Experiential Learning Brings History to Life
Experiential Learning Brings History to Life at Heritage
Posted on 03/03/2017

BoxcarThe famous author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, was not much older than the students at Heritage E-STEM Magnet Middle School when he travelled on a “death train” from the Auschwitz concentration camp to Buchenwald in Germany. Through the work of two innovative teachers, this year Heritage students have been able to learn about Wiesel’s experience and the lives of others through a World War II “Interactive Learning Site” right at the school.

English teachers Dr. Leah Martin and Josh Lang created the learning site, in the shape of a boxcar, for students in the Lower Maroon House at Heritage. Built from specifications provided by Martin’s research of train cars from the era, and with the assistance of fellow teacher Deacon Klemme who built the structure, the 8th grade students have been able to visit their own memorial museum. 

Martin says she was inspired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. The USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

The outside of the boxcar is covered in a dull, dark brown paper, punctuated by paper butterflies created by Heritage students to represent the fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen who passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp, of whom fewer than 100 survived. 

We will never forgetAbove the entrance to the boxcar is the phrase, “We will never forget” hand drawn by Special Education teacher Kristin Baker. Inside the boxcar, the jet-black walls are lined with 14 different interactive stations where students can use their iPads to scan, look, listen, and respond to different prompt questions. 

QR codes allow the students to: listen to music of the Holocaust; hear Wiesel’s own story of his journey in a train boxcar with his father; see the use of Nazi propaganda to mislead the public; view a series of maps; take a virtual tour of Auschwitz; hear survivor stories; view a timeline of Hitler’s rise to power; learn more about people who stood up against Hitler and the Nazi party; and to explore Anne Frank’s secret Annex with a virtual, interactive tour and more.

QR Code - “The Power of Nazi Propaganda” QR Code - The Secret Annex
QR Code* - YouTube Video - “The Power of Nazi Propaganda”
QR Code* - Virtual Tour of the Anne Frank “Secret Annex”

*Access the content connected to these QR Codes by using a QR Code reader app on your tablet or smartphone.

“We wanted to engage all the students. Address all the different learning styles. There is something for everyone,” said Lang.  

The response from the students has been overwhelmingly positive. The first time both Martin and Lang’s classes entered the boxcar, “You could hear a pin drop,” remarked Baker. The teachers told the 50 students to imagine doubling their number in the already tightly crowded boxcar that measures 26 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 7 feet tall.
While listening to Wiesel’s memoir at one of the interactive stations, the students discover that during his ten-day journey, the Nazis didn’t give the inmates any food at all. Most of the time, the inmates lived, or died, by eating snow. During the final, fiercely cold day of the journey, many people froze to death. Only a few of those who began the trip survived. Wiesel and his father were among them. His story teaches the students not just English or History, but empathy, understanding, and humanity. 

One student, Neeve McCarthy said, “I didn’t know much” about the Holocaust before experiencing and reading about it in class. “Now I have learned more about the guards and the different kinds of people” affected by the Nazi’s camps. 

Another Heritage student, Joe Booth, remarked that he “liked all the aspects” of the boxcar, and that he could “see the bigger picture now”. 

Students in Learning SiteThe cross-curricular approach of the boxcar museum involving art, music, history, sociology, and other disciplines of study has been “a tremendous learning event for our students,” said Lang. “The students are excited about learning and want to share it with their parents,” he added. Heritage parents have been able to see the Interactive 
Learning Site throughout the week of February 27 during conferences. 

Though it will be disassembled in the next few days, Martin and Lang say they plan to put it in storage and will continue using the Interactive Learning Site year after year with their 8th grade classes. 

Students at Friendly Hills Middle School have also been studying the Holocaust and World War II over the past several weeks. They will culminate their studies by attending Park Square Theatre’s production of the play based upon Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl on March 14.