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Unique project allows North Hills students to create historical iBooks

| Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

North Hills Middle School teacher Joe Welch's 95-year-old grandmother inspired a pilot project he assigned his eighth-grade social studies students.

“She was part of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II and I thought — my grandma, (Sara Whalen of South Fayette) — she lived with me when I was growing up,” said Welch, 32, also of South Fayette. “I never sat down and heard from her, recorded her, never documented her.”

He collaborated with eighth-grade English teacher Vicki Truchan in developing the month-long assignment requiring students to utilize North Hills School District-issued iPads to record audio interviews with people about important events in their lives.Then the students research and write about the events' historical contexts.

The students submitted their documents Jan. 31.

The projects will constitute five volumes of iBooks available for download on iTunes, probably in March, according to Truchan and Welch.

Like his students, Welch completed the assignment with his grandmother as his subject.

“He actually wrote a research paper using all of the required sources that the students were required to use and they read his research paper and kind of used that as a model,” said Truchan, 43, of Leet.

Similarly, this opportunity helped Hannah Sciulli, 13, of Ross, gain insight into her grandmother's experiences on the homefront during World War II.

“It was a new experience for me to interview a family member, and I'm glad I did it.,” Sciulli said. “Through doing this project, I learned more about my grandmother and found out new things about her life.”

Rachel Uttecht, 13, of Ross, wrote about the Berlin Wall's fall.

“Doing this project challenged me in a different way, but it was fun at the same time,” Uttecht said. “This brought me closer to my grandfather who lives in Vermont.”

Kameryn Snead, 14, of Ross, said interviewing her great aunt about living through the Great Depression has strengthened their relationship.

“I didn't know how to cite things before I did this project,” said Olivia Yoder, 13, of West View. “I learned a lot more about researching.”

In past years, eighth graders chose their research topics from a list of 28 figures involved with American westward expansion Welch, said. They would “just go to the library; they would research it, and they would write their essays.”

“We tried something with a larger purpose,” Truchan said. “It's not just learning about a historical event and writing about it, but also making a connection between the historical event with the people in their lives.”

The district's 1:1 iPad initiative, which supplies all sixth- through eighth-graders with tablet computers, made the project possible.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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