Notre Dame 7th Graders Are ‘Stand-ins’ for Historical Figures Who Inspire

7239It’s easy to look up to celebrities and sports stars as role models or focus on the most popular fad or trend when you’re in middle school. While pop culture might inspire us at times, we also need to learn about and remember contributions made by others throughout history.
The International Baccalaureate MYP curriculum, designed and implemented through the collaborative work of Notre Dame Marist Academy teachers, focuses on active learning, interdisciplinary connections and, very importantly, real community service.
With that as prologue, history and the IB came together for seventh graders in Kelly Patterson’s Language and Literature classes.
Patterson recently had all her students read a number of biographies of historical figures as if each had won the Nobel Peace Prize for service to their fellow man or for positively addressing social issues of our modern times.
The biographies had to be about individuals who did something to impact the world in a positive way. Patterson posed the central question: “How do others inspire me?” Students then read biographies about Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Anne Frank, to name a few, noting key points in the person’s life by keeping a timeline. As students read, they began researching a social issue that might be important to the person as if he or she were still alive or active in the world today.
Modern social issues, including domestic violence, racial discrimination, religious discrimination, poverty and women’s rights, were among the many they looked at. Each seventh grader explored how to reconcile their historical character with a social issue of today. The students then had to compose Nobel Prize acceptance speeches and give them as if they were their chosen person.
Jennifer Ohlsson, who read about Helen Keller and gave her “acceptance speech,” said she liked learning about Keller and learning sign language. I think I am going to continue learning sign language after this project because I had so much fun with it,” she added. “I hope we do more things like this!”
Benjamin Franklin was picked by seventh-grader Matthew Pallach. “I liked this biography project because it helped me learn about the past heroes of history,” he said. “I also liked this project because I could act like Benjamin Franklin. I practiced my speech a million times. I felt like I was old for once. But it probably will be a while before I have that feeling again.”
“I learned a lot about about poverty, which was my social issue,” student Charles Marris said. “I also got to learn about the best soccer player ever, Pele, who actually grew up in poverty in São Paulo, Brazil.”
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at