Employees and supporters of the Gettysburg National Military Park are gearing up for a live satellite broadcast from the Pennsylvania battlefield to schools across the country on May 3, when 4th through 8th graders can travel back in time to the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
The goal of the broadcast, according to its organizers, is to help students gain a greater understanding of the common Civil War soldier, the organization of the Civil War armies, and the battle’s historical context.
“Gettysburg: The Soldier’s Battle” will focus on one soldier from a Confederate regiment and one from a Union regiment during one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Scott Harwig, the military park’s supervisory historian, hopes the broadcast will demonstrate the war’s “human element” to students. “Usually in a textbook it just says, ‘This many people were killed at Gettysburg, and Lincoln gave his address here,’ ” he said. “They’re looked at as just facts and figures [students] have to learn.”
Confederate General Maj. Edward Croft of the 17th South Carolina Infantry.
The young participants will already have studied about the three-day battle—which ended July 3, 1863, with 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, missing, or captured—using the plentiful online resources that are provided by the National Park Service on its World Wide Web site.
Next month, teachers can also gain access to information about 35 soldiers who took part in the battle and can assign one of these soldiers to each student, who then may follow the men’s progress through the Gettysburg campaign.
Distance learning is not a new concept for the park’s employees. Rangers have worked for three years with the Federal Emergency Management Association in nearby Emmitsburg, Md., broadcasting from the FEMA studio to schools in remote locations in Pennsylvania.
It was not until technical difficulties prevented students from Perry Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis, Ind., from seeing a distance-learning program one year ago that park employees began discussing a better way to reach students. They concluded it would be more efficient to fulfill all the requests for battlefield-related distance education by scheduling one annual live broadcast from the park rather than from the FEMA studio."We decided that a broadcast from the actual field where students can see where things actually took place would be ideal,” said Chad Heupel, the broadcast-operations manager for FEMA. Last summer, Gettysburg-battlefield officials, along with FEMA staff members and two educators from the Indiana school, planned the broadcast and its supplemental activities. “I’m just a teacher in Indiana, and I never thought that my ideas would be as important as this,” said Jenny Moore, an 8th grade history teacher at the 1,300-student Indianapolis school who worked on the project. “It is incredible that I get to do something like this for my kids. It’s flattering, and I am honored. The people at Gettysburg treated us like professionals.” Ms. Moore was selected to work on the project because of her previous experience in the distance-learning program at FEMA.
According to Barbara Sanders, the education director at the park, the teaching and learning materials designed to prepare for and view the broadcast include activities scheduled to begin one month before the broadcast and continue for one week after.
Most of the material is already online and the rest will be available April 3. Students will be able to connect to biographies of the soldiers their teachers have assigned to them. Then, for each week leading up to the broadcast, students will track their soldiers’ progress toward Gettysburg. After the program airs May 3, students can connect to the Web site to discover the fate of their soldiers.
Students will be following Union Pvt. Oren Lord, above of the 17th Maine Infantry, along with Maj. Croft (see photo above).
“We want the kids to identify with the person, and hopefully this will lead them into wanting to learn more about the war,” Mr. Harwig said.
Resources on the site include a downloadable journal that students will use during the broadcast to learn about Civil War terminology, copies of personal papers from both sides in the conflict, descriptions of army drill exercises for students to re-enact, and a recipe for hardtack. Confederate and Union soldiers subsisted on those flour cakes, which they called “sheet iron crackers,” during the long walks between camps.
Teachers and students at Perry Meridian Middle School will study the war for two months, with the broadcast as the central portion of the unit. The culmination will be a “Civil War Day” open to the community in which students will present their projects and participate in re-enactments.
“I think this will really bring history alive to students,” said Leslie Preddy, the school’s library media specialist and one of the teachers who have worked with the park on the broadcast. “They will see that these people are real, and they had families.”
According to Mr. Harwig, the park plans to make this an annual event with a different script and program each year. “The thing that interests me the most about this project,” he said, “is that tens of thousands of students who never see the park, and think of it as some foreign place, will get the chance to experience it.”
Said Ms. Sanders, “We hope to help build constituents for the National Park Service, because people must care about something before they will care for it.”
Schools can register for the program at www.nps.gov/gett/getteducation/bcast20/bcmain.htm. The site also provides information on connecting to the satellite broadcast through local cable channels.
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as Satellite Broadcast Seeks To Enliven Study of History