What happens when a fourth grade teacher in a small town brings together the local elementary school, community volunteers, and two museums so that her students could learn and explore local history? 4th Graders’ QR Codes for Historic Sites in Lecompton, Kansas brought history lessons outside classroom walls and got students engaged with learning, with their community, and with each other.
Lecompton (population 660) was the territorial capital of Kansas and was the center of “Bleeding Kansas” in the nineteenth century. Since many students, parents, and even teachers are not aware of the significance of the town, fourth grade teacher Sandy Gantz decided to have students do a research project to educate themselves about this rich history. Gantz received a grant from Thrivent Life Insurance Company and contacted the two museums in Lecompton: Constitution Hall, run by Kansas Historical Society, and the Territorial Capital Museum, run by the Lecompton Historical Society.
The project gathered fifteen volunteers from the community to go to the school once a week for six weeks to help the kids do research on fifteen different historic sites in town. Each volunteer was assigned to a group of three or four students and they worked on researching one site together. At the beginning of the project, school buses took a tour of the town with museum staff and volunteers providing the narration. The buses also took everyone (volunteers and students) to their site so that they could photograph and explore it. Many groups did interviews of people in the community to get information on their site. They searched old newspapers for information, read through articles written by local historians, and got copies of original photographs from the two museums in Lecompton. The museum staff made sure that all of the information was accurate. The students produced short (1-3 minute) videos on the history of the site they were assigned, and put a QR code at each site so that town visitors could easily access the videos with their smartphones. The QR codes with the students’ videos have been incorporated into the town’s walking tour. The walking tour with a map and scavenger hunt was printed and distributed to local businesses, with the grant Sandy received paying for the QR code signs and map printing.
The project debuted during Territorial Days, the town’s yearly June celebration when residents and visitors come to Lecompton for a parade, reenactments, festivities, and food. From the days when Lecompton was the capital of Kansas Territory to the days when it had mysterious downtown fires and a bank robbery, this collaborative project not only invigorated interest in local history with local schoolchildren but also with the public at-large through local news reports and social media. The 4th grade students now have a pride in their historic town that they didn’t have before, and locals and visitors alike are seeing the sites with new ideas and uncovered stories.