DOD students step into famous inventors’ shoes at ‘living museum’ on Okinawa

Ariella Benton, 9, portrays Toll House cookie inventor Ruth Graves Wakefield. Photos by Frank Andrews
Ariella Benton, 9, portrays Toll House cookie inventor Ruth Graves Wakefield. Photos by Frank Andrews

DOD students step into famous inventors’ shoes at ‘living museum’ on Okinawa

by Frank Andrews
Stars and Stripes

CAMP MCTUREOUS, Okinawa – Third-graders, poised and dressed in period costumes, recently brought great inventors, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, to life at Bechtel Elementary School.

This year marked the fourth consecutive “living museum” at Bechtel, a Department of Defense Education Activity school on this Marine Corps base in central Okinawa.

“We decided to step it up,” teacher Jeanne Laurin, 48, said during the Feb. 17 event. “The kids worked so hard that they needed to show it off. So, this is the first year they dressed up as inventors and we opened it up to family and other classes coming in to see their hard work.”

Parents and students filed through Bechtel’s five third-grade classrooms between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to see the “student-selected learning activity” that “focuses on each student’s interest,” Laurin said.

“Do you have any questions?” asked Ariella Benton, 9, dressed in a 1920s-era outfit. “Yes!” exclaimed one first-grader, grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Well press the button and I’ll tell you more,” Benton said. The boy wacked a button near Benton’s display.

“My name is Ruth Graves Wakefield. I was born on June 17, 1903, in Massachusetts. I invented the Toll House chocolate chip cookie,” Benton said.

Student-selected learning is a strategy used to increase student interests, according to Betty Miller, 57, a Bechtel third-grade teacher. “When students have some choice in what they're doing, then they are more invested in it,” she said.

“Did Thomas Edison invent the lightbulb?” a student asked Emma Maggard, 9, at her display.

“No, he improved the lightbulb,” Maggard said. “The first lightbulb only lasted a couple minutes, so Thomas Edison wanted to invent a lightbulb that uses less electricity and that would give you more power to see at night.”

Jackson Snyder, 9, represented George Devol, who invented the robotic arm. Snyder’s mother, Kylie Snyder, 33, of St. Louis, said she wanted to “jump in and help” with her son’s project.

“He told us he wanted to do everything and put it together,” she said. “We just showed him how to do the research and that's about it.”

Aoife Hickey, 8, wore a suit and fedora to depict Orville Wright, co-inventor with his brother Wilbur of the first powered aircraft to take flight.

“Without the airplane it would take so long to get to other places,” she said. “From Tokyo to Okinawa by boat it would take 20 hours, but by plane it only takes 2 ½ hours.”

Her parents, Marine Sgt. Michael Hickey, 37, and Sarah Hickey, 38, both natives of New York, stood by, beaming.

“We’re pound of her,” Michael Hickey said.

“It took confidence standing up and presenting her work,” Sarah Hickey said.

Dallas Matthews, 9, chose to portray a prolific inventor of consumer products.

“I chose Lonnie Johnson because he's a Black American and I'm a Black American, too,” Matthews said while standing next to his display.

“Plus, I like his inventions. He invented the Super Soaker, a hair curler, the Nerf gun …,” and, Matthews added, in a lowered voice, “a singing diaper, but no one bought it.”

Other inventors represented in the living museum included Leonardo Da Vinci, Bill Gates, Madame C.J. Walker, creator of hair products for African-American women, and Japan’s Daisuke Inoue, inventor of the karaoke machine.

The 8- and 9-year-olds researched their inventors’ lives, educations and inventions, Laurin Said. “They have to really become the inventor themselves and step into their shoes,” she said.

“The living museum brings history to life,” said Kathleen Petrovich, a third-grade teacher at Bechtel. “It opens their eyes to dive deeper to see where things come from.”

Third-grade students participate in a “living museum.”

(Left) Dallas Matthews, 9, shows off his display for Lonnie Johnson, known for the Super Soaker water gun, Nerf gun and other inventions.
(Right) Elijah David Cunningham, 8, portrays video game console inventor Ralph H. Baer.

(Left) Zoe Levy, 9, chose to portray Isaac Newton. (Right) Liam Morgan, 8, portrays LEGO inventor Ole Kirk Christiansen.

(Left) Emma Maggard, 9, is Thomas Edison.(Right) Liam Melendez, 8, is Nikola Tesla.

(Left) Aoife Hickey, 8, portrayed Orville and Wilbur Wright. She poses with her parents, Marine Sgt. Michael Hickey and Sarah Hickey.
(Right) Ava Dallucci, 9, portrays karaoke machine inventor Daisuke Inoue.

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