Scientists and philosophers from centuries ago gathered at Williamsport Area High School recently as a part of an assignment like few others.
It wasn’t a drama class, however. Marilouise Mazzante’s Advanced Placement history classes were given the task of bringing historical figures from the 18th century to life during a three-day period that she called the Enlightenment Salon.
“Each student was to personify an important person during that time period. Research them learning everything that they could about his (or) her life, beliefs, values, statements, dress, habits, accomplishments and become them,” Mazzante said.
Over three days, scientists and philosophers walked around the classroom and compared their beliefs with others. Mazzante said this type of learning isn’t uncommon and it allows the students to totally immerse themselves in the material.
“Role playing is not a new idea, but as we studied the salon and looked at venues today where people gather, such as Starbucks, I felt the recreation of a salon would give them perspective as to connect how far we’ve come across time,” Mazzante said. “But, also, how the venue may change but the purpose is still very relevant.”
Having to research their historical figure was fun for the students.
“People really embraced history and really tried to become their characters,” said Dante Miele-Elion.
But Olivia Kuzio added that having to react to a statement as someone else was a little difficult.
“It’s tough to think on the spot,” she said.
Students researched their figure and had to follow a guide during the first two days. But on the last day were given the freedom to speak casually with their peers, as long as they stayed in character.
Students then were required to write a reflection piece based off of their character and how they feel they performed.
Stacy Loveland, who already had taken the class but attended the event to help, said the project made the material real to the students.
“It helps people to see that there’s so much more about history than what we get in a textbook,” she said.
Mazzante agreed, saying the material was “meaningful.”
“The students felt that the learning process was not only engaging, but also meaningful,” she said. “They learned not only about their character but all the others, as well. It is a different approach to learning that was well received by the students.”
“I really think it helped me learn about history,” said Miele-Elion. “It not only lets you learn about the person, but the complex interaction (between the figures).”
Overall, Mazzante said she enjoyed the event and felt it helped her students learn the material.
“I’m very proud of my students,” she said. “Even ones who were apprehensive at first felt this was one of the most meaningful projects they have participated in.”