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Collaboration creates multimedia tool for teaching about World War I

UNC’s LEARN NC, Virginia Tech collaborate with American Battle Monuments Commission to create teacher’s guide, classroom materials

More about “Bringing the Great War Home”

Read an ABMC news release about the project.
Video: Watch Katie Gulledge talk about her experience working on the project.
Find the iBook on Apple’s iTunes store.

Katie Gulledge grew up wondering about a little family tale about her great-grandfather in World War I.

It was a story told by a man who had seen the horrors of trench warfare, a story of a hungry soldier, asking a woman, using his little bit of French, for something to eat: simply a potato.

“My mother recalls hearing the story from her grandfather when she was about 10,” said Gulledge, a middle school history teacher in Cary, N.C. “It was a story that was frequently retold at family gatherings and came to capture a lot about my great-grandfather’s experience in war.”

It’s a story that now is at the center of a chapter Gulledge researched and wrote in a collaboration between two universities and the American Battle Monuments Commission to bring lessons about World War I to school classrooms.

ABMC, a government agency that administers America’s overseas Armed Forces cemeteries, established a partnership with LEARN NC, the outreach arm of the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Virginia Tech to create a guide to help educators teach about World War I. The initiative matched curriculum-development experts from the two universities with middle and high school teachers from North Carolina and Virginia to study an American WWI cemetery in France and to develop a multimedia teaching guide from what they learned.

The guide – “Bringing the Great War Home: Teaching with the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery” – is available free online as an iBook at Apple’s iTunes store or may be downloaded from the ABMC website. The iBook version contains video and other multimedia content that supplements the text.

“It is the mission of ABMC to preserve the memory of those honored in our cemeteries,” said ABMC Secretary Max Cleland. “To do that, we need to connect with teachers and students. That is the purpose of this project. These materials will introduce a new generation to the men and women who defended liberty and helped move America onto the world stage.”

Katie Gulledge talks about what moved her about
visiting where her great-grandfather fought in World War I.

Uncovering meaning in stories of war

Martinette Horner, director of outreach for UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education, said the project created rich experiences that helped the 12 participating teachers learn more about conducting social science and history research.

“This was a rewarding project for everyone who took part,” Horner said. “The teachers tell in this book important stories about what they learned about the war and how those things touched and moved them.”

Cheryl Mason Bolick is a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education and served as principal investigator on the team that developed “Bringing the Great War Home.”

“This program is more than just a model of experiential professional development for teachers,” Bolick said. “It also has produced a remarkable collection of digital multimedia resources that can be used by teachers and students across the globe as they engage in the teaching and learning of World War I.”

Matt Deegan, a high school history teacher in Charlottesville, Va., was another of the teachers who took part in the project.

“For me, this project is truly unique because it is an interactive history book written by teachers, for teachers,” he said. “When I skim the Web to do research for my own lesson plans, I often find compelling content, but I often have to create my own plan around it. This iBook offers teachers that same engaging content, as well as the pre-made lesson ideas and handouts that directly relate to it.”

Joseph Hooper, a doctoral student at UNC-Chapel Hill who worked on the project through LEARN NC, said it is difficult to teach about war, its destruction and its effects on people.

“Teaching and learning about war can also involve something uniquely great: unlocking stories of those who have been silent and making their stories part of a greater narrative,” Hooper said. “I think this project took something inexplicable and gave it meaning, and the teachers and the support team did a great job at finding that meaning and then writing about it.”

Robert Dalessandro, deputy secretary of ABMC and chairman of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, said the project is part of his organization’s efforts to keep the lessons of the war alive.

“These programs are critical because our primary focus is to educate a new generation of Americans about the accomplishments and sacrifices of the World War I generation,” Dalessandro said. “These Americans stood in bewildered awe as empires crumbled and the world was reshaped. The fathers and mothers of the “Greatest Generation” truly teach us of the importance of service and sacrifice.”

Drawing lessons from one man’s life

Will McGuirt, Gulledge’s great-grandfather, was one of those men.

Before joining the ABMC-LEARN NC team, Gulledge knew very little about her great-grandfather. She decided to explore his story – and his tale about the potato – as a way to discover more about the war, the people who fought in it and the times in which they lived, and died. She chose to pursue a form of research known as “narrative inquiry” in which she explored documents, letters and family stories to uncover details about her great-grandfather and the war.

“I wanted to create a chapter that models narrative inquiry for both teachers and students,” Gulledge said. “Everyone has stories that they heard growing up. Often we don’t think about what those stories stand for or why they are told from a particular perspective. I believe that narrative inquiry is a powerful teaching tool. My team and I wanted to document my own experience so that students and teachers could see that it can be done.”

Gulledge used ABMC archives to study documents, letters, photographs and maps to learn details about McGuirt’s unit and its activities – all of which contributed to her chapter in “Bringing the Great War Home.” Gulledge went into the project knowing that her great-grandfather’s story had power in her family, that his telling of it led her mother to choose French as her high school foreign language.

But she still wondered: Were American soldiers in World War I really hungry enough on the battlefield to ask villagers for food? Were potatoes even grown in that part of France?

It was her visit to France that delivered to Gulledge the emotional depth of her great-grandfather’s experience. As part of the year the ABMC-LEARN NC group spent researching the Meuse-Argonne cemetery, the group of educators visited the site in July 2014.

“It is one thing to learn about a trench or a specific battlefield in a history book,” said Gulledge. “It is another thing to walk on the actual ground and retrace the steps of so many soldiers – to actually feel the terrain and climb through a trench. It is a life-changing experience.”

Gulledge visited the French village of Moranville, which McGuirt’s unit captured during the last days of the war. Today it’s a farming village of about 100 people. There Gulledge talked with a farmer whose parents helped rebuild the town after the war. He confirmed that potatoes were grown in the area … and he handed her one.

“What began as a simple family anecdote developed into an entire journey,” Gulledge said. “I not only learned about my great-grandfather, but I learned so much more about all of the millions of soldiers who fought in World War I.

“Most of our curriculums teach war through one linear story,” she said. “This isn’t really fair to all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives. This project helped me understand and rethink the way that I teach about World War I.”