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  • Writer's pictureKristy Verdi



Spark plugs. Nick taught me about spark plugs. That was over twenty years ago, but I still remember how an internal combustion engine works. I still have the book Nick wrote explaining the all the parts and the process.

Nick was a junior in the Georgia high school at which I taught. I was teaching technical U.S. History. My students attended the traditional school half-day and our community trade school the other half. Most of my students were in the automotive program while a few were in childcare and cosmetology. They all lived for the half-day away from “school”.

Getting teenagers to read and write about history is a challenge in almost every classroom. Getting teens who struggle with reading, reading comprehension, and writing is a daily struggle. Giving them purpose makes it so much easier for everyone involved.

Just across the street, there was an elementary school. My sons attended the school and I loved that they were always close by. I could pop over whenever needed or wanted. They easy walk and seeing the enthusiastic young readers paired up in the halls gave me an idea.

As we approached the unit on the Industrial Revolution, I challenged my students to write a children’s book about an invention or innovation. I gave them the freedom to choose the topic, as long as they connected it back to innovations or ideas that arose in the 18th or 19th century. I had to layout a few ground rules. The book had to have:

a creative cover with the title and author’s name

a minimum number of pages (numbered) and words in complete sentences

(conventions and spelling correct)

writing at an elementary level (vocabulary explained)

illustrations, pictures, and or children friendly diagrams

Nick’s book, a story about Sparky, explained how an internal combustion engine worked. In my lifetime, I had never known, or cared to know, the function of a spark plug in an automobile engine. Sparky got my attention. I learned something new that day.

After the books were prepared, bound, and documented, we set out on a little field trip.

Each class period, I walked my class across the street to meet a class of Kindergarten through 2nd graders. My students paired up in the hallway with a little person and sat side-by-side to share their stories. They read the book to their book buddies and then, their book buddies read it back to them. They talked about their stories and talked about ideas for another book, possibly a sequel. The children asked questions about the high schoolers shoes, hair, and favorite Disney characters. The high schoolers were enthralled and didn’t want to leave. We left the books behind for the students to enjoy and share. I left a labeled gallon-sized baggy for each book, and any special notes the elementary students might like to write. In a few days, I collected the baggies with the books, and each contained many special notes.

Class was never the same. My students came in everyday ready to learn and thinking how they could use what they learned. They came up with plans to teach the concept of Manifest Destiny across the street, this time to older students, and planned the entire experience with little help from me. They planned a car show to benefit Relay For Life, and hosted it in the school parking lot one Saturday afternoon, complete with historical displays on the changing U.S. landscape brought on by the automotive industry.

That year was special. We had a purpose for learning. Nick learned that he could write and teach and fix cars. I learned how an engine worked. I don’t think I could fix a car, but at least I know the importance of a spark plug. Every year should be like that. Every day, we should learn something new. Give them purpose and they will learn.

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