last week of school, I remembered a little project he did with his high school students. I didn’t want them to do another formal presentation, so I needed something that would allow them to do research but present in a more informal manner. I couldn’t find my file where I had stored all of my notes, but luckily someone had posted the very thing I was looking for on the Internet. I then adapted these instructions to fit my topic. Cereal Box Heroes is a great research activity. Its fun, its silly, and it allows the students to use their research skills, learn as they go, and then present their new-found information in a creative and fact filled way. We were studying Exploration, so I started by assigning each student a different explorer. I even included some outliers just to mess with their minds. Any one heard of Zheng He? He just may have discovered America before Columbus did. What I also about Mr. Denenberg’s approach to teaching about heroes, is that he wants kids to see that heroes have faults. There is both good and bad in people, true heroes are human after all. And what better subject than Explorers to get that point across to students. What effects did these Explorers have on the people/environments they encountered?

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My version of what Martin Luther’s cereal would like.

I started by making an example for a person the students had recently studied as a guide. The front of the box has a catchy title, the name of the explorer, and some sort of picture. One short side has interesting quotes said by the hero. The other short side has interesting trivia, you know the stuff that isn’t really relevant in the biography. The back is where the students write a biography of the person. I had specific things I wanted them to research as well as specific aspects of the person’s life to analyze. Did this explorer fit the stereotype? Was he motivated by the same things that other explorers were motivated by? What were they looking for and what did they actually find? What were their effects on the populations they encountered? I tried to make the instructions really specific for the biography so that it would discourage large “cut and pastes” from Wikipedia. What follows is a gallery of finished projects. Some were exceptional, some were mediocre. But it was the last week of school. Next year I hope to try it in the middle of the year. This way I hope I see a bit more quality in the finished product.

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