Summer school students elect to explore the history of WWII at Skyline

Edward J. Naughton
Pratt Tribune
Tucker Lauffer gets busy with paper and scissors during a WWII class last week at Skyline Schools.

When access to special funds derived from federally authorized COVID-19 relief money was released to the school this year, Pratt Skyline teacher Kris McPherson chose to teach a special session on Wednesday mornings as a summer school option. Her classes, atteneded by five middle-school boys, started in June and will last until August. The chosen subject of study - World War II.

“I want to be a historian and that is why I took this class,” said one of the five, Aaron Lucas. 

The rest of the class - Darren Lewton, Tucker Lauffer, Keegyn Robinson and Ely Robinson, as well as Lucas, indicated they would like to explore all they could while learning about World War II when summer school options were beging considered.

McPherson, a career teacher since 1984, said she willingly accepted this summer school assignment because she also had an interest in the subject matter, plus she just really enjoys time spent learning with students.

“I love their ages, I mean everyone in middle school,” McPherson said. "You never know what they are going to do.” 

The class started with an in-depth look at the geographic locations of warring European nations in the 1940s, so a computerized placement map was used on laptop screens.

So last week Wednesday, the challenge was to answer one of McPherson’s first questions of the morning, “Where is Germany on this map?”. She slowly but systematically went through a list of nations so the students could decide and click enter their respective answers. If they were right, the outlined nation lit up a nice green on their screen; if wrong, a note in red color lit the screen, to spur them on to the next country challenge posed by McPherson. 

The students scrolled through and saw country shapes and borders drawn up on the screen, but had to just guess if they were not sure; or based on past lessons, some of them knew where Germany was for instance on the map. 

If they knew the right answer by their click and enter, they were awarded points by the computer program to go on further into knowing where other countries were placed on the map also.

This type of program like others used in the class rewarded achievement in terms of points so they could quietly compare their performance with other members of the class and perhaps study a little harder next time class was in session if they missed more than one or two country placements on the computer screen.

Another part of the class experience has students and teacher preparing paper and cardboard cut-out projects with a certain chosen battle in mind, using scissors in hand at some point in every Wednesday class session. 

For instance, Lucas has chosen to try and reconstruct his small version of a certain battle in the Pacific which took place during World War II when U.S. Marines and U.S. Army personnel engaged forces of the Japanese Army at the island called Peleliu.

An interactive component to the class generated some excitement among the students because they used worksheets to tally points gained or lost based on their responses to battle decisions, and even luck of the draw came into play for the various colored cards McPherson passed out to each student in sequence.

Some of the war scenario skirmish sets used in this way were pre-determined by the answer keys the teacher possessed, so that for instance, if they made the right choice in battle, they would gain points for advantage and live to fight another day.

For example, to decide whether or not to throw a grenade down a rabbit hole in a mock skirmish scenario, they could either win points by making the right decision in a split second for instance by destroying the enemy hiding in the hole with the thrown grenade; or conversely, lose 15 points off their balance by deciding instead to just roll past the rabbit hole in their stimulated Army jeep and move on to the next phase of the battle.

Other tools used in the WWII class include doodle notes, which entailed McPherson reading from a book for part of the class to get the students thinking about the important points they needed to remember for future review in the next Wednesday class. 

Short video segments were shown to the class on the subject of World War II from a channel named CrashCourse which is featured on YouTube, produced and narrated by John Green.

Sub-headings of study include the draft, female wartime personalities, Tuskegee Airmen, technology and war and the atom bomb.

McPherson said the class started in June and will wind down in August. She said she hopes to arrange for the class to take a special tour of the B-29 museum in Pratt at that time. 

Pratt Skyline teacher Connie McPherson is leading a summer school  class of middle school boys on the subject of WWII history.