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RHS Social Studies Teacher, Katie Burke, Dresses as Famous Historical Figures to Creatively Teach Students History

 

Randolph High School social studies teacher Katie Burke has been getting creative with her virtual classes. She has been dressing up as famous historical figures to help educate students about world history.

 

“At first I was dressing up just for fun - doing Alex Trebek with my AP Euro class as we played jeopardy - but now I'm using different historical figures in my World History Honors lessons to keep the kids engaged,” Ms. Burke said. “I'm hoping that these small vignettes (or how one historical person "reacts" to the history) provides a way to further get involvement in the content.”

 

During one of her classes, she dressed up as Clara Lemlich who was a labor organizer in New York City in the early 1900's. “She was born in Ukraine in 1882, she emigrated to the US in 1903 and started working in garment factories,” Ms. Burke said. “In 1909, she organized the Triangle Shirtwaist Strike, otherwise known as the Uprising of 20,000. She worked her entire life for worker’s rights, suffrage, consumer protection, and tenant rights. She died at 96, but not before encouraging and assisting the employees in her retirement home to form a union.” Through her story, Ms. Burke was able to show the students how the labor movement fought for the rights of workers, women, and children, as well as the consequences of when the nation didn't listen. “She was also only 23 when she led her Uprising of 20,000, and I picked her because she was closer in age to the students,” Ms. Burke said. “I wanted them to see someone in their age range making changes to their world.”

 

She also dressed as Maximilian Robespierre as part of her French Revolution unit. Dressing as this character allowed students to see how 'emotions' played into the Revolution. Ms. Burke discussed with students that Robespierre talked about King Louis XVI's poor leadership skills and how he felt that the King betrayed the nation. He also attempted to sneak off into Austria in disguise to escape the revolutionaries. To get into character, she posed in front of a few scenes including the guillotine and a salon in Paris. According to Ms. Burke, Salons were social gatherings where philosophes would meet and discuss their writing, art, music, etc. The background for these images is from a painting called Salon de Madame Geoffrin where they are reading Voltaire's L'Orphelin de la Chine to a group. “While Robespierre did not attend this meeting, I thought it would be fun to imagine him talking to the other philosophes, as he considered himself a very logical and educated man,” Ms. Burke said. “I also posed with a quill, as he was the one who signed many death warrants and lead the French government through the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution.”