Antiques Roadshow makes historical final exam

Melissa Horner displays her antique Japanese vase at the Antiques Roadshow at King’s West School. The Roadshow served as the final exam for Greg Thacher’s U.S. History class. - Photo by James Mange
Melissa Horner displays her antique Japanese vase at the Antiques Roadshow at King’s West School. The Roadshow served as the final exam for Greg Thacher’s U.S. History class.
— image credit: Photo by James Mange

The true meaning of history comes through in creative ways at King’s West school, as the 11th grade United States history class presented its own version of the popular PBS program, Antiques Roadshow, as a final semester exam. The students were required to create a display of an item giving it a detailed history and pedigree, whether real or imaginary.

The end product for both fact and fiction, is real learning of a historical event or era with a personal touch.

This is the seventh year teacher Greg Thacher has used the project as a final exam, and he enjoys it as much as the students. “They always do a great job with this,” Thacher said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

In addition to creating an eye-catching display, students have to give a summary of their objects’ place in history, including how and where it was found, who used it and what it was used for, significant historical facts surrounding the event or era it is (or supposedly is) from, and why it is important to U.S. history.

Some of this year’s most interesting displays included Caitlin Matthew’s video with silent film footage of her great-grandfather performing strong man feats in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1928, and Jeff Mitchell’s picture from a U-2 spy plane used by Adlai Stevenson’s presentation to the United Nations during the Cuban missile crisis.

“I found when doing it that I already knew a lot,” Mitchell said about the missile crisis, “but then I learned a lot more about what actually happened in what order.” Mitchell’s understanding of the event is now much more complete because of the project, even though the photo in his display wasn’t the genuine article. “I got it from the National Archives website,” Mitchell said. “I kind of stumbled on it. I saw it and thought it had pretty good resolution, so I printed it out.”

After getting a copy made at Kinko’s, Mitchell created a back story for the photo which had his grandfather buying it at an estate auction for $100. Mitchell’s display and oral presentation was good enough to convince one of the rotating judges it was the real deal.

Thacher invited 10 other classes of varying ages from the school to tour the Roadshow, and each students display was evaluated by at least three of the visiting teachers. One of those teachers was fourth grade instructor, Cindy Mathisen.

“The quality of work is evident,” Mathisen said, “meaningful and enduring learning is what we call it.” Mathisen and her class enjoyed the displays, especially Mike Carriero’s presentation of a United States flag. The flag was from one of the ships his father served on during the Viet Nam war. “It was an excellent presentation,” Mathisen said. “Not only was the student well informed of the details of his father’s mission, he was personally engaged and interested because this was a story that not only encompassed US history, it was his history too, through his dad. I saw him beam with pride.”

“It was the sentimental favorite of many,” Thacher added.

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