Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 26, 2013

Social studies fair creates hands-on learning opportunity for students

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Click here for video

Students, parents and teachers gathered at the Mercer Mall Monday to learn about everything from coal mining to the Underground Railroad as part of the Mercer County Social Studies Fair.

Before the fair, students researched a topic so they could create a display and make a speech before the crowd gathered at the fair. Some of the topics presented included the history of coal mining in West Virginia, weather in the Mountain State, the history of the Underground Railroad and the life of Sacagawea.

Tanner Gravely, a fifth-grade student at Athens School, said he learned about different natural disasters that occur within the state when researching his project.

“The coolest thing I learned about was wind storms, like the one that hit last summer,” Gravely said. “My favorite part was putting together and organizing my board. I liked putting the pictures on it. I also had to learn a speech, make a video and a sideshow.”

Sheila Gravely, of Princeton, said her entire family learned a lot from the projects.

“My son Tanner did a project on disasters hitting West Virginia, and my son Casey did a project on how the forest benefits us,” she said. “This fair builds character and brings them out of their shells. They learned a lot of things they didn’t realize. Our whole family learned a lot. It is good to see kids from all over the county because you get to see people you don’t always get to see. Holding this at the mall also helps our businesses.”

Miranda Cales and Hannah Jones, both fourth graders at Sun Valley Elementary, said they spent several weeks preparing to present their project on the Underground Railroad.

“We learned that they used quilt squares to communicate with people,” Jones said. “Probably making the quilt squares was the most fun. We also saw a picture of one safe house where they had a tiny door in the wall for people to hide. They would crawl through the door then shut the door and push a bed up against the wall so no one could see it.”

A lot of work went into making their presentation, Cales said.

“We learned a lot, like that it wasn’t a real railroad,” Cales said. “We mostly found stuff on the Internet, but in some books. We had to put together a display, a speech and a bibliography. I loved getting to glue the quilt squares and patterns together for our presentation. It was a lot of fun.”

Tina Cales and Michelle Jones, both of Athens, said they also enjoyed helping their daughters with the project.

“Our daughters are both in the fourth grade and best friends,” Tina Cales said. “We are just here today to support them and cheer them on. I think the most interesting thing I learned from their project was about how they would use actual railroad terms on the Underground Railroad, and how they used the quilt squares to signal different things.”

“I think it is good to give them a chance to learn on their own,” Michelle Jones said. “They got to study a topic more in depth, which is something they don’t always have time to do in school. It also allowed them to showcase their talents.”

Cami Michels, a third-grade student at Melrose Elementary, dressed up like explorer Sacagawea for her presentation.

“I was looking through my social studies book and saw a picture of Lewis and Clark,” Michels said. “I was going to do a project on them, but then I learned about Sacagawea. I didn’t know a lot about her, but my grandmother told me some and I researched on the Internet. I really liked that she was one of the only women on the expedition and that she saved a lot of their important papers when their boat capsized. I had to learn about the different things Sacagawea did and put it on a poster board. This was really fun, much more fun than learning it in class.”

Joyce Michels, of Charlotte, N.C., came to support her granddaughter during her presentation.

“I came up here to see her present,” she said.  “This really stretches the kids’ minds and helps them look in depth into something. They have to learn to get up, speak in front of people, and I think it really helps them gain confidence.”

— Contact Kate Coil at