Student Molly Levy works on her family tree art project to display, along with her biography, on Young Authors Night after researching her family’s history with AncestryK12, a no-cost program for K- 12 schools that includes access to content from Fold3, Newspapers.com and the U.S. collection of Ancestry. COURTESY OF THE DAVIS ACADEMY

Company offers historical data to build students’ research skills

Keeping lessons interesting is one of the biggest challenges for teachers, and over the past few years more and more well-meaning educators have found themselves surrounded by controversy because they looked for creative ways to keep students engaged.

While there is no magic method, many education professors and veteran teachers suggest making the lessons relevant will keep students focused. That’s the kind of “ah-ha” that prompted Ancestry, the world’s largest online family history resource, to offer students access to its billions of historical records — real data that can help them discover fascinating facts about previous generations, including their unique place in that history.

“Historical records and photos hold so many answers about the fascinating people in history and Ancestry puts them at students’ fingertips, promoting critical thinking and research skills,” said Brian Hansen, a senior vice president and general manager at Ancestry.

AncestryK12 offers grants that provide a year of access to Ancestry Classroom (U.S. content), Fold3, and Newspapers.com to selected classrooms and schools.

“The resources we offer support state standards and were created specifically for schools that require curriculum around original or primary documents,” said Hansen. “We provide lesson plans ranging in topic from the U.S. Civil War to the 1940 U.S. Census to help teachers integrate historical records into lesson plans, teach students how to manage research projects, approach critical thinking and gain the communication skills needed in life. Some teachers also integrate personal family history assignments into their curriculums, helping students deeply connect with history to enrich their lives.”

Atlanta’s Davis Academy has used AncestryK12 for several years as a tool to teach students how to conduct research and build their own family trees.

Most recently it’s being used to tie into the school’s Young Author’s Night project. After months of research and writing about a family member, the students take their research and turn it into a nonfiction book they share with their families.

“Although the students are exposed to online research, it’s in fourth grade that it culiminates into a large project,” said Stacy Brown, the school’s 21st century learning coordinator. She coordinates with teachers to train students on how to effectively use technology.

“This is higher level than a search engine like Google,” she said. “They are learning research-level skills that will carry them through their higher grades and on into college.”

Brown added that the thirst for this kind of information is so contagious that parents, grandparents and other family members want to get involved.

“We are fortunate enough to have a parent who’s a genealogy expert,” she said. “He hosts a genealogy workshop for parents to learn about how the students are conducting their research, organizing their findings, and are given a chance to launch their own ancestry research.”

School officials tout this as a rewarding collaborative project from within the library, art department and language arts department.

Although Davis Academy is a private school, AncestryK12 has developed lesson plans to make it easier for public school teachers to make history more tangible for students while staying within established guidelines.

The lesson plans target several subjects relevant to today’s headlines, such as the women’s suffrage movement, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year; the Civil War, immigration over time and many others.

“The grant process isn’t difficult,” said Brown. “It’s a series of questions — you don’t need to be a grant-writing specialist.”

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