“All these kids have so many different strengths,” he said. “You might have a kid who loves to do things with his hands, just build different models, he’s a tactile learner. You have other kids who are virtual — they love doing video games, they love doing stuff that is online, they love creating videos.
“I encouraged them to use their strengths and do something that is interesting and fun for them, and develop their own product based on their own skills.”
The students then used Webber’s classroom library and local historical resources to jump-start their research. Webber encouraged them to avoid using online resources at first, so as to avoid what he called the “instant gratification” of Googling specific terms and learning only that information.
“Once they discover just snippets, little pieces of information about their topic, that gave them a little bit of direction,” Webber said. “Now they know in their topic specifically what they should search out online, they have a better focus area. It’s not just typing into Google, ‘shipbuilding in Newburyport,’ it’s specific shipyards, specific dates.”
Webber used this summer to develop the curriculum and build a list of contacts for students to contact for more in-depth information. Local historians and longtime residents agreed to help, including Michael Mroz of the Custom House, one of the original minds behind the exhibition.
Webber also accompanied students after school and on weekends to various museums and archives, where they gathered additional data.
Presentations began last week and will run until April vacation.
Seventh-grader Jared Picciano created historical models of trains out of childhood toys. He gave a speech about historical figures who were known to ride the Newburyport line, including presidents James Monroe and Theodore Roosevelt, who gave a campaign speech at the station.