Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

January 21, 2000

Students Apply Innovative Method to Study Upcoming U.S. Census

The United States government will begin its decennial counting of the country's citizens this March, but a class of fifth-grade students at Lake Spokane Elementary School has got a jump on the government. The 26 students in Melissa LaRue's class are putting into action an innovative teaching method called "storyline" to learn how a town, and the U.S. Cenus Bureau, operates.

Storyline, which originated in Scotland, integrates Washington state's academic learning requirements, such as language, art, history, geography and math, using the components of a story - setting, character, plot, critical event and conclusion.

"In order for learning to be memorable, it must be meaningful, and that's exactly the purpose of storyline," says Doris Liebert, professor of education and director of student teaching at Whitworth College. Liebert, who writes storyline curriculum based on current events, teaches the storyline method to student teachers at Whitworth. Liebert published an article about storyline in the November/December issue of Social Studies & the Young Learner.

Liebert has teamed up for a week with LaRue, a '95 Whitworth graduate, to teach a storyline unit, "The Census Comes to Rainbow River: Who Counts?" The unit gives students the opportunity to create a town, including landscape, buildings, schools, cars and people. The class is divided into five groups and each group is given a specific assignment, such as creating a timeline of the town, designing the front page of the town's newspaper, deciding laws and special events, establishing a census bureau, and promoting tourism. The class also paints a mural of Rainbow River. Students create the timeline and newspaper page using state of the art computer technology.

A plot involving whether to count low-income citizens who live in the hills near Rainbow River is central to the storyline unit's goal of teaching students about the importance of the census and how it affects individuals.

"You can teach kids about the census by coloring in states on a map," Liebert says, "but it's not as memorable as designing your own village where you create a good story, which teaches the kids an important component of learning - critical thinking."

Storyline is a big hit with LaRue's students, Liebert says. They are reluctant to leave school at the end of each day, and one parent spent an afternoon with her daughter's class to learn more about the unique project her daughter was working on.

Monday, January 24, is the last day Liebert will teach the unit with LaRue. In the storyline session scheduled for 1 - 3 p.m., students will decide what to do about an important bridge that has been destroyed, and determine if "fringe" members of the town should be counted in the census. Partnership Specialist Tom DeHaas of the U.S. Census Bureau will also visit the class to discuss the upcoming census.

Lake Spokane Elementary School is located at 6015 Highway 291 in Nine Mile Falls. For more information, please call Doris Liebert at (509) 777-4410.


Doris Liebert, professor of education and director of student teaching, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4410.

Julie Riddle, public information specialist, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729.

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