Students see and touch history |

Students see and touch history

Kira Costarella cleans a cannon while President of the Nevada Civil War Volunteers, Noah Jennings (right), explains the process Wednesday at Douglas High School.
Brad Coman |

Students at Douglas High School wanted to see, touch and live history instead of studying a textbook, so they created a class with history teacher Ethan Petite that gives them the hands-on experience they are looking for.

Some of that hands-on learning could be heard Wednesday as a cannon and rifles blasted on the front lawn of the high school.

Civil War Volunteers, a reenactment group, set up set up Union and Confederate encampments on campus, then Petite’s students went through stations to learn about life during the Civil War.

Students engaged with the reenactors and had the opportunity to shoot different types of firearms used during the era, including a cannon.

In the medical tent they learned that the most common form of death during the Civil War was not necessarily from a battle wound, but from the hands of a doctor.

“Back then, they didn’t think about sanitation, they didn’t know about infections and disease that can spread from things we consider common sense, like washing your hands, cleaning the knives, sheets, etc.,” said freshman Autumn Loewen.

After students visited each station, a reenactment of a battle between the Confederate and Union armies was presented with gunfire, injuries and deaths.

Petite said the goal was to allow the students to physically interact with and utilize Civil War-era artifacts.

“I’m really pleased with the turnout of this,” he said. “Looking around I see 100 percent engagement. Not one student is on their phone or talking with friends. Their focus is on the speaker and they’re interested in what is going on. You can’t get that much focus with a textbook.”

Petite’s class is an elective course called The History of Human Conflict: Warfare, Terrorism, and Genocide. It touches on the changes and continuities in warfare from the first civilizations through the American Civil War while using artifacts, demonstrations and reenactments to give the students a real-life look through the past in comparison with the present.

Petite said it is the first year the course is being offered at the high school.

“Students needed an extra class when the seventh period was added to the schedule,” he said. “So this class was created as an elective originally for seniors and for one semester, but now I have three classes and at least 90 students.”

Petite said he provides debriefing handouts to the students after each unit to hear their feedback on the class. He is looking for improvements, ideas and the students’ overall thoughts on the curriculum.

“I have been trying to find as many ways as possible to get the students out of the textbook, because one, we don’t have one, and two we are making this up as we go along,” he said.

He went on to say a lot of the ideas for what the class does come from the students. He said they wanted to learn about fencing, so he brought in a fencing instructor from the Parks and Recreation Department to give them a demonstration on Spanish fencing, along with teaching them the origins of fencing and the techniques and uses of it.

“I’d love to continue this class and do this all the time, but we are creating this from scratch and need to see what works and what doesn’t work,” he said.

Many students said the class is a lot of fun. They said they enjoy the hands-on experience and being able to have a say in what they learn or what they think needs improvement.

“I think it’s a great way to learn,” said senior Ryan Slack. “We actually get to interact with the artifacts instead of just reading about them in a textbook. It’s a different way of learning and it makes it more interesting.”