Spinning a button on a string sounds easy — until you try it, observed Lincoln Elementary School fifth-grader Josh Fulton. Fulton, along with the rest of his class, spent a half hour with first grade teacher Christy Thompson, who never left character as a prairie school marm tutoring her one-room students in ciphers, show-and-tell and recess.
Show-and-tell items included a mud dauber’s nest, bird’s nest and old-time lantern.
Jonathan Lynn played along when his turn came by telling the class he carried the lantern to school “because a storm was coming,” and the sky was darkening.
Thompson continued the ruse, noting in a southeast drawl, “Since it’s raining today, we’ll be having recess indoors and making whirligigs.”
To make the toy, students threaded an oversized button onto a loop of string. Then, twisting and pulling with the string wrapped around their fingers, they tried to keep the button a-spin.
Not a simple task, noted Mikey Hendry and Drake Sell, who marveled when their new toys worked.
The lesson was part of the school’s Living History Day, in celebration of Kansas’ 150 years of statehood.
Other activities included learning about Amelia Earhart, cartoonist Mort Walker and playing pioneer games in the gym.
Students also heard about Kansas City native Charlie Parker and the advent of that quintessential American music, jazz. In a doubled-up kindergarten crowd, only a few hands went up when music teacher Joseph Hand asked who had heard of the form.
No worry. Iola High’s Jazz band was on hand to play Parker tunes for the young students, beginning with “Now’s the Time.”
While Hand introduced students to the story of jazz, band leader Larry Lillard explained musical parts — solo and ensemble — and told students, “It’s OK to applaud after the solo. It shows appreciation for the musician’s skills.”
IN OTHER classes, eager ears heard tales of dust storms and tornadoes.
Weather facts fascinated second and third graders in Mary Anne Lower and Brian Johnson’s class on disasters and catastrophes.
Of course, the focus was on those with a Kansas connection.
Students learned that in the early 1930s, only 17 inches of rain fell upon western Kansas. Years of farming had removed prairie grasses that held down top soil. Winds blew excessively. The result: a wild wall of dust that carried all the way to the Atlantic coast.
Footage of the phenomenon was shown, and Lower passed around a bag containing 4 pounds of sand, so students could get a feel for how much dust fell, per person, in one day upon the city of Chicago.
“It got into everything,” Lower told the students — clothes, lungs, eyes.
“Even ears?” asked Clairissa Nivens in wonder. “Even ears,” was the response.
The storm carried so far that ships off the Atlantic coast received a quarter-inch coating of dust on deck.
“Dust storms are something that are still happening,” especially in China, added Johnson.
He then taught the kids how to prepare when tornado weather loomed, bringing history to present by showing footage of a funnel cloud that spun through Minnesota in August, and sharing safety tips for those facing such storms.
LIVING HISTORY Day concluded with a concert by the IHS jazz band for the entire student body. They played Charlie Parker tunes, of course.