Pine-Richland students create novel Dickens museum


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"Unfathered" may be an unusual topic for ninth grade honors English, especially since it isn't a word found in a dictionary.

However, faced with selecting not just a theme from Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," but a theme that begins with the letter "U," this student -- Tom Sarabok, 14 -- decided to try to make it work.

And work it did.

With detail and eloquence, Tom set up a display last week in the classroom-turned-museum that explored the impact of key character Lucie's being "unfathered" in her formative years.

Tom and his fellow ninth-graders in the class of Leticia Harshman embraced a culminating activity -- the creation of The A-Zs of A Tale of Two Cities Museum Exhibit.

The "museum," which transformed Room 319 of the Pine-Richland High School into a museum for three days, capped a six-month reading of the book that informed readers that "it was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

"Very successful," was how Ms. Harshman described the first-ever project that saw hundreds of high school students tour the "museum," which was handcrafted with an array of projects that explored the themes, settings and facts associated with the novel.

"The students have an opportunity to create their own art then to put it on display. And to create that art, they were asked to explore intangible concepts and make them tangible. Then, they got a chance to assume the role of teacher when they presented their projects to [the other] students [who toured the museum they created,]" Ms. Harshman explained. "This is the epitome of teaching."

Students in her class knew from the beginning of the school year that they would be reading the novel then creating a "museum exhibit" based on an assigned letter of the alphabet. Once a week, the students worked on the exhibit based on having completed two chapters of reading in the book.

Kyra Laubacher, 14, explored art and architecture of the time period for an "A" exhibit. "I really enjoyed this. I'm an artsy person so this gave me a chance to look at a topic I enjoyed and link it to the story," she said. She created a model of the Bastille from the book and also presented prints of famous paintings from the period.

Abby Biernesser explored French food for F; Carly McCaffrey made a display of weapons for W; Helena Stone informed visitors about Queen Marie Antoinette for Q.

Ms. Harshman said the project helped students bring to life London and Paris of the 1800s as "A Tale of Two Cities" was read in the way it had been intended to be read by its author, in serialized form. She called the exercise of reading, research and production of an exhibit "scholarly and artistic."

From a teaching perspective, Ms. Harshman said the project helped her to take a difficult and inaccessible novel that has been part of English 9 curriculum for decades and make it more understandable and enjoyable.

Teachers throughout the building were given an opportunity to allow their students to "tour" the museum during the first half of each of three days starting Feb. 6. Hundreds of students accepted the invitation.

Ms. Harshman said she expects the successful project to be assigned again next year.

neigh_north

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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