At Murphy Elementary School in Haslett, Michigan

In March-May 2010, I volunteered to be part of the Enrichment Clusters program at Murphy Elementary School. The Clusters program is modeled on the work of Renzulli, Gentry, and Reis (2003), who advocate student-driven learning during real world projects. The program gives students the opportunity to work in multi-age groups on topics of interest to them. At Murphy Elementary, students in grades 3-5 choose to take take part in 1 1/2 hour sessions on Fridays for six weeks.

My cluster, directed by Mrs. Ann Williams (a 22-year teaching veteran), focused on “Honoring Historical Events.” Fifteen students worked together to explore the concepts of monuments and memorials.  The students developed their own project: to raise money to support the restoration of the World War One monument in Washington, DC. As part of their program, the students discussed memorials, watched videos about monuments in the United States, invited a veteran to speak to their group, and held bake and craft sales.

Here’s what we did week by week!

Week 1 (March 26): Students got to know each other and discussed the topic of the cluster. They watched a movie about various monuments in Michigan and Washington, DC. We talked about definitions of monument, memorial, and memory. We discussed how every person has individual memories and interprets the things she or he sees based on these memories. To explore this ideas, the children divided into groups of four and interrogated objects. They then shared their discussions with the entire group.

A stuffed moose, a chip clip, dollar bill, and cereal box The objects the students interrogated included a toy stuffed moose, a chip bag clip, a one dollar bill, and a cereal box. Here are some of the things the children said about their objects.

Moose: “Reminds me of the woods.” “Reminds me of Christmas.”

Dollar: “Buying things.” “Being rich.” “Can I keep this?”

Cereal box: “Eating breakfast.” “Colors.”

Chip clip: “Chester Cheetah.” “Eating chips while watching t.v.”


Week 2 (April 2): The students discussed how we can learn about memorials or historic places. The children made posters describing how they thought people could learn about a particular place. Some of their ideas included asking someone, looking at the stones, and reading signs. Here are examples of the students’ posters.

Week 3 (April 9): Students decided to raise money for the World War One Memorial in Washington, DC. They watched a video about the last living World War One veteran Frank Buckles and his quest to see the monument restored.

April 16: Spring Break

Week 4 (April 23): Students planned a bake sale and made bookmarks, featuring images of Frank Buckles and the World War One memorial. The bookmarks were sold during the bake sale on April 30. We created some nice posters to advertise the event around the school.

Week 5 (April 30): Bake sale week and coordinating details for a future visit by a veteran. The children held another bake sale and a goods/services sale on May 7 and collected donations from other classes at Murphy.

Week 6 (May 7): One of the Clusters students’ parents, a Persian Gulf War navy veteran, visited the classroom to share his experiences as a veteran with the students. The children had the opportunity to ask questions and express their thoughts about being in the military. Three students reported on interviews they did with family members who served in the armed forces.

Wrap-up: Mrs. Williams hopes to have a representative of the Buckles campaign visit the school, so the Clusters students can present a check for the funds they raised toward the monument restoration. Several students are interested in having further discussions about creating a veterans’ memorial at Murphy Elementary School. I hope to be involved with the Clusters program again next year.

Update: The Clusters students raised $600 for the monument restoration fund and presented a check to Mr. Buckles’ contact person. Way to go!




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