Lou Wyman, owner of Wyman Museum, shows Sandrock Elementary School third-graders a vintage gum machine Wednesday afternoon at the museum. Students visited the museum to wrap up a unit that simulated life in an 1800s one-room schoolhouse.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Lou Wyman, owner of Wyman Museum, shows Sandrock Elementary School third-graders a vintage gum machine Wednesday afternoon at the museum. Students visited the museum to wrap up a unit that simulated life in an 1800s one-room schoolhouse.

3rd-graders in Craig wrap up simulation of pioneer life

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Apple Valley School Project

Dalton Reed showed a group of wide-eyed third-graders how heat can shape metal Wednesday afternoon.

At least one of them had a hard time believing such a transformation was possible.

Reed, a blacksmith and mechanic at Wyman Museum, showed the children metal that had been molded into radically different forms using flame, an anvil and hammer.

“What?” one student said, his voice full of wonder.

The Sandrock Elementary School students were on a trip back in history.

Actually, their trip started about a month ago.

That’s when they began a unit designed to teach them about what life was like for students in a one-room schoolhouse.

The trip to the museum marked the end of the journey and allowed them to go “back to the future,” said Julie Sperl, a Sandrock Elementary third-grade teacher.

She’s been teaching the unit for about eight years, she said, but the concept has been around longer and has circulated throughout Craig elementary schools.

The unit attempts to simulate life in Apple Valley School, a hypothetical one-room schoolhouse of the mid- to late-1800s.

“I think it’s just really engaging (for) them because it’s more of a hands-on” activity, Sperl said.

Students work toward graduation by earning points “based on old fashioned rules,” Sperl said, which means students earn points for having clean hands and tidy desk areas, among other things.

They take on identities of pioneer children, complete with family histories, and they have to grapple with the uncontrollable events that a pioneer might have faced.

Students receive fate cards during the simulation that can affect graduation points.

For example, Sperl said, one of the fate cards may say a fire has broken out, which causes some children to miss school and lose several graduation points as a result.

“So they learn about how little things really impact a pioneer,” she said.

The unit also included a visit to the Museum of Northwest Colorado and culminated Wednesday with a graduation ceremony and recognition of students who graduated at the top of their class.

Third-grader Edgar Esquivel was one of them.

As he held a small cup of applesauce he and his fellow third-graders had made by hand at Wyman Museum, he pondered on what he had learned during the unit.

“I never noticed that there (were) a bunch of kids in one classroom,” Esquivel said finally.

What he means, Sperl said, is that he wasn’t aware that students of all different ages went to class together in a one-room schoolhouse.

She hopes her students came away from the simulation with an appreciation for how much society has changed in the past 150 years or so.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said. “… Pioneering was a hard way of life, and they’re very fortunate.”

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